Cat’s cradle

My informant was a Japanese-American college student at USC who grew up in California. Below is a transcript of our conversation talking about the cat’s cradle, a playground game she played as an elementary schooler.

“A cat’s cradle is a string that you can manipulate into different shapes with your hands by making a series of movements with your fingers. It was taught by my friends in elementary school and requires other people to help out to work since the patterns are easily forgettable; I had to ask people all the time how to do it. If you could make a shape out of a string people thought you were cool because you’re making a new shape out of a simple string. It felt mysterious and skillful, like a cool trick you can do to impress other kids on the playground.

I remember I also tried to teach my mom it, who said that she knew how to do it when she was younger but she forgot how to do it as she grew older. I didn’t play cat’s cradle after elementary school. There was no particular reason why; new trends just came up and I forgot how to make it.”

Cat’s cradle seems to invoke a similar sense of fascination and mystery as performing magic tricks, but this sensation seems to be quite ephemeral. It’s reminiscent of how children grow out of pretend play because they feel childish pretending like they’re something else and they want to feel more “grown-up” (this is reflected in how “too old to play pretend” is a common saying.) Because cat’s cradle was a social activity and needed other people to learn it from, the informant probably felt social pressure to stop doing something no longer regarded as “cool” anymore. The fact that the informant’s mother also knew how to do it but forgot as she grew older suggests that this is a common pattern among young children and occurs with every generation.