USC Digital Folklore Archives / Game

Cops and Robbers

Main Piece:

In person interview. AM is the interviewee. LJ is me, the interviewer.

LJ: Can you describe how you play?

AM: Oh there’s six of us, so we would all split up. Three people would be cops and three would be robbers. And, um, it would be like hide and seek, like if you were a cop you kindof’ had to tackle the robber and that’s how the game would end. And yea…

LJ: Who taught you how to play?

AM: Um…I don’t remember…probably my cousin, they were older than me.

LJ: Would the winner get anything?

AM: The winner? Let me think. We would just switch, there wasn’t a prize or anything. We would just switch.

LJ: But was there an “oh I won” moment?

AM: Um…for like the guys, it was a bigger deal. So like my brother and my two cousins would be like “ohhh” and throw it in your face. When me and my girl cousins would win, we were just like “ok.” Haha.

LJ: How often would y’all win?

AM: We didn’t really care if we won, so we lost most of the time.

LJ: Haha. How often would you play?

AM: We played after school. I remember playing between 5th grade and 8th grade-ish–when all six of us went to the same school.

LJ: Where did you play?

AM: We would play outside of my cousin’s house. Or in their backyard, they had a big back yard.


This was brought up at a meeting, but I asked at her about it at a later date.


The participant is a first year student at the University of Southern California. She was raised in South Central, Los Angeles around the university in a Mexican household.


This caught my attention, because I had only heard of “Cops and Robbers” from television. It is interesting how this game is played in a community that primarily consists of people of color and which has had a high crime rate for the past couple of decades. That it is more of a hide and seek game was also interesting. I assume–although I should have asked–that the robbers would hide, while the cops would seek.

Typically, the male cousins wanted to win, as seen in the transcription above, while the girls were more interested in just playing. Perhaps this has to do with gender norms. If further study was done, I would observe children playing this game now and how/if the interactions have changed. It may help normalize male and female  interactions within the community. The participant played this game around the time of middle school, when many children are going through puberty. Perhaps it helped transition the participant and her cousins into teen years by allowing time away from the changes happening in middle school through this fun, competitive game.


Freeze Tag

Main Piece:

The Participant/Interviewee is marked as MG. I am marked as LJ.

MG: If we got to be outside, we played freeze tag. Which would take verrrryy long. And it would be fun, we would be sweating.

LJ: What were the rules?

MG:The rules would be, you count to 20, and then you run. There’s one person who tags the rest. So that person counts to 20 and then everyone else runs around, usually in the backyard or wherever you are. So if that person tags you, you have to freeze. And the only way to get untagged is for another runner to come tag you. And that’s it.

LJ: Who taught you?

MG: Mmmm…maybe my cousins. Um, they might have learned…since they were a bit older. Everyone was older, except my girl cousin.


Participant and I were walking at night on the way to an event. This conversation was recorded then.


The participant is a second year student at the University of Southern California. She was raised in Santa Ana, California in a Mexican/Catholic background.


This game is played by a lot of American children. I remember playing it, as well. Like many other childhood games, it seems that the different “generations” of kids taught each other. MG describes how her older cousins taught her, and that they probably learned it from someone else. These games help children bond and may serve as a way for them to learn social skills without the punishment that may come from interactions with adults/as adults.



“If You Step on a Crack, You’ll Break Your Mother’s Back”

The following is from an interview between me and my friend, Rick, at the front office of the Caruso Catholic Center. He told me about playground folklore that I myself used to experience all the time.

Rick: “Uh, like, ‘If you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back,’ is just something that kids used to say, and so you would have to, like, jump around the cracks on the sidewalk and on the playground so that… you… didn’t hurt your mom? (laughs)”

Me: “Do you know, like, who first told you that, by any chance?”

Rick: “Um, I remember it being on an episode of ‘The Fairly OddParents’, um, and there would be, like, a evil fairy that would come up with a jackhammer to his mom’s back every time he stepped on a crack, I think.”

I remember playing this game as a kid as well. The weird thing for me, though, was that it sort of became routine and burned into my mind to always avoid cracks for a really long time. The anxiety was never rooted in my mom’s back breaking, since I always knew that was just a funny rhyme, but I still always made sure I would never step on cracks on the sidewalk, or really on any surface.


Blonde in the Bathroom

Informant: My friend who is from Brazil

Original Script: ” A girl with platinum blonde hair was murdered in the bathroom. She looks super pale with bloody cotton ball in her nose, she looks like a corpse. You go in the bathroom and switch on the lights and flush the toilet three times and she appears.”

Background: The Brazilian version of the children’s game Bloody Mary



Pickley Christmas

The informant is a sophomore at USC from Long Beach, CA.

I was discussing folk traditions with the informant after class one day and she offered me a particularly odd Christmas tradition that she has in her own family

“Every Christmas day my mom hides a pickle ornament, a green pickle ornament. It used to be that it was supposed to be hidden over in the tree, and then whoever finds it gets the prize. But now, it’s hidden anywhere because of course it got too easy, but my whole family does that, and I’ve done that since I was little and I don’t know where it comes from.”

Here she describes a tradition surrounding a pickle ornament that seems intuitively quite odd. After some research I found a variety of explanations. Many believe the tradition to have originated from Germany, and to be referred to as Weihnachtsgurke. The truth is that this is an invented myth!

In reality this may well be a great example of fakelore – of a clever effort to unload and boost sales of a particularly eccentric ornament. In my discussion with her, she seemed to believe that this tradition was isolated and invented, yet it turns out to be quite a widespread tradition in America, and it even seems to have spread to its purported origin of Germany after the fact. The person who finds the Christmas pickle is believed to receive good fortune all year or an extra present. Berrien Spring, Michigan, a cucumber production center, was known as the Christmas Pickle capital of the world from 1992 to 2003. What an odd designation and interesting little tradition. The oddity of the ornament certainly adds to the tradition’s mystique, and thus its continue prominence.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cagatió – The Shitting Log in Catalonian Culture

The informant is a good friend and has family in Catalan. Below, she describes an incredibly unique Christmas tradition:

“There’s another Catalonian tradition that most kids partake in, which is the Cagatió, or the Tió de Nadal. Which is a log with a face painted on the front and two little legs, which wears a little traditional Catalan hat called a Barretina. And it’s kind of like, the set up is somewhat like leaving Christmas cookies out for Santa. So for a few days leading up to Christmas Eve, you leave cookies out to make it fat and so for a week before you’re feeding it constantly every night. The parents, after the kids go to bed, they eat the cookies. And of course they tell the kids ‘Oh no, the Cagatió ate your cookies and he’s really happy and thankful and he’s going to get very fat. And so for discretion, of course you put a blanket over the back of the Cagatió. And to not hurt the Cagatió you take wood spoons from the kitchen and all the kids go to the sink and run the wood spoons under the warm water to soften them. While the kids are doing that, the parents hide little gifts under the blanket of the Cagatió, so like stocking stuffers but in the butt of the Cagatió, and so they tell them to come back out and so they take the wooden spoons, which are now soft, and you proceed to like whack it while singing the traditional Cagatió song, which is basically, in translation ‘Poop log, poop. If you don’t poop gifts for me, I’ll keep hitting you with this stick’. When you finish the song you take the blanket off the back of the Cagatió. And so basically you keep going back to the sink, you do this four or five times until he stops giving you presents. The parents put fewer and fewer gifts under the blanket each time to simulate the Cagatió running out of poop.”

So what is it again?

“It’s a log. It’s literally a log with a face painted on it. That was a favorite tradition of mine. My family has multiple sizes of Cagatió (laughs). We have a big one for the living room and also a travel sized one.”

Below is a translation of the traditional song:


“Caga tió,

caga torró,

avellanes i mató,

si no cagues bé

et daré un cop de bastó.

caga tió!”



“shit, log,

shit nougats (turrón),

hazelnuts and mató cheese,

if you don’t shit well,

I’ll hit you with a stick,

shit, log!”


Analysis: This is a very ancient tradition in Catalan and I’ve never heard of anything quite like it. The use of an actual shit log is very fascinating. The gifts that come out of the log are usually communal and small gifts, such as candies or small toys. The log almost takes on a personified character and specifically signifies a Catalonian person.


European Rat Shit

Informant is sixteen years old.  He is a high school student and an athlete.  It is likely that this name for an otherwise fairly simple and low-stakes card game is an attempt by the young players to feel tough and cool, and to identify with a more sophisticated group by using language they perceive as being more adult.  The interviewer was unable to find any evidence of a game by this name, but the informant swears that most people his age know about it, or at least boys on sports teams, as he has played it with kids from other football teams, who recognized the name immediately.

Interviewer: Do you know any games, like something your friends taught you?

Informant: Well, there’s European Rat Shit.

Interviewer: What’s that?

Informant: It’s a card game, you play with, like, a normal deck, no jokers.  It’s similar to Slap Jack, which is where you each put a card down and you slap it when a Jack comes up and you get all the cards in the piles and the object is to get all the cards. But in European Rat Shit, each face card, ah, you, the other person—each face card you put down, the other person has to but down a certain amount of other cards and if there’s a sandwich, which would be one card, a different card, and the same card as the first card, then you slap it and you get the hand that’s down, or if there’s a double, same thing: same card on top of each other and you slap it the whole hand is yours.

Interviewer: Why’s it called that?

Informant: That’s a good question. Can I google it? There’s a lot of names for it that I know. European War, um, hold on. ERS, which is just, like, abbreviation, I guess. Three. I know three names. Counting European Rat Shit.


Hide and Seek Game

Informant: Valentina Williamson. 11 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City. My little sister.


Original: “Una bolita de algodón patin paton melocotón sabes tu donde cayó con verdad y sin mentir con pura casualidad” (Pauses at each syllable)

Translation: A little cotton ball patin paton melocotón do you know where it fell with truth and without lying with pure chance.

Informant:  “When I play hide and seek with my friends we sing that song to decide who is going to count. We all put one foot in and form a circle. We sing the song while one person touches each foot during each syllable. Once the song is over that last person has to say a place they’ve been but think no one has gone to. Like if it landed on me I could say Paris! If no one from the group has been to Paris, I get out and don’t count. BUT! If someone else from the group has been to Paris they get out, don’t count, but I have to stay in! I then use my hand to move around the feet and we sing the song again. The last person to be in looses and has to count.

Me: “Do you know how you came to learn this song?”

Informant: “No idea, I think at school. We always sing it but I have no idea where it came from!”

Thoughts: I have never heard this song to play hide and seek before. When I was younger I recall there was a song about Pinocchio to see who would count. Incorporating the place a person has traveled to adds an educational aspect to the game. Certainly, children question each other about the places they’ve been to and therefore learn from such.

Folk Beliefs


Informant: My friend is Persian, and her family practices traditions like these.
Original Piece: Huge part of Persian culture: chesh-ing someone! Chesh (ch-eh-sh) literally means “eye” in Farsi and here it means the evil eye or in English it’s when someone jinxes you. It’s basically when someone sees you and envies you or is jealous of you and sends evil spirits… or vibes, for lack of a better word, your way. Usually it happens out of jealousy, like when you show up to a party and you’re the only one wearing a dress and everyone is in jeans and you look really good… but sometimes it can happen innocently too, like you see your family members after a long time and they say “wow you’re so beautiful and so grown up and so mature”. Or you’re successful in school/work and someone says “wow she has it all together she’s amazing”. But basically to save yourself from the “bad omens” being sent your way, someone will have to light up this herb… which, it’s a mixture of a lot of things, but I’m unsure exactly what… until it’s smoking and you say a phrase, which loosely translates to mean “keep the bad eyes away”, while circling it over the person’s head. When someone opens a new business or goes to a new job or is promoted you can put small amounts of this herb in the four corners of the room to make sure there’s only good spirits and good luck in the beginning of the business. Like when my dad moved offices, his office had a couple small circular dishes of this on his desk for a couple weeks.

Context of Performance: I invited her over for dinner and we were remembering stories we shared as roommates, including traditions and practiced her family introduced to me. I asked her if she would share some of these pieces of folktale.
Thoughts about the Piece: I remember first learning about the “evil eye” after my informant’s aunts complimented me, and her mother insisted on lighting herbs to keep the bad omens away. This is one of my favorite practices, as I find it interesting how the evil eye recurs in so many of their traditions.



Informant: My friend’s family is from southern India, and every few years they go back in the summer for family weddings. This past summer she went to three, and recounted some of the traditions for me.
Original Piece: “Something called Marichol, where… it’s gonna sound really weird, when I explain the reason behind it. So, it’s where, if the guy is getting married… or let’s say it was my female cousin that’s getting married, me and other cousins would block the groom from entering the ceremony unless he gave them money. It’s because you are… like shaming them, or getting mad at them for not marrying you. Like, since you’re not marrying me I need other compensation. Then guys block the entrance for the groom too, but because they can’t marry the bride. And they’re prepared for it, the groom comes with bills in his pocket.
When people are entering, there’s a table at the front. There’s these bida on the table, and people take a little bit of it to eat, and someone’s standing there and there’s this canister thing that you sprinkle on people before they go.”
Context of Piece: My friend was showing me pictures from this summer, and I asked her to tell me a bit more about their weddings customs.
Thoughts about the Piece: I like this one the best, as my friend spoke from personal experience, having blocked the entrance for the groom several times before.