Tag Archives: games

Afikoman: Jewish Holiday Folk Game

Context: AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
MW: So what do you know about the Afikoman?
AW: The Matzah, the bread we eat during Passover, because it represents the fact that when the jews had to flee Egypt and slavery. They left in such haste that the bread did not have a chance to rise, that’s why we have matzah.
AW: So, we eat the matzah all week so that we remember what happened to us, and during the seder…the person that leads the seder
[AW flips through her Passover Haggadah]
AW: explains to everyone…REMINDS not explains, what the bread means to us as a people
AW: they break it in half, one half to be eaten, and the other to be set aside for later. Traditionally that half is hidden by the oldest person at the seder for the children to find after the festival meal.

MW: Do you have any, like, special house rules?
AW: So we make rules, first the Afikoman has to be hidden in the house. Depending on the age of the children, if they’re very young it has to be in one specific room in the house to make it easier for them to find it. If they’re older it’s anywhere downstairs. It’s usually hidden by the person who led the seder.

MW: Ok
AW: Someone says “on your mark get set, go” and the kids race to find it, if there are young kids we hide it again so all the kids get a chance to find it.

MW: So what does the Afikoman mean to you?
AW: It’s just part of the festival, it’s nice, you know what it’s nice because I remember the nights where we were all to grown up to do it. So it’s comforting to see the next generation carrying on our traditions.

The Afikoman is wrapped which serves the practical purpose of keeping it, a dessert item, separated from the rest of the food. But the wrapping also serves a symbolic role as mimicking the way Ancient Jews would have wrapped their matzah as they fled Egypt. This mimicking is key to the overarching theme of Passover, that all Jews see themselves as having been liberated from Egypt, not just their ancestors. So in repeating the wrapping behavior modern Jews inhabit the role of their ancestors. The Talmud, a commentary on the Torah states that “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.” Thus, Afikomen hunting becomes a way to engage children with short attention spans during what is a fairly long religious event.
Likewise, the matzah is split in half during the seder. This might represent the delayed nature of Jewish salvation, the matzah eaten during the Seder representing the exodus itself, while the Afikomen matzah, hidden away and eaten only after the Seder ends, represents either the Mosciach, or Messiah’s final redemption of the Jewish people, or perhaps their eventual return to their homeland Israel after 40 years in the desert. For alternate uses of the Afikoman in Jewish households as a pendant for blessing see What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish

Ochs, Vennessa. “What Makes A Jewish Home Jewish?” What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?, an Article by Vanessa Ochs, in Cross Currents, the Quarterly Journal of Opinion Covering Religion and the World., www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm.


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”):


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.

The Circle Game

“I think it was called the circle game. So you put your fingers like this (forms a circle with the index and thumb finger and if the other person sees you get to hit them. We would always play this in school and we thought it was funny like oh you lost because I made you look”

Context: Informant did the circle game to me and I looked and we both started laughing. So later I asked her to explain the game to me.

Background: Informant is a fourth year student at the University of Southern California. She recalls playing this game in middle school. They would play this in class and whenever possible. She learned it from some of her other friends who did it to her. When she looked and everyone laughed she started trying to also trick her friends into looking.

Analysis: When I was in middle school we played the same game but I do not recall getting to punch anyone if I tricked them into looking. If someone looked the person got bragging rights. Online there are also more rules attached to this circle game. For example, it must be below your waist in order for it to be considered a fair win. Also, the person who is looking can break the circle if they remain eye contact and break the circle by putting their finger in between their circle. The variety of rules that are not always shared among all groups of people that know the game show how some rules pass on while others don’t however the gist of the game does still remain the same.

Don’t Get the Cheese Touch


Interviewer: “What about games? Any you remember from childhood?

L.F.: “Lemme think…. Oh yeah haha the cheese touch.”

Interviewer: “What is the cheese touch?”

L.F.: “It was kinda like the elementary school bully version of tag. Basically when someone had the “cheese touch” no one would speak to them out of the fear of getting it.”

Interviewer: “What was it though?”

L.F.: “hahahaha… I don’t know… It was just like cooties. No one knew what they were but you definitely didn’t want it.”


Informant L.F. is a teenage boy who recently became an adult. He is half Japanese and half Jewish and has spent his entire life in Northern California. During the summers, L.F. likes to attend away summer camp, and had attended the same camp for the past five summers. The camp is ranges from three weeks to 2 months and L.F. will be returning this summer as a counselor.


I asked informant L.F. to sit down for a formal interview on young adult folklore and if he remembered any weird games from his childhood or now. This is what he thought of.


To L.F. the cheese touch was a childhood game used to ridicule and scare kids into bullying one another. And, while her has fun memories of playing the game, he admits it was a representation of childhood bullying. L.F. does not remember who he learned the game from, but it was the sort of game that never really ended and all his school friends were apart of it. It reminds him of simpler times and of his youth.


Beer Pong and House Rules

K is the interviewed party.
J is the interviewer.

K: “Beer pong house rules kind of differ depending on which house, what house you’re in, like people always come up with different things, but the main rules kind of center around getting… I find the most interesting rules are what happens if you get b*tch cup. So, b*tch cup in beer pong is the center cup in a 4-3-2-1 pyramid, and some of the ways that I’ve seen it played is if you make b*tch cup you have to take off your shirt, and sometimes it’s different. sometimes for guys its shirts and for girls, it’s pants, sometimes for guys its shirts and for guys pants. I’ve also seen it where both genders just take off their pants. I’ve also seen it where if you b*tch cup you have to … there’s one where you have to drink a beer, drink a full beer, that was dumb, ‘cause if you got b*tch cup you have to drink a full beer. There’s also one where if you get b*tch cup as your first cup it doesn’t count as a cup, yeah… There’s also variations for if you get to pull your pants up after you make another cup or put your shirt on after you make a cup, or if it stays off the entire rest of the game. Or sometimes if [it continues on if] you play more games at the same table. There’s also a lot of things around trolling. One particular tradition, which is when you don’t make any of the cups in a game, you have to spend the next game sitting under the table, like as if you’re a troll under a bridge.”

J: “Are these [rules] largely regional or do they vary in local areas?”

K: “I’ve seen the ‘cup doesn’t count’ a lot more on the east coast, but I think the whole pants shirt, which one you remove thing is more up to the house. I find people do shirts more often in communities where there’s more girls around, whereas with guys it’s normally… I think guys normally just play pants.”
J: “Where did you hear about the style that you play?”
K: “I heard about it at my fraternity house, where we don’t really do anything.”


I have played or heard some variation of most of the rules discussed earlier. While the reasoning behind changes is hard to nail down, in this case, I would say that many of them come down to the comfort level and competitiveness of the main group of players for each area that has its own ruleset. For people who all know each other, taking off clothes is much less intimidating than if the room is full of strangers. It also helps that the drinking nature of the game means that most players are a little loosened up and more open to doing things of that nature. That being said, some people may have no interest in any of these rules and choose not to follow them. The interesting note that I have personally found about these house rulesets is how strictly people adhere to rules once they are made up and chosen. Groups are very unlikely to alter house rules and will defend their own tooth and nail when presented with an outside alternative. The only way to settle this argument can be found in the name. The reason they are often called house rules is that when you’re in that house, those are the rules you play. Playing house rules is usually done out of respect, but sometimes it is a way to lord power over those who aren’t a member of the in-group of the house; this is especially evident with many fraternity house rulesets. A fraternity house is the domain of no one but the members, where they are used to ruling with absolute authority. House rules are usually much more of a suggestion when the people playing are on a more equal level.


The interviewed party is a 21-year-old, male southern-California native. He lived his whole life in Irvine, California until he moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. In the fall of his freshman year, he pledged one of USC’s fraternities and has been an active member since. This interview was conducted in person at the interviewer’s house. The audio of the conversation was recorded in order to ensure accuracy when writing the spoken words.

Step on a crack, break you mother’s back!


The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “It’s..umm.. ‘Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um… On the sidewalk. If you step on the lines, your mom’s back is supposed to break.”

Collector: “Have you ever stepped on the line?”

Informant: “Yeah. But she didn’t break her back.”


            The Informant informed me of this saying when we were discussing games she and her friends and siblings played on the way to school. This piece was the first game that she thought of. The informant learned the saying and subsequent game from one of her older siblings. She remembered they yelled at her once when they started playing and the Informant got scared that she had actually hurt her mother. But now she knows that it doesn’t actually hurt them right away, it’s just bad luck and could lead to her mother breaking her back.


            I believe, like my informant, that this little saying/game is just that: a game. But upon looking closer, I believe more meaning can be derived from the intention behind the game. The notion that the simple act of stepping on a crack on the sidewalk could potentially cause your mother to break her back makes me think mostly of implanting the idea of responsibility. I believe the game/saying brings forward the idea that children have to take responsibility for their actions. Meaning, if you step on a crack, you break your mother’s back. The idea behind this is that if you do something that indirectly causes another event, you are responsible for that outcome, whatever it may be.


For another version of this game, please see p. 94 of Eliot Oring’s (1986) edition of Folk Group and Folklore Genres: An Introduction in Jay Mechling’s chapter on “Children’s Folklore” ((Utah State University Press)).


Bronner, Simon J., et al. Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Edited by Elliott Oring, University Press of Colorado, 1986.

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.


I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.


The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.


I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Skiing Mt. Rainier in the 1930’s


A man from Saratoga, California recounts the cultural traditions his father took part in, of skiing Mt. Rainier in the 1930’s as a child. According to his retelling, Mt. Rainier was a prime place for skiing among the youth of Pierce County, Washington. The reason not many people chose to ski that mountain, was due to the layer of volcanic ash that would settle on the snow. As kids would ski down the hills, their skis would wear down at a very fast pace. The solution to this: Buy cheap skis, throw them away when they were done.


My interview with my source, S, went as follows:

ME: Were there any specific like games or events that happened up in your part of Washington?

S: There were a few… I think probably the most interesting one would be when my father would tell me about going skiing.

ME: Tell me about that

S: Well this was back in the 1930s. And he and his friends would go skiing on Mt. Rainier except when they went skiing. It was sort of an all day thing. First they would go to the army surplus store and buy the skis and these skis were really cheap. There were nice skis but they were really inexpensive and so they’d get their skis and then they’d hike up Mount Rainier and Mount Rainier as we know now is a volcanic mountain. But back then it was dormant but there was plenty of volcanic pumice and the wind would blow over the snow it would deposit a fine layer of pumice so they’d go up and they’d ski down Mount Rainier and when they get to the bottom their skis or they bought that day were basically sanded on the bottoms because of the pumice on the snow and so they just throw away the skis and the next time they’d go they’d buy another pair at the Army surplus store.


I’ve honestly never heard of people skiing on active volcanoes–for obvious reasons. To the children of Pierce County, however, they saw this as an opportunity to have fun with no one around to stop them. Their cultural work around for the volcanic pumice on the surface of the snow is quite interesting. Had it not been for the ease of access to cheap, disposable skis at the time, I doubt this phenomena would have taken place.

Stick Games

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as DG.

DG: Over the summer, I learned the stick game. Basically how it works is that you’ll have sticks, and you play with a group of friends around you in a circle. You tell them you’ll put the sticks out to signify a number, but you start putting them out in a random order, and what you’re actually doing is tapping the number out on your leg. So, they’ll try to guess it, but they’ll keep getting it wrong because it’s not actually a number from the sticks. You keep telling them that they’re focusing on the wrong thing or looking at the wrong thing, while you keep tapping out a different number. Usually people won’t get it for a good fifteen minutes, and so it’s something you do when you’re bored, or if you want to irritate your family and your friends. So usually, it’s people you know, because if it’s people you don’t know, it’s not that fun.

BD: Where’d you learn this game from?

DG: I learned this over the summer from my supervisor.

BD: Do you know where your supervisor learned this from?

DG: I have no clue.


This is the first time I have heard of this game, and searching for it on the internet yielded close to no results, because of the vague nature of a game with sticks. However, it is very similar to game played by children that are meant to trick each other. It is likely that there are variations of this game with different objects, but seeing as the informant does not know the origin of this game, that would be a poor inference to make.


Sardines Game

“There’s this game called sardines, how it is is the hider is the person that everyone is trying to find, so it’s not like hide and seek, and so once you find the hider, you have to hide with them in the same spot. As people keep finding you, you keep getting larger in your group. So as the first hider, you have to find a spot that’s really good, so that people can’t find you, but then also good enough that if people start clumping in, they won’t be seen.”

While listening to my informant tell me how “sardines” is played, I began to think of how similar it is to hide-and-seek, despite her insistence it is not. I have also heard of this folk game, and it must be quite common across different communities in California, at least, if not the rest of America.
Huffington Post groups both hide-and-seek and sardines together as the same kind of hiding game, in the following article: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/08/01/fun-traditional-games-parents-played-when-children_n_7553124.html.