Category Archives: Game

Rattlesnake: A Conga Line Game

Background: The informant is a woman in her late fifties who grew up in downstate New York in Queens and on Long Island before moving to upstate New York for college. In her mid 20s, she moved out to Southern California and she had lived there ever since. She comes from a large family of Catholic Irish-Americans. She attended public grade schools.

Main Text:

“There was one that I loved! And it was…think of a conga line but it wasn’t really a conga line. It would be kids in this long line and they would do these intricate back-and-forth kinds of movements, yknow we would all move together. And it was [singing] “R-A-T-T-L-E-S-N-A-K-E spells rattlesnake” and we just did that over and over again while we did this little…I loved that game! I don’t know why, but it was just…but we did all these intricate, back-and-forth pattersn and it was all these kids in a line.”

Context: The informant specified that this game was performed on the playground during recess and at lunch, mostly during the earlier half of elemenatary school. It was not organized by teachers, and it involved large groups of children—around a class size or more, so twenty kids and up.

Thoughts: I’d never heard of this game before, but I’m familiar enough with a conga line to get the gist of what the informant was playing. It was probably a combination of the movement and accompanying song that made the game so compelling to TR as a young child. I do think it’s funny how they referred to it as a nearly hypnotic-experience, and I’m impressed that such a large group of young children organized themselves well enough to execute this game on a daily basis, not to mention their ability to transcend friend groups.

King’s Cup: Drinking Game

Background: DL is a childhood friend of mine who grew up in Long Beach, California before moving up north to attend college in Washington. He a transgender man in his early twenties and lives in an eight-person household with roommates that all identify as LGBTQ+.

Context: King’s Cup is one of DL’s favorite drinking games. This particular instance of King’s Cup was celebrated on DL’s birthday with about ten schoolmates/friends/roommates of DL, shortly before the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home orders were put in place. A little while afterwards, he celebrated someone else’s birthday over Zoom due to the COVID-19 stay at home orders. DL expressed sadness over not being able to play King’s Cup at the Zoom Party.

Main text:

(In the following interview the informant is identified as DL and the interviewer is identified as JS.)

DL: It’s like…you put a big cup in the middle of the table and, um, spread a deck of cards around it and you take turns picking a card from the ring of cards around the cup and each number on the card signifies something that you have to do.

JS: Okay

DL: Um…most of them involve drinking or [laughs] something of that context.

JS: Does it change each time or is there a specific ruleset that you used?

DL: There’s like a pretty specific ruleset that people generally use. Although we altered it because it’s pretty gender-specific sometimes

[At this point, DL tried to remember some of the rules but couldn’t recall them off the top of his head. He promised to follow up later with a few examples.]

JS: So, you pull the cards out, you go around the table, and they each have a different related thing on them.

DL: Yeah, um, it’s just like a deck of standard cards. And some of them it’s like you have to pour some of your drink into the big cup in the middle and then at the end, like, the loser has to drink the “King’s Cup.”

JS: [laughs] God, that’s so gross!

DL: [laughs] Yeah, we didn’t actually get that far we all kinda shared it and it was disgusting. Whatever you’re drinking, so that’s, like, the disgusting part. I had like some fancy sambuca from my mom so there was some of that in there, and some beer, and some cider, and some…wine I think. [laughs]

Examples of rules include:

Number two cards are titled “you”: Choose someone to drink

Number three cards are called “me”: The person who drew the card must drink.

The biggest modification A and his friends made to the rules set was for cards five and six—instead of sticking to the gender-exclusive rules of “guys and chicks” where either men or women drink, they changed it to “fags and dykes,” and it was up to the players to choose whether they would drink on the card that was pulled.

Thoughts: King’s Cup is a pretty standard drinking game, like much Beer Pong. Drinking games are a unique way to transform relatively standard American college practices (drinking to excess) into “events,” typically by way of making them game-ified or competitive. As DL explains at the end of the interview, the pretense of rules usually begins to fade as a drinking game goes on—there’s no need to keep on playing once the objective of the game (getting drunk) has been completed. What’s particularly interesting is how DL has customized the game to have certain “house rules”—particularly those for five and six. Some of the people DL lives with are nonbinary, making the guys and chicks rule obsolete. Instead, by customizing it with queer terminology, DL and his friends were easily able to tailor the game to their particular environment. I think it’s also important to note that the words “fag” and “dyke,” though often considered insulting and homophobic slurs, are fairly natural in this context for this group of friends—instead, they function as an insider/in-group joke. 

Owa Tagu Saiam

Context:

I collected this bit of wordplay from my mother (LP) in a face-to-face interview. She grew up in a white Unitarian household in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century. She learned this joke from her mother, who pulled the prank on her and her brother when they were young.

Text:

The prankster says to their victim:

            “Say: ‘owa tagu saiam’”

After repeating it, the prankster asks them to say it faster until it sounds like they’re saying “o what a goose I am.”

Thoughts:

I remember other silly word pranks like this from my childhood, where one person employs a riddle or a pun to get another person to say something self-deprecating or otherwise humorous. The appeal of the joke comes from the moment of recognition when a string of nonsensical sounds becomes language. These games, while seemingly inconsequential and banal, offer a profound look into the mechanisms of signification. The humor of the joke comes from the moment of recognition in which a string of nonsensical sounds becomes meaningful, takes on significance. What was thought to be nonsense becomes sense, becomes a signifier of something completely unexpected.

The prank points to a couple of interesting traits of spoken language. One, that sounds bear no intrinsic relation to their significances: a string of gibberish to one person in one particular subject position (the victim when speaking the phrase slowly) can hold meaning to those occupying other subject positions (the prankster and the victim after the moment of recognition.) Secondly, it reminds the participants that all words are first and foremost just sound. Sounds are assembled and juxtaposed to signify abstract notions, and this process of signification can get so entrenched, so internalized that the signified takes precedence over the signifier, and the language-bearer is “tricked” into equating the two. This prank shatters that implicit assumption by pointing to the sonorous qualities of the word and laying bare the process by which sounds are tied to meanings. This disenchantment with the word, the recognition of the materiality of the signifier, has radical implications. For one, it allows for a kind of verbal play, a refiguration of sounds and their meanings, a liberation from the logocentric notion that words contain no ambiguity, no internal contradiction, that individual words always mean the same thing, like in a dictionary. But dictionaries are produced and disseminated by publishing companies that operate under certain ideological agendas which are always political, which have in their interest the imposition of hegemony.

Such pranks as these can act as subversive and counter-hegemonic, calling into question the ways in which meaning is constructed through language, opening up the potential for resistance through wordplay.

Road Trip Games

Context:

I asked my informant LP for these games in an in-person interview. She grew up in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century. These games are played with kids on long car rides. She learned these games from her parents when she was on road trips with her family as a kid. “They’re timeless, they last forever, they never get old,” She said that “they’re for alleviating boredom, but they’re word games so they’re focused on vocabulary and learning words as opposed to math and numbers games.” She always liked these word games more than number games.

Text:

LS: We would play the license plate game, where you try to get a license plate from every state. The alphabet game, we would spell out the alphabet on passing signs, whoever saw it first would just call it out.

Our favorite one was “I’m going to such-and-such and I’m bringing my such and such.” You keep building with words that start with the same letter as the place you’re going to and go around the car repeating the cycle and adding on one each time. Whoever can’t remember or does it wrong loses.

I spy with my little-eye, where we would say “I spy with my little eye, something…” and then you would say the name of a color. Everyone else would try to guess what the object was. You would have to do it with something that was really far away. (laughs)

Thoughts:

These games are techniques for parents to help their kids alleviate boredom in long road trips, where a group of people is sitting in the enclosed space of a car together for hours on end. As the informant said, “they’re timeless… but they never get old.” These games have unlimited replay value and can keep kids entertained, or sedated, for the long hours of fidgeting and restlessness. As my informant mentioned, these games have a pedagogical function, of teaching kids new words, the names of the states, the names of the colors. But these games keep car riders focused on fairly rote tasks to pass the time easier. This piece of car lore likely arose from the need to keep a family socially and mentally stimulated during the long road trips common in the vast American Midwest

Lemonade, Crunchy Ice

Main Piece:

The informant recited a rhyme that she remembered from elementary school. 

“Lemonade (clap, clap, clap)

Crunchy ice (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it once (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it twice (clap, clap, clap)

Lemonade, crunchy ice, sip it, once sip it twice

Turn around, touch the ground

Freeze”

The informant explained after one girl said freeze you lost by being the first person to move, so the girls would stay frozen for as long as they could.

Background:

The informant explained that there were many rhymes that she and her classmates would turn into games. Having these rhymes memorized was seen as being really cool or made you more popular, according to the informant. This occurred at a public, co-ed elementary school in a suburb of the midwestern United States.

Context:

This game would be played between two girls. The informant explained they would normally play when they were waiting in line between classes or after recess to pass the time.

Thoughts:

Rhyming games like this one exist in many iterations all over globe but the emphasis on lemonade and ice in this rhyme seems particularly American. It also evolves into a competition by the end to make the game carry on beyond the words. School girls can use these rhymes to develop friendships and bond with one another. It creates a small community of girls that can all join in on something similar and play with one another in an organized fashion. This form of folklore holds significance in childhood and also evokes nostalgia for adults. The informant explaining this to me was an adult but recalled this rhyme with ease.


The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant explaining the Philly Cheesesteak Challenge. 

So basically it’s this tradition that you do during your second semester of your senior year of high school, it’s mostly people in the DMV you know D.C, Maryland, Virginia. The point of the challenge is you’ll meet up with friends at school at just a regular school day after you’ve gotten into college and your attendance doesn’t really matter any more. And you guys like get in the car together and then when the first bell rings of the school day you leave your school and you guys drive to phil and get a cheesesteak and take a picture of you doing it and document the whole journey, like vlog it or whatever and get a picture of you doing it. And then you have to drive back to your school with the cheesesteak before the last bell rings and have the evidence. It’s for bragging rights to give you something fun and stupid to do before college.” 

Background:

The informant went to a large public high school in Northern Virginia. This challenge was something he looked forward to starting as a freshman. 

Context:

The informant described this to me when we were comparing high school traditions and experiences. 

Thoughts:

The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge encapsulates a lot of common patterns that occur during liminal moments in people’s lives. The Challenge itself is inherently funny, there is no real prize, just an arbitrary goal to complete before graduation. It gives students a sense of responsibility and freedom before they are actually out in the real world. In the late spring of the year, seniors teeter between students and graduates. The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge allows them to break the rules and be “adults” or graduates for the day to then return to the school setting they have known for the past 12 years of their life. It also allows for friends to accomplish a goal together before they all part and go their separate ways, making the Challenge feel even more important.

Tripas de Pollo

Background: Informant is a Mexican American who was originally born in Mexico, but came to the United States when he was young. Since he stayed in Mexico for a bit of his childhood he learned a lot of games.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: What are some childhood games you remember playing?

Informant: I remember a game I use to play called Tripas de pollo. It translates to chicken guts in english.

Interviewer: How do you play that?

Informant: To play Tripas de pollo, you just need a pen and a paper. You write down numbers, up to whatever number you want for example 1-13. You write them scattered around the page, and you have to write each number twice. You have to connect each number to its matching number with a line. You do this for every number without touching lines from other numbers. The more numbers you have the harder this is. At the end when all the lines have been connected it looks like tripas de pollo, which is the name of the game.

Context: Interview with a family member on games from his birthplace.

Thoughts: The name of the game sounds weird and not fun but once it gets explained it seems interesting. It sounds like more of a self-challenging game rather than group game but still seems fun to play.

Pikachu

Background: Informant is a 22 year old American who has lived in California his whole life.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Do you remember any games you played during your childhood?

Informant: I remember a hand game I use to play with my sister. It was called Pikachu.

Interviewer: How do you play pikachu?

Informant: Pikachu is considered a hand game that goes along with a little song. You play with another person and you hold one of your hands against each other and the other hand would touch above and below, then side to side. Then you would play rock paper scissors and whoever won would pinch your cheek. You would do the song again and play rock paper scissors again. If the same person pinched both cheeks you get to slap them at the end. The song “Pikachu going up, going down. Pikachu going side to side” At the end of the pinching and slapping your cheeks would be red making you look similar to Pikachu.

Context: Interview with a family member, asking them about childhood games they remember

Thoughts: Pikachu sounds like a fun game. I like the fact that it incorporates more than one game, because it has rock paper scissors as well but the added twist of pinching and slapping seems mischievous enough for a children’s game.

The pennies game

Background:Informant was originally born in Mexico, but came to the United States when he was young. Since he stayed in Mexico for a bit of his childhood he learned a lot of games. As he grew up in California, he also learned some of adult games.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Are there any games you might of not learned of as a kid but as an adult?

Informant: I learned the pennies game, which is a drinking game so definitely just an adult game.

Interviewer: How do you play the pennies game?

Informant: To play the game you need pennies, shot glasses, more than 2 people and some alcohol. You usually challenge the person to your right, if you can get the penny into the shot glass by flipping it off your thumb they have to take the shot. This continues until you want to stop or everyone gets drunk.

Interviewer: You drink the shot that the penny landed in? Isn’t that kind of unsanitary?

Informant: Thinking about it now, it does seem nasty but back then we assumed the alcohol would clean the penny.

Context: Interview with a family member about adult games.

Thoughts: The pennies game sounds like an older version of drinking game I have played with my friends. It sounds fun minus taking a shot with a penny in it.

Slide

Background: Informant is a 22 year old male who has lived in California his whole life.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Did you play any hand games that were not based off of a musical riddle?

Informant: Yes, I remember playing a hand game called Slide. Well at least thats what we called it in school.

Interviewer: How do you play slide?

Informant: Slide is a game where you slide hands with whoever your playing with and then you clap, then clap your left hand to their right and and then your right hand to their left hand. You then clap again and then using your backsides of your hands clap against the backsides of their hands. You also count when you clap, so if you are at 2 then you clap each hand twice before clapping the backsides. You also clap the backsides the same amount of times as the number you’ve counted up to. It seems really easy but when you go at a fast pace it gets really hard.

Interviewer: How do you win?

Informant: Whoever messes up first loses.

Context: Interview with a family member, asking him about any childhood games he played with friends or family.

Thoughts: It is interesting to see how clapping can be such a fun game for kids. It is funny that it is also competitive. I think the game Slide has a proper name. I find it fascinating that the game requires you to multi-task, counting and clapping. Kids get really creative with games.