“One Up, One Down” Folk Game and Riddle

Main Piece

Informant: This is kind of a camp riddle and game mashup and it is called One up One down. I like it because it is difficult enough to take days to figure out, so people can spend time figuring it out. One person will run it, and will introduce the riddle. They are the keeper, of the uhh game I guess. It goes in a circle, and you have three options: two up, one up one down, and two down. And so like, each person will give one of the three and try to figure out the pattern that would consistently allow them to say the correct answer. The person in charge tells them if they are right or wrong, because they know the secret to the pattern. Then it keeps going in a circle, people guess, and the keeper tells them if they are right or wrong and it keeps going until people figure out the right answer. The correct answer is based on the orientation of their arms. So right now, I would be two down, because both of my hands are in my lap. But, if I left one hand on my lap and one to rest my chin on, the correct answer would be one up one down. Basically, people overthink and start trying to guess elaborate patterns, and you kinda just win when you figure it out and you usually can’t tell the people still figuring out what the right answer is. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn this?

InformantI learned this in high school during my freshman river trip, where we would canoe down the Colorado river for four days. It was a game my group’s guide taught us, and I didn’t get it until our bus ride back. It drove me crazy, but when I got it I felt so frustrated but like I was part of a secret club!


The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, and he is a senior at USC. Coming from Oxnard, CA he and his family are very connected with their Mexican roots and he has grown up practicing and identifying with many aspects of Mexican culture. He is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to many EDM festivals and aspires to do lighting design for different raves as well. He also identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, comfortable identifying as a bisexual man.


While on a road trip with some of our other housemates the informant taught us this game and began to play it with us. At the end of the trip, I was the only one in the group who could still not figure it out. During the interview I had him explain the rules and origin of the game. 


I think this game is a great combination of a kinesthetic folk game mixed with a folk riddle, as there is a secret pattern you have to find out in order to comprehend the game as a whole. It is also inherently folklore as the rules are never shared, you either understand the pattern of the game or you don’t. Being intended for longer trips, it also proves to be a great way to pass the time as it could take a while for players to figure it out.