Tag Archives: hide and seek

Relievio – New England Street Game

Description of Informant

NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends. From 1980-1989 (his middle- and high-school years), NM lived in Merrimac, MA. Merrimac was a small town on the MA/NH border, approximately 10 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Game

Relievio is a team-based hide-and-seek style game, where the first team, the “seekers,” try to catch all members of the second team, the “hiders.” If a seeker finds a hider, the chase begins. The seeker must grab hold of the hider and yell “Caught!” three times. If successful, the victim must go to a predefined waiting zone (“jail”). Once all hiders are jailed, the seekers win. The teams then switch roles and begin again.

There is a “jailbreak” rule, where if a “living” (i.e. not yet caught) member of the hiding team physically touches the jail and yells “Relievio!”, all jailed individuals are set free. Much of the game’s strategy (e.g. guards, sneaking to jail, faking being caught) stem from this mechanic. 

Context of Use

Relievio was a common street/neighborhood game for the children of Merrimac, MA. The game was often played after nightfall, so as to augment the “thrill of the hunt.”

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Context of Interview

The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.

Interview

BK: So what would kids in Merrimac, Massachusetts do?

NM: The biggest was a game called Relievio, which was a very popular neighborhood game. And our house was kind of a home base. Like yeah, central home base for the whole thing. We had a massive oak tree in our front yard. That was the jail. But yeah, basically, if you had, if you had eight people, you could have a pretty great, great game of Relievio. Four people would be just split up evenly. Four would stay at the tree, which was home base, or the jail. The other four would take off and hide and we’re talking– the neighborhood was the bounds, you know, everybody’s house neighbor, whether we knew them or not, were in-bounds. So about five or six houses. So I would say at least five acres worth of property. And then the other four would go out and seek. And, and usually, we do this at dawn or even night. I mean, some of the games were at day, but at night, it was a little bit more thrilling. Cuz nobody, you know, we’re still little kids, nobody loved hiding in the dark. *chuckles* But as soon as you found somebody, you know, the chase would begin. And the chaser would have to grab hold of the person and say “caught! caught! caught!” three times. You had to say “caught!” three times. And that person would then go to jail. So they’d be at the tree. And usually, one person would be guarding them. And the other three would still be seeking. But once someone got caught, it was the goal of the people who hadn’t been caught to touch the tree, say the word “Relievio,” and that would release anybody captured at the tree. So yeah, that’s where the strategy came. But you know if you had two people and you coordinated and there was only one person guarding the tree, that would be pretty easy release. So sometimes I would have two people guarding it. 

NM: At some point, a couple of us got old enough to climb the tree. And we’re talking, like, when I was like 14 or 15 years old. Because this tree was six or seven feet in diameter, as far as the base, with no low limbs, and the first low limb was about 10 feet off the ground. The first limb to get your hands on was about two-foot diameter. So it was a, it was a massive tree. And with no easy branches, just had to hang on, you had to climb up the bark, hug the first limb, and then kind of shimmy your way around that first limb. And then once you’re on that first limb, you had a little bit of mobility around that first layer branches 10 feet up. But the trick was to sneak back to the tree while the seekers were still seeking. Climb the tree, so you’re in the jail so that nobody knew you were there. And then they start bringing in people as they’re caught. And then you’re sitting up in the tree, and they don’t see you and then you just announce “Relievio” and it completely would shock them. Yeah, we played hours and hours and hours of Relievio.

NM: That was not a game we knew about before I lived in Merrimac. Yeah, I mean, we didn’t have the number of the kids for that. But when I moved to Merrimac, there were a lot of us. There were 1, 2, 3, 4… 8 boys. All within four years of each other. And then yeah, whenever we had friends over, yeah, you could easily get to 10. Occasionally my father would play. I think my father and my father’s brother played once.

NM: Yeah, I mean, it’s there. There’s nothing like the thrill of getting chased in the dark. And basically generally knowing where there are dark places to hide. And just getting ahead, just enough to duck into them. But then, not being able to control your breath. Because you’re in the dark and then you’re super tired and breathing heavily and just trying to find a way not to breathe. So that they don’t hear it, because I’ll be walking right by you. Because they wouldn’t have thought you ducked into that dark, little space. Like, do you really want to go stick your head in some dark corner of the bushes? You usually didn’t. So it was only if you’re breathing that you’re gonna get caught. Yeah, that was a great game.

BK: What years did you live in Merrimac?

NM: In 1980. I think. And yeah, through high school. So 1989 when I moved. The summer of fifth grade we moved. So I must have been probably 11.

Collector’s Reflection

Relievio is an extremely well-documented game with international variations. It began in New York, where it was called “Ringolevio.” Relievio is the name of the Canadian variant, which found its way to Boston and Ireland— the former being in Massachusetts where NM played the game, and the latter being NM’s country of origin. I won’t spend time going into each of these versions here (annotations below).

One difference in NM’s version of the game, which has not been documented across any versions of Relievio, is the use of “Caught! Caught! Caught!” as the catching phrase. Documented “catch-phrases” are “Chain chain, double chain, no break away”, “Ringolevio, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3!”, “1-2-3 come with me, you’re my prisoner”, “1-2-3 caught by me, no Relievio rest” (this final version is that documented of Boston and its suburbs). Common among all is an obsession with threes; either the expression is constructed of three parts, contains a three-count, or, in the case of NM, is a thrice-repeated term.

Though NM mentions that the game can be played at any time, he emphasizes that nighttime or in-darkness are preferred. Other versions of this game do not mention a time preference, but it seems as though the majority of data collection was done in large cities. In these environments, children playing outdoors at night may have been forbidden or dangerous. In a safe suburb such as Merrimac, though, there was likely more openness. The associated thrill, then, developed the preference among the children.

For other versions and descriptions of Relievio, please see:

“Ring-a-levio.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ring-a-levio. Accessed 25 Apr. 2021.

“Ring-a-Levio is a sophisticated cross between Tag and Hide-and-Seek.” Albert, David H. Dismantling the Inner School. Retrieved 25 April 2021.

NOTE: The Wikipedia article “Ringolevio” is expansive, but many contributions are uncited.

Sōk Sōk – Iranian Children’s Game

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.

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Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.

Interview

PK: The neighbors, they were always together [as children]. In the street, they’d group up— they’d become two groups. Now we were tiny, when we were younger— I mean the older kids didn’t bother us but nobody was following us around. You know? We were smaller.

PK: The older kids, like my sister, brother, the older siblings, would group up and play Sōk Sōk. You know Sōk Sōk, right? You go “Sōk Sōk!” One group would stand with their eyes closed and the other group would go, in the streets, and hide somewhere. It was dark too… there were some lights. They’d hide, one person here, one person there, and then… the first group, for instance, would count to 100 and then go after them. And it wasn’t a small place, you really had to look!

PK: Then, for instance, if I saw you I’d yell “Sōk Sōk!”

BK: Ah, so it’s like American hide-and-seek, but with teams?

PK: Yes. Two groups. And it was so fun! At night, with warm weather, everyone running, laughing, running, “Not here!”, “Over there!”, “Hurry quick!”. We go behind the houses… There was no time limit. You went until you found everyone, and then it was the next group’s turn.

BK: If you find someone, do they “join” your team?

PK: Um… no. No, the person you find, they don’t start going after their own team. You have to stay. For instance, if I found you on Belladonna [a street nearby], you would go back to the starting point and wait for everyone to be found.

Collector’s Reflection

Sōk Sōk’s name is a repetition of the Faris word for “bother” or “bug,” in the way that two children may bug each other. It’s relatively harmless, but annoying. The title is recited during gameplay when you find an opponent, almost in a “Gotcha!” style. Thus, it’s almost like saying, “I’m bugging you!” If you’ve been caught, you’re certainly bothered.

The game is reminiscent of many group-based derivations of Hide-and-Seek, such as Sardines or the more complex Relievio [see here for my article on Relievio in Merrimac, Massachusetts]. It is in a unique category of these derivations which focus on speed. Traditional Hide-and-Seek is a relatively slow-paced game, with one seeker and any number of hiders. Sōk Sōk is all about running, yelling, and the speed at which you find the opposing team. Despite the fact that there is no clear advantage or “prize” to finding your opponents faster, there is informal clout that comes as a result of a speedy victory.

Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone

The informant is marked IN.

IN: It’s kind of like a cult game, like in the same genre of the Ouija board, but like different…. And it’s called, like, Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone. And it’s like, this elaborate ritual where you invite this ghost to come play hide and seek with you. And to do so you need to do like all this crazy shit. Like you need to get this doll, take all the stuffing out, and then you need to stuff it with rice, and they you need to put, like, a .. you need to put like blood, or a fingernail, or like a hair trimming into the doll. Like connect it with your spirit. And then you, what is it you have to like drown it in a bathtub and tie it with a string? Which are all elements of like, there’s some in Japanese folklore culture I believe. I know the rice has something to do with life, which makes sense cause it’s like, a carb. And i have read online that people did it and nothing worked. But then others say they did it and like, the TVs were changing. Apparently a korean version called living  doll, where like you take a doll – and I forgot to mention that in the original, Hitori Kakurenbo, it’s important that you get this stuffed animal that doesn’t look human-like. Because if you get one that looks human it has more power or something like that, which i guess kind of makes sense, like I don’t know? But living doll, you get a real ass doll, and then you invite it to like come, I don’t know, turn your lights off or eat you or something. And apparently people are like scared at shit that happened.

Context: I met the informant for lunch and she brought up an old game she heard about from her friend.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who is Korean-American. She heard about this game from a friend in Saint Louis, where she grew up. She believes her friend read about this game online on a website, likely Reddit.

Analysis: This was intriguing to me because it’s like a very ritualistic version of Ouija, calling out a spirit but adding in a physical voodoo-esque doll. It’s also interesting that people out there are willing to try this out in hopes of meeting or playing with a ghost.