USC Digital Folklore Archives / Game
Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Riddle

Cowboy Riddle

Main Piece:

Riddle-

“A cowboy came town on Friday

He stayed for two days

And left on Wednesday

How is this possible?”

Answer-

“His horse’s name is Friday.”

Context and Analysis:

The informant claims she heard this riddle in her early childhood as she was watching the television show, iCarly. She claims when she heard it she was very excited and remembered it to tell her family later. When she told her family they were not able to decipher the answer and therefore the informant knew this was a good riddle. The informant claims she does not know of any meaning in this riddle nor does she think it originates from a particular place. She believes it could have originated anywhere as all places could have cowboys and horses.  The informant believes this riddle is only for entertainment purposes.

When my informant first said to me this riddle I was shocked by my inability to decipher it. My first thought was that the riddle was a play on the week’s days, and I began to try to find a way in which I could go through the week with Wednesday occurring before Monday. I was unsuccessful in this attempt. After that I began to think of transportation methods that could travel fast through time; once again I was unsuccessful. I eventually gave up and begged my informant for the answer. When she said it to me, I thought to myself, “how did I not think of that.” This is not an unusual feeling when trying to come up with a solution and after giving up realizing how simple it was. I think this is what can make riddles so frustrating or fascinating. Often the answer to the riddle is simple, and when the riddle’s audience is unable to guess it, this can cause frustration for the audience and fascination for the person recounting the riddle.

There also seems to be a requirement for a riddle to be hard to guess but to have a simple answer to be distinguished as a good riddle. The most popular riddles are those that leave people thinking about them, how they were unable to guess the answer and are now only able to find joy in sharing this unsatisfied feeling with others by retelling this riddle. If the riddle is guessed or the audience has heard it before often the one recounting the riddle is disappointed at not having been able to make others feel what he or she felt by not being able to guess the riddle.

Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cool and Creamy

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat at a table with two other people, and we were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a tradition that a student-run philanthropy (that holds a summer camp every year for the LAUSD community) does every year at our Spring Retreat called “Cool and Creamy”. Occasionally, one other person at our table, who is also a member of the organization,  interjected with her own comments. My informant learned this folklore just by attending Spring Retreat and watching counselors of past generations perform it. This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N, the girl that interjects is identified as L, and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Okay, so “Cool and Creamy” is this voluntary tradition. It’s when two members, at Spring Retreat, perform this act in front of everyone as a part of the variety show, which is like a talent show, and they get, um, whipped cream, and they kind of sexualize it in a way… [laughs]

L: What, no not really!

 

(In the section directly below, when N speaks, I’ve recreated “Cool and Creamy” in the dialogue form that it’s actually performed, and the recreation is based off of my informant’s description. “Cool and Creamy” is essentially a ritualistic skit that involves a call and response between two people. Each person is given a bottle of canned whipped cream, and the goal of the tradition is essentially to put the whipped cream on the other person’s body parts until the can runs out. The names of the two people in here will be “A” and “B”.)

 

N: Yeah they sexualize, they totally sexualize “Cool and Creamy”! Yeah, yeah! They do!

      It goes like this:

A: Heyyyyyy B!

B: Heyyyyyy A!

      And then A goes like, “Do you like Cool and Creamy?” on a certain body part…. Like:

A: Do  YOU like Cool and Creamy on your elbows?

      And then B goes:

B: I LOVE Cool and Creamy on my elbows!

      And then A would spray the whipped cream on B’s elbows. And then it basically goes back and forth for like another five minutes, and it’s just kind of like a tradition. It’s um, like borderline funny. It’s almost It’s almost funny, mostly like, it’s mostly cause like we do it, but not funny because it’s funny.

K: How do you get chosen to do it?

N: Um, I think it’s just mostly older members… I don’t think people get selected to do it. But like, it’s something that like we’re guaranteed it’s going to show up at every single variety show.

K: Wait so then how do they pick who has to do it?

N: I think like two people just volunteer, like oh, which is a totally voluntarily process…. Yeah, people just volunteer… for some reason…

L: [laughs]

K: Why do people do it?

N: They do it because it’s tradition, you know? Sometimes you just gotta do it. Sometimes you just gotta do a little Cool and Creamy.

K: How did you learn this tradition?

N: How did I learn? They learn it from like past generations, so like, they’ll see that like the year before two counselors will do Cool and Creamy and then they’ll be like “Hey, this year we should do Cool and Creamy,” and then they’re like “Okay, let’s do Cool and Creamy” [laughs].

K: Why do people continue to do this?

N: Literally just because it’s tradition, it’s like literally just a weird thing that we do and it’s like “Okay, it’s weird, so we wanna just keep doing it every year… Forever.”

 

Thoughts:

This folklore is yet another example of a tradition that serves as a bonding experience. It’s not just the performers that become closer and more integrated into the organization; the camp counselors that simply just watch it happen also become a part of the “family.” As someone that is also a camp counselor in this organization, what’s particularly interesting to me about this tradition is it’s potential double reading. As my informant said, the tradition itself is not funny, but because it has sexual overtones (and just from the mere fact that we continue to do it every year) is what makes it funny. “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s weird and quirky, making is special to the organization, but the sexualization of the tradition also serves an ironic purpose that creates greater bonding potential. For example, the work that camp counselors do are meant to be very pure and good-intentioned, and when we’re around the kids it’s completely inappropriate to make any jokes that are foul or sex-related.

When we’re around the kids, we’re seen as leaders, role models, and adults, but this means that we have to keep our identity as college students hidden. Therefore, at Spring Retreat, when it’s only camp counselors with no kids around, we are given a chance to meld our camp counselor identities together with our college student identities, and thus comes the result of sexualizing things that, in a kids eyes, would just be seen as pure fun or just a few counselors messing around. Furthermore, “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s not explicitly dirty, but it has plausible deniability as a sexual joke. We can even see that my informant debated with L on whether or not the tradition is actually sexualized or if the sexualized interpretation is a way to trick counselors into making them feel bad for having a dirty mind.

“Cool and Creamy” is a perfect example of camp folklore being used to bond counselors together before summer camp happens, making counselors feel much closer so that, when summer camp comes around, everyone works together much more as a collective group. Because relationships are closer and everyone has had this shared experience, communication during camp becomes much easier. Counselors are much more comfortable around each other, thus making a much more successful summer camp than what would be without having this shared experience.

 

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
general
Musical

Childhood Hand Clapping Games (Down by the Banks)

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College. In this account, she describes a childhood rhyme/game that she commonly played with her friends when she was younger. The way this game is played is for children to sit in a circle with their hands lying open on each others, open palm with the next person’s right hand on top of your left. When the rhyme begins, the first child takes their right hands and crosses it across their body to hit the right hand of the next kid, and the child’s hand who is hit last by the time the rhyme ends is “out.” This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening, and is actually a continuation of a conversation that we had a few days prior to this one. The initial conversation involved a three more people, in which we all shared our various versions of the rhyme with each other, surprised at how there are different versions. However, for this specific conversation, the one where I focus on only my informant’s version of the rhyme, she and I were alone in a private space. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Ok, so,  I was talking with some friends recently and we all remembered like a certain, like, childhood rhyme or game that we used to play, like in elementary school or whatever. And it involved some hand clapping, I will say that, but something we realized is that, like, regionally, the rhyme seems to vary. So like, my friends from the midwest had like a different rendition of it, but like it was only changed by like maybe a few words. So here it as, as I know it:

 

Down by the river by the hanky panky,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky.

A E I O U bamboo,

Sugar is sweet and so are you,

So bing bing bong you are out.

 

K: In what context would you sing this song?

 

E: Um, I mean it’s definitely of more of like a play time, recess time thing. Like I don’t think it’d be, uh, how shall I say, acceptable to do this in class.

 

K: How did you learn or hear about this little rhyme?

 

E: Oh, probably like kids who are cooler than me on the playground. I mean, I’m just being honest.

 

K: So definitely not formally taught.

 

E: Oh, certainly not. Like my teachers never like taught me.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this folklore was especially interesting because it ties to my personal experience with this childhood rhyme. I personally did not consider this childhood rhyme folklore until this conversation because I remember being a kid and doing this in music class, where I was formally taught by an institution of how to play this game. I was surprised when I learned that this is normally something that is passed down or performed by other children rather than something that is taught by a music teacher. Furthermore, I was excited by the fact that my version of the rhyme was different:

 

Down by the banks of the hankity pankies,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bankies.

With an Eeps, Ips, Ohps, Ops,

He’s got the lily with the big ‘ker-plop’!

 

For another example of  “Down by the Banks,” please refer to this source:

“Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky.” King County Library System, The Kingsgate Library, kcls.org/content/down-by-the-banks-of-the-hanky-panky/.

For more examples of children’s hand clapping games, please refer to this source:

Sutton-Smith, Brian, et al., editors. Children’s Folklore: A Source Book. University Press of Colorado, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nskz.

Customs
Game

Paper Fortune-Teller – An American Childhood Classic

“When I was in elementary school, my friends and I used to make this folded paper-contraption, kind of like origami, that was supposed to tell fortunes. Basically, you had to fold a standard piece of loose-leaf, like, 10 times. On each of the folds you would write numbers and colors, and then on the inside flaps, you would write some kind of fortune, like who you would marry or where you would live or what your job would be–or even all of the above.  One person would be the one to ‘move’ the paper contraption back and forth, while the other person would choose the numbers/colors. For example, the if the person chose 3, you would move the paper back and forth 3 times before stopping on the configuration that showed the colors. Then they would choose the color, and the person would read the fortune underneath.”

Context: The informant, ER, is student was born and raised in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, CA. She was a very outgoing and enjoyed doing lots of fun activities with her friends, including making lip-synced music videos and playing quirky games. This game was something that ER and her friends did a lot, repeating the fortune-telling over and over again in order to hopefully get a fortune that was favorable. However, only a few of the friends were capable of constructing the contraption, so you had to ask them to make one for you if you need wanted one of you own.

Analysis: Based on the insights of ER, I can see the how this game is an important piece of children’s folklore that tell us a lot about our culture and the way that children see the world and their lives. With this particular game, we can see how children want to grow up and know more about their future and what they would be like. There is always a level of uncertainty for the future throughout our lives, however, the amount of control that we have over our future as a young child is much less than when we become older and more mature. Children are always anticipating what the future holds for them, and this game is a way to bring some wisdom to this struggle and help them alleviate the uncomfortableness of the uncertainty. Another example of a children’s folk game that involves fortune-telling is a game-called MASH. This game involves writing down lists of various components of one’s future, like spouse name, job and house style and use a specific number to determine which of components on the lists will be your future.

Along with this, the fact that only a few people had the ability to manufacture the paper object, it also created a bit of a power dynamic between the children that want to participate in the game, and those who are able to provide this game. Another interesting fact about this game was the fact that I also grew up with this, despite the fact that I live across the country in Rhode Island. This is demonstrative of the how children across the country are sharing their traditions and customs with each other, and disseminating it moreover. For another version/purpose of this paper device, see Mechling, Jay. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Edited by Elliot Oring. pp. 105.

Customs
Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese Restaurant Clapping Game

“So we had a clapping game that my friends and I used to do that involved this one song that I always thought was a little bit weird:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant, to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread.

They asked me what my name was, and this is what I said, said, said:

‘My name is….choo choo Charlie, I can do karate, punch ‘em in the stomach,

Oops, I’m sorry! Please don’t tell my mommy!

Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Freeze!'”

Context: The informant, ER, is an Asian-American student. She really enjoyed playing games with her friends when she was growing up in California; some of these included clapping games like this, along with making lip-sync dance videos. ER is a very popular girl, and wanted to fit in with the other girls, which includes participating in this game. ER explains that she uncomfortable with singing along with this song. Being an Asian-American, she felt that this song was quite racist and drew from various stereotypes in order create a catchy song to sing along to.

Analysis: This song follows other types of children’s songs that are common and widespread. It has catchy, simple rhythm with equally catchy lyrics. In this case, it involves repetition of certain lyrics that are necessary for clapping games. Towards the end of song, the lyrics become a bit nonsensical, and do not really provide any real connection with the original theme of the song. Even the first line of the song make no real sense since no one would normally go to a Chinese restaurant to purchase a loaf of bread. However, rational lyrics are not the main purpose of children songs, but rather about parodying other songs, or making fun of strict components of society.

However, probably the more telling part of this song is the slight racial insensitiveness of the lyrics. In this case, the lyrics are playing on stereotypes of Chinese people, and also equating them with other Asians, including Japanese people and Indian people. For many children, it is common for them to not be able to differentiate between different groups of East Asians, or can tend to be more racially insensitive. Due to this, it means that when these children come up with these rhymes and games, they will be less inhibited by potentially insensitive lyrics when trying to find rhyming words and catchy lyrics.

For ER, calling out her friends because of a racist song had too many consequences. From the social side, ER did not want to say that she did not want to participate in the game, which would create a rift between herself and her friends due to a mere song. Children’s social structures and relationships tend to be very fragile and complex, and due to this, telling your friends that you do not want to participate in a favorite game would be seen as an insult. Due to this fear, many kids will not tell their friends about something that bothers them personally in order to maintain their friendships and keep their social standing.

Childhood
Game
Gestures

Ninja

Background: The following informant is a young-adult college student who describes a game she played as child that she now plays with her younger nephews. This is a transcription of the informant explaining the game to another friend who had never played it before (the informant is C, our friend is “Friend” and I am identified as “Me”):

Piece:

Friend: Wait, what is it again?

C: It’s when you’re like in a circle and you try to hit each other’s hands and you can only move if the other person moves.

Friend: When do you move?

C: When I try to hit your hand- when I move you try to avoid me hitting it

Friend: How do you win?

C: Keep going until one of you gets to the ending.

Me: When do you do this?

C: When I play with the kiddos.

Me: Who?

C: My nephews!

Context: This conversation occurred in my dorm room one evening while a group of freshman college students who live on the same floor discussed childhood memories and games that we all played. The informant learned of the game as a child and continued to pass it on to another generation of children.

Thoughts: I have played “Ninja” countless times growing up so it was interesting to me that one of my friends had never heard of it, even though we grew up about thirty minutes a part. Yet, my friend from across the country had played the game and knew it exactly as I did. Depending on the schools you attend and people you interact with you gain different experiences even within the same general area. I used to play this game when I was among friends and we were all bored. It doesn’t require any props and can generally move pretty fast so it’s a great way to pass the time. It’s fun to play even as adults, as it can get pretty competitive.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
Legends

Bloody Mary

Background: This informant is a young-adult college student who grew up in Northern California. The informant discusses a scary ritual that calls forth a vengeful ghost. This is a transcription of our conversation (The informant is “C”, another friend is “Friend” and I am labeled as “me”).

Piece:

Me: Did you ever do any like ghost ritual kind of things when you were a kid?

C: I mean at sleepovers we used to do Bloody Mary

Me: I feel like everyone has done Bloody Mary. How did you do it?

C: Go in a bathroom, turn lights off and say bloody mary three times.

Me: Where does she come from?

C: I think she comes out of the mirror.

Me: Did you ever try it?

C: No I was always too scared.

Context: This conversation occurred one evening while sitting in my dorm room with my two closest friends. We were discussing my folklore collection project and I told them that folklore included rituals and traditions and the like. When brainstorming rituals, the informant brought up Bloody Mary, a common supernatural legend mainly believed by young children.

Thoughts: Bloody Mary is such a common folk legend and I can honestly say that I have never heard of anyone actually conjuring Bloody Mary. When I “played” Bloody Mary growing up, a candle was required for the ritual and in the dark bathroom with only a small flame flickering, it felt incredibly eerie. I had always thought of Blood Mary to be the antithesis of the Virgin Mary, but upon researching it further I found that Bloody Mary is actually based on Queen Mary of England. Bloody Mary is associated with children and childbirth in particular as its based on Queen Mary’s mysterious phantom pregnancy- she appeared to be pregnant but never gave birth to a child.

For more information on Bloody Mary and her origins, see this 2016 article by Krissy Howard entitled “The True Story of Bloody Mary, The Woman Behind The Mirror” (All That’s Interesting):

https://allthatsinteresting.com/bloody-mary

 

 

Game

one word stories (game)

Text:

“When we would sit around the fire at night as kids we would tell stories in the form of one word. Which we would call “one word stories.” So the rules of the game were everyone would sit in a circle and usually the oldest or youngest person would start with the phrase ‘once upon a time there was’ and the following person in the circle, which was always done clockwise, would say one word like ‘fish’. This would then continue until a full story was formed. The stories always were quite comedic and didn’t really make much sense in the end since the younger kids loved to yell out random words that a typical 9 year old would think funny.”

Genre: folk game

Background: The interviewee, VP, is an American middle-aged female. VP resides in Northern California and comes directly from Austria and Latvian descent. VP remembers this game being taught to her by her American friends, however does not remember their exact origins or where they learned the game from. VP states that the game usually would consist of at least 3-4 younger children and often some adults to mediate. She mentioned that his game was played in a variety of locations sometimes around a candle at home or fire at her childhood cabin in Northern California. The game usually was centralized around funny and child inspired stories as it was primarily for the children of the group; the parents, as previously stated, were there to make sure the stories did not take a dark turn. This was a procedure put in place so none of the younger children would end up in tears over a death or other scary fate. VP mentioned that she passed this game down to her children as well, and in hopes they will do the same as it was product for some of her most memorable childhood memories.

Nationality: Austrian and Latvian
Location: Los Altos, CA
Language: English

Interpretation: I, once being a young kid myself, have had a personal relationship to this game as it was passed down to me as a child. I have played this game time and time again with friends and parents. Although the goal is to make sure no one is upset with the twists and turns the story, I remember several participants in tears after certain games. I was left curious with the is game’s concept and its origins, as my interviewee VP had no knowledge of this. A quick Google search later and I found a similar game by the name of Consequences. The game Consequences is not a typical board game, but is self-driven by its participants. There are two variations of the game, written and images based. These two game methods compliment the oral version VP practices which in turn creates a trifecta of written visual and aural stories. One version of Consequences is practiced by individuals drawing lines to create a creature or images, and the latter is done by the following template:

Adjective for man
Man’s name
Adjective for woman
Woman’s name
Where they met
What they went there for
What he wore
What she wore
What he said to her
What she said to him
The consequence (a description of what happened after)
What the world said

Although all three variations of this game are drastically different they focus upon imagination and blind story telling. This game is something that I will definitely attempt to pass on to others to inspire this level of connection and creatively.

Folk Dance
Game
Musical

Little Sally Walker

Text

Informant: So, “Little Sally Walker” is a game where there’s a bunch of people and you run in a circle… or, somebody runs out and they run in a circle. They go in a circle and they sing

 

Little Sally Walker

Walking down the street

She said “I didn’t know what to do”

So she stopped in front of me and said

 

(Now they stop in front of a person and the person copies their dance)

 

“hey girl do your thing

do your thing

hey girl do your thing do your thing”

Now stop!

 

And after that they do the same dance move and the person who did the dance move goes on and goes in the same circle and it continues to go along for a while.

 

Context- The informant is my twelve-year old sister. She learned these songs while going to various summer camps over the years and has often taught them to her friends so that they could sing them together for fun.

 

Analysis- This song has two aspects to it: the vocal and the physical. The singing alone would amuse children, but its combination with a dancing game would probably make it a great source of entertainment for younger children. It is also a great way for camp counselors to distract children when they are waiting for activity or event. The game only requires the knowledge of the song and, therefore, could basically be played anywhere. This fact probably helps the counselors when they need more time for preparation for activities, using the song to entertain the children while they wait.

Folk speech
Game
general
Riddle

Imagine you are in a Brick Room

Text:

Informant (R): I also used to do a bunch of riddles and stuff, like while hiking at summer camp, you know?

Collector (J): yeah, yeah, that was fun!

R: My favorite was the brick room one.

J: oh yeah, that one messed with me as a kid, I felt so dumb because I couldn’t figure it out.

R: I mean, it was hard!

J: How did it go again?

R: Ok, so imagine you are trapped in a solid brick room, with no windows, no doors, nothing. You have a single piece of rope and a paper clip and a note that says you must escape the room or you’ll die. How do you get out?

J: I mean, I know the answer, but can you say it?

R: Yeah, so I said imagine you’re in the room. Stop imagining.

Context: Both R and J went to summer camp together. They were recalling old games and riddles for the sake of this collection. R learned this riddle from a camp counselor who repeated this riddle while hiking with younger campers.

Analysis: As other riddles are, this riddle contains insider information for those who know the answer to the riddle. Those who “play the game” of trying to solve it are typically misguided and attempt to find ways out of the room with the rope or other tools. Depending on the performance, the “clues” to escape change, keeping those attempting to solve the riddle on their toes. However, those who know the riddle are quick to remember the keyword “imagine.”

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