Tag Archives: illusions

The Elbow game

The informant is my 19-year-old cousin who now lives in Pomona, CA, but grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She learned this game from other kids at her international elementary school.
“So I don’t know if this really counts as a game, but there’s this thing we used to do when we were little…here. Stick out your arm. Okay, so, one person holds their arm out like that [gestures to my arm] and then looks away, or, actually, they close their eyes. Okay, so close your eyes. And then the other person kind of walks their fingers up their arm, but like, really slowly. And the point of the game is for the person who has their eyes closed, they have to see if they can guess when you make it to their elbow. Well, not their elbow, but, like, the inside of their elbow. Or whatever it’s called where your arm bends, but on the other side.”
Even though she attended an international school, my cousin learned this game in Ethiopia. I found this incredibly interesting, because I also knew this game when I was little, even though I grew up in the New York, and other people who grew up in other states also know this game. It’s interesting how the same games (and more broadly the same folklore) arise in so many different places that are seemingly unrelated. There are other examples of this, including that every culture has a version of the idea of dragons, but this was the first example I had really seen personally of such a specific piece of folklore existing in two such different places. Though it is easier to deduce how such a game might have reached my cousin’s school, being that it was an English-language international school where many students were the children of American expats, it really reinforced to me the “multiplicity” aspect of Dundes’s definition of folklore, which I find incredibly fascinating.

Gravity Hill

In Altadena, California, there’s a hill called Gravity Hill. When you go on its downward-facing slope in a car in neutral, the car starts going uphill.

Gravity Hill is situated next by a reservoir; there are trees everywhere, but it’s a pretty open space otherwise.

The informant first heard about when she was 12 — she’d heard that it was super creepy and that there were ghosts and spirits pushing you up the hill, and that the “magic” worked better at night.

When she first went on it, she thought that the entire scene was an illusion of angles. Later on, she would walk around in that area all the time, climb the fences that surrounded the area and hang out there with friends. Hanging out in Gravity Hill was very much “a thing” to do when you were a kid or a teenager in Altadena.

Altadena in general is, in the words of the informant, an Altadena native, “hippie dippy.” She describes the locals as “sort of weird,” so something like Gravity Hill seemed right at home there.

The informant, one of my housemates, shared the story with me in conversation.

The existence of these sort of geographical anomalies, where the perceived tilt of the earth doesn’t match how things actually move, is not that rare — I recently traveled to a similar place in NorCal named Confusion Hill. In both cases, the existence of spirits was taken as granted, not necessarily because people strongly believed in them, but because it was just seen as another weird thing to add onto the already weird location.

That said, the fact that the residents in the area are known for being a little off kilter as well makes the existence of and continued legendary presence of Gravity Hill more understandable.