I had met with one of my friends for lunch, and we got to talking about games we had played as children and teenagers.
Informant: Here’s something that came from the theater world. It’s a game called, I’m gonna go with “King Moose,” no it was “King Elephant.” I’ve played this game in other places where it was called King Moose or King Whatever, but the game we played was called King Elephant.
Informant: Yeah. And it was a passing game and you had a rhythm. And it was like hit your thighs clap your hands, hit your thighs, clap your hands.
Me: Oh yeah.
Informant: And we would have – there was only two signs that had to be in there, you had King Elephant who would have a trunk with like one arm over the other with the bent one holding their nose.
Me: Okay yeah.
Informant: And then you had dunce. Which was just a really crappy hat. Some people would do chopped liver which was just kind of spazzed out, ’cause you were chopped liver. You know? [Laughter] But most of the time we just played dunce. When we wanted to be mean we would do chopped liver. [Laughter] and so everyone, as many people as you have, sit around in a circle, and the first time around each person picks a sign. And its just like a word or a name and then a gesture. It doesn’t have to be animals, but I have played this game where it was only animals, and played it where it could be anything you could think of. We had a couple of ones that everyone knew, like 7-eleven was like two guns, New Yorker was a “screw-you” sign, we had fish, sometimes it would become Nazi fish, [laughter] because people would get too excited (me mainly) and instead of waving their hand like a fish swimming it would go up so it became Nazi fish. [Laughter] And like sometimes there would be inside jokes. One of my favorite ones was pink, and it was ’cause, I think it was my freshman year, and there was an improv show, and this guy in our theater troupe was supposed to like, paint something pink. And so he got up, moved his body about and was like, “Piiiink.” [She stood up and waved her body from side to side as she waved her arm in exaggerated painting motions] Like he was splashing paint everywhere, so that was one of the signs that we would always use, was pink. I mean people would do like Batman [she demonstrated the gesture], they could do whatever they want, as long as it was an easy sign to remember and do. And that sign became attached to the chair. And the whole point of the game was to get to the king elephant’s spot. And the to that, you had to knock people out. And so the king would set the rhythm and then he would call out his name and do his sign and then would call out someone else’s name and do their sign. And then it would pass to that person who would have to do their sign and then someone else’s sign.
Me: Oh yeah.
Informant: And it gets randomly passed around the circle.
Me: I’ve played something similar before.
Informant: Yeah. And if you messed up the beat, said a sign that didn’t exist, or you messed up on a sign, then you were kicked out and you had to go to the dunce’s seat, and everyone moved up a seat. And of course, you had to learn a new sign because you were in a new seat. Which of course causes more people to get kicked off, since they forget whose sign is whose. And so yeah it’s a fun game, trying to get to the king’s spot.
Me: Yeah, I’ve played something similar where there is no dunce seat, it’s just going round. It’s essentially just an elimination game, there is no king elephant or dunce. Yeah, I’ve played something similar.
Informant: Yeah we had one where it was king moose and it was just animals, but I like king elephant better because you could get really crazy. And then we would do murder round, for the people who were really into it, where the beat would go really fast. We had to come up with a new rule where you couldn’t go back and forth more than three times, ’cause what people would do, especially people who were really competitive, would simply go back and forth on and on, which became really boring for the rest of us. So we had to make a rule that you couldn’t go back and forth more than three times. It’s a fun game.
Me: Yeah it is. I haven’t played it in years.
Informant: Me neither. But it was really fun.
This is a children’s game that to me would encourage creativity, quick thinking, an understanding of rhythm, and memory. My informant went to school in Northern California, where she played the game, and I went to school in Washington, DC – o the opposite side of the country – where I also played this game, albeit slightly differently. This game is something that I played with my sports teammates before practice, and sometimes before games, as a warm-up to get the blood going, or even as an icebreaker-type game to get everyone to know each other a little bit better. The fact that it is children and young teenagers – middle and high school students – that play this game could possibly mean that it is a game that is used more often than not to bring a group of people together, such as a sports team made up of people that you might not know very well. I have fond memories of playing such games with my volleyball team back in high school, and it helped us get out some of the competitiveness and animosity that some of us may have had with and towards each other. After all, better to work that out off the court than to have it interfere with the game on the court.