Tag Archives: Hand games


--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3-27-2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: Informant is a 22 year old American who has lived in California his whole life.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Do you remember any games you played during your childhood?

Informant: I remember a hand game I use to play with my sister. It was called Pikachu.

Interviewer: How do you play pikachu?

Informant: Pikachu is considered a hand game that goes along with a little song. You play with another person and you hold one of your hands against each other and the other hand would touch above and below, then side to side. Then you would play rock paper scissors and whoever won would pinch your cheek. You would do the song again and play rock paper scissors again. If the same person pinched both cheeks you get to slap them at the end. The song “Pikachu going up, going down. Pikachu going side to side” At the end of the pinching and slapping your cheeks would be red making you look similar to Pikachu.

Context: Interview with a family member, asking them about childhood games they remember

Thoughts: Pikachu sounds like a fun game. I like the fact that it incorporates more than one game, because it has rock paper scissors as well but the added twist of pinching and slapping seems mischievous enough for a children’s game.

“Black and White” Chinese Children’s Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired
Residence: San Mateo
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/15/2019
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some stories from her childhood. Before this, she had mentioned a “black and white” game that she played with the other kids, and I asked her to return to that subject and explain it to me.

ME: You mentioned a “black and white” game earlier that you play with your palm.

MW: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Could you explain to me what that is?

MW: Nothing. Oh this? [Holds out hand, palm facing up] Just, we play…

ME: How do you play it?

MW: So we say… and then it’s like, [holds hand behind back, then moves to hold it out in front of her, palm facing up]. You play, it’s the game, right? And then we play game like everybody go, [holds hand behind her back] and only you [holds out hand, palm facing up] is white, is good. Right?

It’s like, we always go like this [holds hand behind back], and then sometimes I go like this [holds hand out, palm up]. Right? That means… I won.

ME: Could you explain why that means you won?

MW: It’s like, we play, who will do okay? If the game, if you throw the ball. Who will be the first one to do it. So we don’t let them know [moves hand back behind her back], and ‘one, two, THREE!’[brings hand back out, palm facing up], right? And with three people, then it’s like we all white, and then this one, this [turns hand over so that palm is facing down], is black.

ME: So ‘white’ is your palm facing up and ‘black’ is your palm facing down?

MW: Yeah.

ME: So how many people do you play it with?

MW: You play it about three people.

ME: If everyone has their palm like this [I have my palm facing down], what does that mean?

MW: Then it’s nothing. But if it’s ‘one, two, three’ and one is out [puts out palm facing up], then he won.

ME: Then why can’t you do this [palm facing up] every time to win?

MW: Because one can start, and then the other ones can follow you, I don’t know. So it’s everybody, like this [palm facing up], then that’s fine, but it should be [flips palm, facing down].

Thoughts: This game stood out to me when MW first mentioned it in passing because I had never heard of a hand game like this, and she called it “Black and White,” which was interesting because the two opposing colors seem to appear a lot in folklore. From what I gathered by my grandma’s description/demonstration, three children play the game and they start with their hands behind their backs. Then, on the count of three, they all put out their hand with it either facing palm up (white), or palm down (black). This part I am the most unsure of, but I think that the goal of the game is to be the only person of the three to have the “white” hand or the “black” hand. Thus, neither “black” or “white” is better, instead, the winner would be the person who chooses how they place their hand uniquely. This is surprising to me, because typically in children’s stories with the colors black and white, one signifies good and the other evil, but in this game they are only meant to signify opposites.

Miss Mary Mack

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC student athlete
Residence: USC
Date of Performance/Collection: April 24, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The informant was raised in Chicago Illinois. She attended school in Chicago until she was able to go to USC on a track scholarship. She remembered a song that had been taught to her in elementary school that went through her and was continually passed on.


“Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.

She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 50 cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the fence, fence, fence.

They jumped so high, high, high
They reached the sky, sky, sky
And they didn’t come back, back, back
‘Til the 4th of July, ly, ly!”


Miss Mary Mack is a very popular song amongst the American children population. The informant said that she learned in first or second grade. She said that there is a hand game that goes along with it. You have a partner and you clap hands back and forth while chanting the song lyrics. She said that she was taught the song by other girls in her  school and she taught others this same thing. It sort of gets passed down through the grades and never really stops getting sung. She wasn’t sure where it came from but no one really knows. Its not about the author she said, its about the song and the hand game with it.

Miss Mary Mack is popular in our society. It is common for most people to recognize this and be able to sing it and clap hands with someone. Me personally, I was taught this song in elementary school as well and passed it on. The difference is that my mother showed it to me. It is interesting to me that this song is so common amongst the youngsters.

The song Miss Mary Mack can be found in the childrens’ book Miss Mary Mack, adapted by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Nadine Westcott.

Clapping game rhyme/song

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani-American
Age: 11
Occupation: Student
Residence: Torrance, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/24/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.


“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Clapping game rhyme/song

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani-American
Age: 11
Occupation: Student
Residence: Torrance, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/24/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Urdu

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.



iced tea



Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:


crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Tower of Fists Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Sardinian
Age: 55
Occupation: Teacher
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23rd, 2013
Primary Language: Italian
Other Language(s): English, French, Sardinian

“Okay, this is a game that children play, and so everyone puts their um fists on top of each other making like a tower, and then the one who leads the games sort of knocks everything, as if it were a building. Actually, in this one it’s as if it were a series of boxes, one on top of the other. And so basically, it goes up and down, ‘knock, knock’, ‘who is this?’, “well go upstairs’. But the last one is the most important one, when he reaches the top, and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘What is this?’ (Also in Sardinian) ‘A little box’, and then he asks, (in Sardinian) ‘What’s in it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘A golden apple’ (in Sardinian) ‘To whom are you going to give it?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Oh, to my beloved one in Alghero (which is a city nearby). May she be shown around with happiness’. And then they say something which doesn’t have anything to do with uhh. Whoever laughs first will get a slap in the face, because at this point everybody, you know the tower is destroyed, and everybody starts going like this, starts switching their hands like this, like mmmm (The informant rolls his hands quickly around each other, flat and with palms facing him, in front of his mouth). Of course its hard not to laugh when you are a child and doing this stupid thing. So uh that’s the game”

The informant also gave another version of the story inside the game, one from elsewhere in Sardinia: “And this one I remember from my father and it’s kind of the same idea. This time it’s about somebody going to the shoe maker, and the idea is that he has left the shoes to be repaired, and so the customer goes back and knocks and you know, again you do the tower with the fists and knocks and knocks. Like, ‘I’m looking for maestro so-and-so, you know, the shoemaker’, ‘well he’s not here, go to the… go upstairs’ and upstairs, upstairs until, you know, he reaches the top fist and this time he asks, uhh, ‘tum-tum (that’s like knock-knock)… (in Sardinian) who is this?’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Si!’ This time the answer is yes, he is here. In all the other cases, it was go upstairs, to the other floor. This time, yeah, ‘Is master Antonie there?’ ‘Yes, he is here!’ (in Sardinian) ‘Is he done, has he finally fixed my shoes?’ ‘No’ ‘Oh!’ Then the customer gets angry and he says, (in Sardinian) ‘Now I’m going to destroy all the building’. And then, you know, everybody again starts like doing this movement, switching the hands in front of their month. And of course again, whoever is the first to crack up in laughter gets a little slap from all the others, so it’s the same idea.”

The informant played this game when he was a young child. He still found it pretty fun though, because we played it after the interview, and he laughed a lot when I laughed first. However, I avoided the slap. The hand motion is pretty silly looking and it’s hard not to laugh. The informant played the game in his hometown in northern Sardinia, but there are other versions of the story in different regions of the island, as well as in Italy. The first story version is more romantic and fantastical, with a lover and a golden apple. However, the other version, from another region in Sardinia, is focused on the business of shoe-making. A lot of childhood games, especially in Sardinia, have connections to food or jobs. This could be because Sardinia is more rural than many cities here in America, so much of the people’s time is taken up with finding money and food, and they pass that on to their children.

I found the game silly and enjoyable. I have never seen any similar game here in America. It’s hard for me to picture a group of kids playing this. I think it’s interesting that the structure in both versions is the same, even though the stories are very different. This suggests that the story is not the important part of the game. Rather, the hand motions and the laugh-slap finale are the real appeal. The story lengthens the game and creates a process for it. This creates suspense and the children can imagine that they are actually following a narrative while they play, instead of just stacking their fists and knocking on each one. There are games here in America that I’ve played that involves a story simply to structure it. Some examples include Mafia, and Honey will you please please smile. These games are fun if the leader is good. I wish I could play the informant’s game for real, just to experience it.