Author Archives: af

Chopsticks: The Game

Main Piece:

How do you play?

“Ok, so each player put out their pointer finger on each hand, ok, wait I know this. So… hmmm wait… the goal of the game is to get your partner to have five fingers out on both hands. And then they lose. And the way you play is you stick out your pointer finger on each hand, and you tap one of your partner’s hands, and they have to add a-as many fingers as you currently have out to that hand.”

Do you have any special rules?

“Yes, so let’s say you have three fingers out on one hand and one on the other, and then you want to switch, you can hit your hands and make them two and two. You can transfer as many fingers as you want to your other hand. And even if your hand is out, you can, like, still redistribute fingers to it and bring it back in.”

Context:

The informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish and attended public school her entire life. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

My informant’s account of Chopsticks’ rules was quite difficult to understand, which emphasizes that this game is best taught visually and learned through practice. Chopsticks is an engaging and competitive game that lets children exercise their mental math and strategy skills. It’s complicated enough to warrant fierce competition, but simple enough to master after only playing a few rounds. I even established social groups in elementary school through playing chopsticks and similar games.

Proverb Puns

Main Piece

“My grandpa would tell us the following: ‘You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.’ (laughs) The companion one was ‘A bird in the hand makes blowing your nose very difficult.’” 

What did they mean to you?

“The first thing they meant was that they were funny. Clearly it was about poking fun at old and real proverbs. But also to emphasize that you should be happy with what you’ve got. But mostly it was about being funny (laughs).”

Context: 

The informant is my father. He was raised Jewish and grew up on the East Coast of the United States. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

These punny proverbs subvert the “original” ones and give them new meaning. If you don’t know the original proverbs (“you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” and “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush”), these jokes wouldn’t be funny to you. If you are familiar with these proverbs, the unexpected punchline will elicit a giggle. This remix of original proverbs is a microcosm of how people manipulate and change “canonical” content, make it their own, and share it with others. 

Spanish Names

What is Spanish Names?

“This game is full of cultural appropriation but here we go: You can only play it with a new person, and you say ‘hey, let’s play Spanish names,’ and someone is in charge and they assign everyone a Spanish name. And the new person, you name them ‘Arted,’ and the other people, you name ‘Maria’ or ‘Rosa’ and stuff like that. And then you go around and you say “Eif” and then your name, so the person names Arted says ‘Eif Arted’ which is like ‘I farted.’ And then you go around and say it louder and louder and faster and faster until the poor new kid is yelling ‘I farted.’ (laughs) It’s totally not real Spanish.”

Where did you play it?

“(laughs) Hebrew School! At our very PC synagogue.”

Context:

My informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish, attended Los Angeles public school, and is currently a USC student. She attended Hebrew school from third grade through high school. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

Spanish Names is a game where there is an obvious in-group and out-group. There are those who have played the game before and understand the joke, and then there is the one person who has never played and is unknowingly going to end up as the butt of the joke. It plays into young children’s senses of bathroom humor through fart jokes, plus it humiliates a new person through a made-up Spanish word places between stereotypical Spanish names. The entire game is a set up to embarrass a single person, which brings a lot of joy to those who are in the know throughout the entire game.

Murder: The Game

Main Piece:

How do you play Murder?

“High school kids all over play murder, I think. It’s the one where you wink to kill people. We did this on speech and debate trips. There would be 30 of us stuck in a hotel room, and we would have a deck of cards and whoever got the jacks or something, they would be the murderer, and the way you would kill people is by winking at them, which would lead to some very dramatic death scenes. And you have to figure out who the murderer was, and the key was you had to wink at people without being caught. It gets easier towards the end.”

Context:

The informant is my father. He attended public school for his entire life. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

This kind of game is always a big hit amongst kids who like to act and investigate. I have encountered many variations of this game.  Some involve shaking hands instead of winking, some involve voting people out, and some involve multiple set rounds with different rules. The one thing that is constant is that there is a murderer, and every person who dies must act out a very dramatic death. There is something enjoyable about playing a game that is based on taboo topics like murder and death. This game allows people to act out things that they would never do in real life, but enjoy doing in a fantasy setting.

Jewish After-meal Prayer Alterations

Main Piece:

I talked to two informants who attended the same Jewish summer camp at two different times. 

How did you alter aspects of prayers at camp?

Informant 1: “We change the words of Birkat Ha’Mazon [the after-meal prayer].”

Informant 2: “Though it’s different from when I was at camp before you.”

 חֲבֵרַי נְבָרֵךְ Chaveirai n’vareich (Let us thank God)

  • Informant 1: N/A
  • Informant 2: Rubber tires never break

יְהִי שֵׁם יְיָ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹל Y’hi sheim Adonai m’vorach mei-atah v’ad olam.  (Blessed is the name of God now and forever)

  • Informant 1: N/A
  • Informant 2: Naked swimming is illegal in the state of Idaho 

בִּרְשׁוּת הַחֶבְרָה Birshut chaveirai (With Your permission)

  • Informant 1: Your shoes have arrived
  • Informant 2: Bear shit in your eye

לימשיכו Limshicho (The anointed one)

  • Informant 1: Cream Cheese Balls
  • Informant 2: N/A

Context: 

Informant 1 is my twin sister. She attended this camp during the 2010s. Informant 2 is my mother. She attended this camp during the 70s. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis: 

In general, Jewish youth assign humorous English phrases to Hebrew ones to try and break up the monotonous prayers they are forced participate in throughout the day. At this camp, Birkat Ha’Mazon is said after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and saying it three times a day gets very old, very fast. Having silly jokes within the prayer makes it a lot more bearable to complete. When comparing the prayer alterations from Informant 1 to Informant 2, Informant 2’s alterations are far more inappropriate and cruder. This reflects the agenda of the camp administration to crack down on these alterations and make them more appropriate. Their biggest issue with these alterations is that they disrespect concepts involving God. If the administration would have it their way, there would be no alterations at all, but for now, they have settled for “Your shoes have arrived” because it is far better than “Bear shit in your eye.”