Category Archives: general

Elementary School Riddles

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

NK: I remember there used to be a lot of riddles from when I was a kid, like you describe a situation, what it looks like after something happened, and you have to guess what happened. There’s only one I remember, where you go into an empty room. It’s 4 walls blocked off and the only way in or out is like teleportation, and there’s a guy hanging in the middle of the room, like dead, and there’s a puddle of water below him on the floor, so what happened?

SW: Um..I’m not sure. What’s the answer?

NK: So, he stood on a block of ice with the rope around his neck, so as it melted he was hanged and he died. 

SW: Oh. Very dark.

NK: Yeah, I feel like I remember most of those were pretty messed up.

Thoughts: 

It was interesting to hear about these riddles that kids would tell, because as NK was describing them, I realized I remembered hearing similar riddles when I was in elementary schools. I think kids liked to one-up each other and prove how clever they were by stumping the other kids, or solving their riddles. I didn’t realize how dark these riddles were until now looking back and I wonder how we were so casual about topics like suicide at 8 or 9 years old.

Don’t Walk on the Michigan M

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: At Michigan, we have this huge letter M in the center of campus. And the rule is, like, if you step on it, you fail your first blue book exam. It’s like at any other college.

SW: I’ve never heard that before.

AK: Really? Yeah, it’s like a big deal here. And apparently the only way to reverse it, is to like run from the clocktower one side of campus, to the other side, and then back to the clocktower and get there right as it chimes midnight. And you have to be naked the whole time. But that’s impossible because the clocktower doesn’t chime past 10pm, and it’s illegal to be naked. So it’s best to just not step on the M in the first place and avoid the bad luck all together.

Thoughts:

While I was not familiar with this specific superstition, I know most schools have some sort of similar superstition in circulation. A lot of them have to do with disgracing or disrespecting the school or campus in some way, which then brings bad luck in the form of bad grades or other things. I’m guessing these came to be as a way of keeping respect for the school. I think there’s something alluring, too, about feeling like you’re in on something. You feel special when you know your school’s superstitions, because you feel like a true member of the institution, and not an outsider. 

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Modern Practices of The Winter Solstice

Informant: I researched it and made it our own, and it changes constantly every year, but that’s to be expected. I’ve always done solstice when we were out here (America) because we were otherwise going back to England for Christmas and we didn’t want to go schlepping (moving) all the presents back, so we starting celebrating this.

Interviewer: So what is it that you do for the solstice?

Informant: I go out in the late afternoon and I pick Bay Leaves, Oak Leaves, and Ivy Leaves and I wash them and then I put them out to dry in the last rays of the sun. Traditionally I’m making pork and prunes on that day, so I put that on to cook. It is the first night we light the yule log. I build a fire in the fire pit, using what remains of last year’s log. We start around the fire making wishes with the leaves I left out to dry and throwing them into the fire. When we come in to eat, we eat take a light from the fire and light a candle then carry that light to the table where we’re eating. You are bringing light into the darkness. My husband also made me a yule log table decoration with fire candles in it for the five of us in the family.

Interviewer: You mentioned wishes with leaves, what kind of wishes do you make?

Informant: I can show you, I have it written down.

[Informant returns with a red book]

Informant: This is where I record all the big events that happen to my family every solstice. Here’s the wish list.

[Written information on a standard white piece of paper]

These leaves have been washed clean and dried in the last rays of the sun. Splash them with whatever you’re drinking and drop them into the fire with a wish. This is a time of giving so your wishes should not be for yourself but for the good of others.

IVY
For friendship, fidelity, and affection

OAK
For luck, also strength, endurance and vigor

BAY LAUREL
For health and Protection
This is also a time for letting go, making amends or saying farewell.

PAPER
Write your regrets and resentments on a slip of paper and toss them into the fire.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

The Joke: Boston Crow Story

Informant: have you heard of Boston Crows?” ‘No?’ Okay so, in Boston New York, there has been a recent discovery of these special crows that are smarter than your average crow. They have these white speckles, making them very distinct. They’ve been recorded learning how to talk, do routines, and a lot of other things. People started considering them the local pets, almost, but people then started to find a lot of the same crows dead. The outcry got researchers to look into this, led by avian expert Dr. Roseburg. Rosenburg theorized there were many possible factors: different life spans, specific diseases, or predators. So the team observed the crows, trying to find the cause. They found a very interesting behavioral pattern. These crows mated for life early on and would spend a lot if not all their time with those partners while foraging. The most frequently visited places for these crows were the sides of not very busy roads, where people threw out trash of their windows while driving by. This is when scientists discovered something, a majority of these birds were dying due to being hit by vehicles. But these crows were not stupid, they had a very good system of communicating with one another. One bird would sift through the trash while the other sat on a nearby sign post or something and be look out. When a vehicle came along the look out would alert the one down in the gutter so it could fly out in time. But some birds still got hit, for you see, while it’s very easy for a crow to say ‘cahr’… it is very difficult for them to say ‘truck’.

Background: My informant states that they learned this joke from Reddit but they don’t remember the original name of the person who posted it. They first told the joke close to how it was originally written but quickly developed a game out of it where they’d try to spin the story for as long as they could. Their record was 30 minutes

Context: I asked my informant about the joke specifically because they took pride in making the story longer every time they told it. Over Discord I told them to make the story as long as they wanted, they sent me this version a day later.

Thoughts: This is a wonderful example of a shaggy dog story, and allows a lot of creativity on the half of the teller. As long as the punch line isn’t altered you can make it as local or as distant as you want. It was also a great joke to hear someone tell if you already know the punchline, for then you can simply watch the reactions of others who haven’t heard the joke before. I believe I found the original post my informant was referring to on reddit, please see:
docpepson. ‘The Crow Mystery‘. r/Jokes. Jan 25, 2008. www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/1l888r/the_crow_mystery/. Accessed March 22, 2020.

How to Play The Game Slap Jack

Informant: So the goal of the game is to get the full deck in your hand. The game starts with the stack of 52 standard cards being split into equal piles for the number of players sitting around the table. No one is allowed to look at their cards. The dealer who split the stack, plays the first card. Then the play goes around clockwise for the rest of the game. When a Jack card is played all players must slap the deck as fast as possible. The first one to slap the deck gets all the played cards under the Jack. Because of the nature of the game, more players can ‘slap’ in and enter the game if it’s already started. (but that makes the whole thing go WAY longer)

The initial version I was taught had one extra rule: if you got a ‘sandwich’ you could slap. A sandwich consisted of two of the same numbers and one different number in between them. So like 2, 3, 2 is a sandwich.

The second version, has the ‘sandwich’ rule but also somethings called ‘doubles’ and ‘faces’. Doubles is self explanatory two of the same card played one after the other. So 2, 2. ‘Faces’ is if a face card – Queen, King, or Ace – is played the next person must play a face or the played-card pile goes to the first person. If they succeed in putting down a face card, the next person must play a face card or the second person gets the pile, and on and on and on.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered a few games back from middle school and looked for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: I learned how to play this game while I was younger from the same person. However, they called it a different name from what I remember. They now call it ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’, however, all the rules the same. I wondered how a group of kids got ‘Slap Jack’ from ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’ and extra research showed that the games has many other names as well:
‘Slapjack’
‘Slaps’
‘Beggar-My-Neighbor’
‘Egyptian Ratscrew’
‘Heartattack’
‘Snap’

How To Play The Game Bull Shark

Informant: This game rewards players who can lie convincingly. The object of the game is kind of the opposite of Slapjack, cuz you have to get rid of your hand as quickly as you can. The game is played comfortably with 6 players but I think it’s better with less. You don’t want more players cuz then it becomes too easy for people to lie their whole hand away. Someone splits a standard 52 deck equally for the number of players present. The players look at their hand and the person with the ace of spades plays first, the ace card face up.
All cards are played face down after the ace. The play then goes clockwise as each player has to play the next number up, so after the ace the next player plays a 2, the next a 3, and on and on and on. This is where the lying element of the game comes in, if a player doesn’t have the next card up for their turn they can lie and play an entirely different card and just say it’s the right one. After every play people can decide whether or not they believe the player, if someone does not believe them they can call ‘BS’ and flip over the played card. If the card is what the player said it was, the caller has to take the deck of used cards, making it harder for them to lose all their cards first. If no one calls the player and they WERE lying they say ‘popcorn’ to say that they were lying. If no one calls the player and they were NOT lying the game continues with no incident.
The game becomes more complex when multiple cards are played at once, if a person has more than one of a kind in their hand they can play up to how many they have OR play up to as many they are willing to lie about. The game ends when a person gets rid of all the cards in their hand.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered this game back from middle school and searched out for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: While definitely a fun game I remember a mutual friend started abusing the lying rules to stack more cards than they said they played. There was a great deal of dispute as to whether lying was allowed when talking about the number of cards one played or only what number the card was. Everyone agreed that lying only applied to the number the card was but we were not always able to stop the kid when he continued to play more than he said for we never knew when he did it. We eventually stopped playing with him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
The game also goes by:
‘Bullshit’ or ‘BS’

The Ritual Game: One Man Hide-and-Seek

Interviewer: Okay so how do you play this game?

Informant: Well as the name suggests you have to do this alone, while everyone is out of the house, preferably. You take an old doll that you don’t like anymore, cut it open and remove all the stuffing. Then fill it up with white rice. Once the doll is totally full of rice, cut a hair from your head and poke it into the heart of the doll’s body. Then take a knife and prick a finger, doesn’t matter which one, and wipe the blood onto the rice protruding from the doll’s back. Once you’ve done that, take a bit of red string and sew up the back of the doll and cut it off with the same knife you used to prick your finger. Once it’s sewn up give it a name, and it has to be a name that no one you know has.

Interviewer: Sounds like you have to be very careful during all this prep work.

Informant: Oh yeah and we’re not even done yet. Actually playing the game is specific too. You then have to take the finished doll to a bathroom, run a shallow bath, and then place the doll in the water. Turn out all the lights in the house, finding a hiding spot and count to ten. You shouldn’t forget to take the knife with you when you go to hide. Say ‘ready or not here I come’ then go back to the doll. Repeat ‘I found you, I found you, I found you’ then ‘you’re the next it, you’re the next it, you’re the next it’ and tie the knife to the doll’s hand. Then go to hide again, it doesn’t have to be in the same place. If you make it to sunrise, you’ve won the game.

Interviewer: Do you get anything out of winning?

Informant: No, I don’t think so. You just get bragging rights.

Interviewer: What happens if you lose?

Informant: The doll kills you, supposedly. But if you need to stop the game, like if the doll finds you, it’s recommended that you always have a glass of salt water prepared to pour on the doll. When you pour the water, shout ‘I win, I win, I win’ then the game is over.

Background: One Man Hide and Seek was part of a film project that she was doing for school. She researched this game but does not remember which sites she learned it from or its origin.

Context: I was interviewing my informant for rituals that she learned about through research and hearsay from others. She was happy to tell me about this one since it resulted in one of her favorite movies that she made.

Thoughts: I severely doubt that the original reason for doing One Man Hide and Seek was just so one could have bragging rights, so it must have been a ritual for something else originally. I did a little digging online and found a site that suggests the ritual was originally posted on a ‘Japanese horror bulletin board.’

Please see “One-Man Hide and Seek / Hide and Seek Alone.” Know Your Meme Accessed March 20, 2020