Text: “One trick I did consistently throughout my childhood, it was like the only magic trick that I ever knew how to do, it was learning how to pull a coin out of your mouth. So what you would do is you would put your arms behind your back, and pretend to put the coin behind your back and then you put like a finger in your mouth and then flick and a coin was supposed to come out. But, the trick of it, like how you actually do it is its not coming from your mouth, but it’s coming from your sleeve.”
Context: K is a twenty year old student who grew up in Virginia and currently attends USC. She learned how to do this trick from a friend on the playground when she switched schools.
Analysis: The more popular version of the above trick is to pull a coin out of someone’s ear, and it’s done through a similar trick of the eye or deception. Hiding the coin and moving it outside of the person witnessing the trick’s view. However, pulling a coin out of one’s mouth also has an allegorical relation. Recorded in the Bible In Matthew 17:24-27, the coin in the fish’s mouth is one of Jesus’ miracles. When the tax collector comes to Peter the apostle, Peter turns to Jesus and asks if he does not pay taxes. Jesus replies and explains why he does not, but instructs Paul to go fishing and tells him he will find a coin in the mouth of the first fish he catches to use for his taxes. In the 2008 United States census 76% of Virginians (K’s home state) identified as Christian, so perhaps there’s a relation between children hearing Biblical stories and trying to imitate them.
D is 19 years old, she’s a college student. She moved to California for high school, and has a large history with camping and hiking. She shared this trail game riddle she learned at summer camp in North Carolina when she was 11 or 12, though she’s also heard it multiple times while hiking.
“You could call them detective riddles, but they’re all in the same genre of: someone presents a scenario and then the one who’s trying to figure it out is asking questions about the scenario until they get more and more details and they figure out the answer to the scenario. This one is known as the scuba diver riddle. The scenario is “a man is found in the middle of a burned down forest head to toe in scuba gear. There’s no trace of anyone else around him, no trace of how he got there, what happened?” From there people ask questions like “Is he wet? Yes or no. Is he alive?” Sometimes it takes 20 minutes, I’ve seen up to three days, it’s a great thing to play when you’re in the backcountry and really bored. The eventual answer is that the man is someone who was scuba diving, there was a forest fire miles and miles away from sea, and helicopter crews trying to stop the wild fire were collecting water in huge nets to carry over to the forest from the ocean. They picked up this scuba diver, dropped him on the forest fire, he died on impact.”
This was a new brand of riddle that I hadn’t heard because it seems to be specific to those who go hiking or are out in nature for a long time. It seems like an excellent way to pass a lot of time. It’s really interesting how groups that spend a lot of time doing something repetitive like walking up a trail or camping will get creative to engage their minds over that long period of time. I wonder how far back games like these go. I imagine games like this have existed for a long time, because before cars people often had to walk very far to get to their destination if they were traveling somewhere new, like soldiers marching or people going on the Oregon Trial. I imagine humans have been creating these games for a long time, and they’ve morphed to suit modern audiences, as this riddle is terminus post quem helicopters and scuba gear existing. The informant also said that this riddle was used by adults to frustrate and keep kids busy, because kids like to ask a lot of questions. It seems like a good way to quench kid’s curiosity, because kids are endlessly curious.
D is 19 years old, she’s a college student. She heard a lot of trail games and riddles, and shared one that she learned on a camping trip in high school in California. She says that only people from California have ever recognized it.
“There’s a riddle called trains. The riddle has one person who’s the teller, usually the teller knows the riddle and no one else knows it. Someone says “I’m going to tell you guys about a bunch of trains going to different places, and you have to figure out the pattern.” You have the guess the answer. If I were to say this riddle, I’d say “There’s uhh one train in Los Angeles, zero in San Francisco, there’s like uhh… uhh you could say there’s two trains in Utah. There’s uhh one train in Florida” and it keeps going like that. The answer to the riddle is that every time you say “uhh” in your leadup to the state, that’s how many trains there are.”
I recognized a familiar riddle that I had learned as a child in California, another one that leads you on a long confusing journey while people try to keep up with a pattern, but the answer ends up being something stupid. The informant said that people tried to think about letters or vowels, but the real answer is “just so stupid.” When it comes to riddles, some people want to solve them to see smart, especially once you get a bit older. You want to seem smarter than the kids who normally hear this riddle, so people think of really complex potential answers. In the end though, the answer is just something silly. People sometimes take themselves too seriously when playing silly games and riddles, trying to prove that they are smart and capable of figuring it out easily. Often it’s little kids who are able to get the answer because they’re not overthinking it. Riddles like this encourage people to get back to their childish roots.
M is a 19 year old college student. She grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and shares a rhyme she learned in elementary school when she was in the cafeteria at lunch.
“Like elementary school on the playground you and your friends would draw a little teddy bear on one hand and scribble on the other and you’d say “This is Teddy. Teddy says hi” then you’d SMACK the other hand and say “this is Teddy when a car goes by.””
I’ve heard the same rhyme, except in California we drew a stick figure and would say “This is Steve.” This and other childhood games actually reveals a morbid fascination kids seemed to have. A lot of childhood rhymes are actually very violent in nature and play on really dark humor. I think this may be a way for kids to feel like they’re rebelling, to feel more mature. They joke about taboo things that their parents and teachers might not like them talking about because it makes them feel more adult. Maybe it also helps them make light of real topics that are actually quite frightening for children. They know death is a real thing, but they don’t want to think about it, so they make light of it.
Two people face each other. Their hands are connected palms together with fingers together and thumbs upward. They extend their arms to connect their middle fingertips together lightly. (see image below)
One person will try to take one of their hands away from the other and slap their partner’s hand. The partner with try to pull their hands away before they can be hit.
(Though the informant assigned no such roles, I will refer to the partner aiming to slap as the offensive partner and the partner pulling back as the defending partner for ease of communication.)
If the defensive partner succeeds in avoiding the hit, both players will reset their hands to the starting position and the offensive partner will try again to hit the hand. This repeats until the offensive partner wins. If the offensive partner succeeds in hitting their partner’s hand they win, and the defensive partner loses. The original hand position is taken up again and this time the partner who lost will take on the offensive role (trying to slap their partner’s hand before they pull away.) and the partner who won will take up the defensive role (trying to pull away). Play proceeds like this for as long as is desired.
The informant learned this game at a young age from her father who is from Murcia, Spain.
This game reminds me of many other hand games primarily children will play. specifically, it reminded me of a very similar game I learned as a child. The game I know features the same goal of trying to slap the partner’s hands before they pull away, and also the same system for switching roles. The difference is the starting position. As I learned the game, the offensive partner would place their hands out palms up and the defender would lightly rest their hands over the partner’s hands palms down.
These hand games indicate resourcefulness among people and children especially. This game is a way to have fun without the need for any materials. it is also very quick to learn.