Folk Game – American

In grade school there is one thing that all students usually have on their person: a pencil. These pencils come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and densities. Ira used to play a game called Pencil Breaks in grade school. The goal of the game was to break the pencil of your opponent completely in half using your own pencil. The pencil had to be broken completely in half. If it was simply splintered and not broken all the way in half the game continued.

The players take turns striking each other’s pencils until a victor is crowned or they call it quits, usually in order to make it to the next class. If a player misses the opposing pencil completely the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. If a player hits the opponent’s hands or fingers instead of the pencil, the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. Ira says there are a variety of techniques but the most important thing is not to snap your own pencil in half while attempting to torque it back far enough to do sufficient damage to your opponent’s pencil.

The best players are the ones that were patient as opposed to rash. Ira said that new players tended to think they needed tremendously powerful strikes and usually snapped their own pencils in half. He also noticed that the strongest pencils were those that were made in China. The pencils made in America were more flexible and ready to break. The Chinese pencils were more solid tended to break less frequently. Ira recalls how he would inspect a challenger’s pencil and when he saw it was made in China he knew he was in for a challenge. When he noticed they were made in America he would be much more extravagant in his strikes and generally less technical.

Some players had the same pencil that they had one multiple battles with. These pencils were dented up combat veterans that were ready to face and defeat any challenger. When one of these veteran pencils finally suffered a killing blow they would later be ritually retired and sometimes even buried.

Ira said the first time he played Pencil Breaks was in 6th grade. He remembers that it quickly became popular and eventually it was outlawed by the school administration, which quickly led to a rise in popularity for the game during that time. Some kids were so good that they would use regular pencils to battle mechanical pencils and still win. Ira says the game is a way to facilitate friendly competition between and amongst groups. It gives the kids a quick way to have fun under the watchful eyes of their teacher. By using an item as common as a pencil they were able to remain undetected for quite some time.

I think the use of pencils was a brilliant idea because it would be hard for someone to be suspicious of children with pencils, considering how common it was for student to have pencils. It can also be seen as a way of exerting power as well as gain stature among other peers. If the game is viewed from a Freudian perspective the pencils then become phallic symbols. By destroying your opponent’s pencil with your own you are saying that your manhood is superior to his.

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