Tag Archives: schoolyard

Nun Riddle


Q: “What’s black and white and black and white and black and white and black and white and red all over”

A: “A nun falling down the stairs” 


My aunt describes hearing this on the school bus riding to and from middle school. She mentions that sometimes the joke was preceded with the well known riddle, “what is black and white and red all over”, to which a classmate would answer, a “newspaper”. Then the asker would propose the above question. 


The above text is a cross between a riddle, and a dark joke in my interpretation. Going off of Oring’s argument, riddles question reality, disrupting the rigid categories we use to control the world. They transcend our perception of reality, which is an act of rebellion in itself. This riddle could certainly serve this purpose. An important factor beyond this interpretation, is that the joke/riddle was circulated among children. It’s a widely held folkloric idea that children’s folklore often rejects institutions. This is because children are so highly institutionalized on a day to day basis, especially in a school setting, where this joke/riddle was told. Another societal function that riddles serve in some cultures is to aid in education. Their structure is helpful for practicing memorization, and they provide an exercise in logical thought, as well as language manipulation. Interestingly, this joke subverts a well known riddle, to which the answer is “a newspaper”. I could see this subverted riddle emerging partly as a way of rejecting the institution that is public school, and its education tactics. Additionally, the subject of the joke/riddle is a nun. Nun’s are representative of yet another institution, one of Christianity. Of course there is also the basic factor of this joke being slightly gruesome and dark, referring to blood and injury. This could be an example of Narvaez’s idea of rebelling against societal pressure to mourn foreign tragedies. But it is also likely that children would gravitate towards gruesome or dark humor simply because it is not what the institution deems “school appropriate”. 

Anti-I-Over Game

Transcribed Text of Informant Telling me How the Game Works

“So, with Anti-I-Over (informant clears throat), you have two teams right? And you have to have a building. When we (in reference to her siblings) would play at the farm, we’d do it at the old white shed. You can do it with only two people…with one person on either side of the shed or building or whatever you’re using…or in teams with multiple people. But anyways, one team has a ball, like a tennis ball, and, um, you yell ‘Anti-I-Over’ right, and throw the ball over the roof from your side of the shed to the other side where the other team or person or whoever is…and so if the team catches the tennis ball you threw over, they run around the side of the shed and try to tag your team, either by throwing the tennis ball at you and hitting you…or you can tag them with the ball in your hands…and while they’re trying to get you with the tennis ball you and your team is trying to get to the other side of the shed where your opponents caught the ball. You’re, um, you’re trying to get there, uh, before the other team has the chance to get you with the ball. And you’re there you’re safe…oh, and if…if you throw the ball and the other team doesn’t catch it, you wait in anticipation and then they’re yell ‘anti-i-over’ and you’ll try and catch the ball. And…yeah…the game kind of just repeats like that…every time the ball is caught each person or team switches sides.”


My informant says this was a game that she learned about from her older siblings, and would play with both them and her younger siblings. While she says that this game was popular and known within the North Dakotan community she grew up in, she says she only played it with her siblings. When asked for an analysis of the game, she paused, squished her face into a pondering gaze, and eventually said “well I’m not sure there’s anything too deep with the game…it’s just something I played growing up. I’m not sure even why we say ‘anti-I-over…” it’s just what I learned and so how I played.”

My Analysis

Before having formally interviewed my informant about the North Dakotan German-Russian folklore and folk games she experienced growing up, I was aware of this particular game, as it had been taught to me by her and played with her years ago. It’s a very fun and aerobic game, and outside of North Dakota, I’ve never heard of anyone else mention it. While the history behind the game is unknown to my informant, I would guess that this game has been played by generations upon generations in North Dakota, since the game was familiar to my informant and her school friends at the time.

Thanksgiving Song – “I Heard Mr Turkey Say”

Song Lyrics Transcribed from Informant

I heard Mr. Turkey say

gobble, gobble, gobble

Soon will be Thanksgiving day

gobble, gobble, gobble

People say it is such fun

But I know that I must run

and hide until the day is done

gobble, gobble, gobble


My informant learned this song from her mother at an early age, and would sing it in November around Thanksgiving. When asked how she interpreted the song she said she that it was about a “Mr. Turkey” trying to escape the fate of many turkeys on Thanksgiving. She remarked that compared to Christmas and even Halloween, there weren’t a lot of Thanksgiving songs, but even though she learned the song from her German-Russian mother in North Dakota, she wasn’t certain that the song was necessarily invented by German-Russians.

My Analysis

I find this song to be really catchy, and I think it’s fun that it’s Thanksgiving-themed as that’s not necessarily a super-popular subject matter for musical composers. Overall, it’s a fun song about a Turkey trying to hide during Thanksgiving, and features a fun onamonapia with the repeated “gobble, gobble, gobble.” I agree with my informant that the song maybe wasn’t entirely invented in North Dakota, but I was unable to find a source of where or how the song was made.

Song Sung by Informant

Conkers – English Children’s Game

Description of Informant

NV (75) is a retired school teacher born in Abadan, Iran. She went to boarding school in England from 1956-1963, moving to American for college afterward. She always remembers her arrival in the states, as it was the day before Kennedy was assassinated. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Context of Interview

The informant, NV, sits on a loveseat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. She is opposite the collector, BK, her grandson.


BK: What are some childhood games from your time in either England or Iran?

NV: I know something called Conker. It’s these things that grow out of the trees and we would take it and put a nail in it and tie a string on it. We’d have to borrow the hammer. And then we would have a battle with it and hit it [our Conkers] and try to break them— that you know have it hanging and you go whack! Hit it, and see how many hits would take to break that— like a fruit. It was a hard fruit that grew. You don’t eat it. It’s just something like this *makes a ball with her fist* called Conker, or something. That was in England.

NV: Boys and girls played it. So it wasn’t just for the boys, the girls played it too. It was fun because sometimes it would hit your face or fly all over the place. A lot of the time the nail would fall off and you’d have to start all over making another one.

BK: Were there winners and losers?

NV: Sure! Your Conker would hit the other person’s Conker, to see who’s broke first. And when you won you’d be so excited and crying with laughter, “I got it, I got it!” and all that nonsense.

Collector’s Reflection

The nut used in Conkers is the seed of the horse chestnut tree, native to the UK. Thus, the game was prevalent only in Great Britain and Ireland, as the tree was not common elsewhere in the world. The nickname for these seeds is actually derived from the game, not the other way around. Conkers comes from a dialect term for “knock out,” though there are several possible origins for the name.

There are many rules and scoring procedures for Conkers which vary from region to region, school to school. However, the informant was not able to recall any complicated scoring mechanism. This may be due to memory loss, but it is just as possible that her school played a more rudimentary version of Conkers.


For more information on Conkers, including rules and variations, please see:

“All About Conkers”. worldconkerchampionships.com. Ashton Conker Club. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

LINK: https://web.archive.org/web/20161025235221/http://www.worldconkerchampionships.com/html/conkers_about.html

Cops n’ Robbers School Yard Game

“M” is 21 year old male student at the University of Southern California, where he is a Junior studying Animation and minoring in Philosophy. M is originally from the outskirts of New York state where he describes himself as living in a rural area. He described himself as going to a high school of ~60 students, where cliche formation was rare as students could ‘jump from social group to social group’. He describes his parents as ‘hippies’ that were very relaxed in their parenting style as well as their personal approach towards life. He is of Irish descent on both sides and describes this aspect of his life as very active in his life.



“Me: So what game did you play again?

M: Oh! Cops n’ Robbers!

Me: When did you play that game?

M: Elementary school!

Me: How do you play that game?

M: Well you’re basically you got some cops, and you got some robbers, so there’s like people on teams and stuff. So you’ve got the cops chasing the robbers, they could get feisty with it and the robbers could beat up the cops. There were bases too, if the robbers got to the bases they were okay, it was a hideout.

Me: Were you usually a cop or a robber?

M: Man, I don’t remember, that was a long time ago. I don’t think there was one that I was more of, we all sorta did both all the time. It was like, hey! Let’s play Cops n’ Robbers, I’ll be on this team you be on that.

Me: Did the cops always win?

M: No. It’s not like real life, it’s more realistic than that.

(I laugh)”



The game seems to be “M”s version of the popular schoolyard game, Cops n’ Robbers, a fairly well known game in North America. In the April 1973 publication of The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, in an article titled Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song, the article suggests the splitting of children’s Folklore in their very large Folklore collection (at the time, the collection was near 150,000 entries) into categories. One of these categories, battle games uses Cops and Robbers as a classic example as to what sorts of entries would fit this sort, assuming knowledge in the reader about the popularity of the game (Emrich, 1973).

The game itself, as a school yard game, likely allowed “M” and his friends to try out ‘adult roles’ while also reinforcing basic moral ideas like ‘good guys’, ‘bad guys’ and ‘the good guys have to stop the bad guys’, while also allowing them to simulate more adult situations (apprehending a criminal). The lack of preference could indicate that the players had no moral or occupational preference and preferred the role playing aspect instead, this could be contrasted to a child who wants to play as the cop because his father is a police officer (or any other reason he/she may admire the profession). ”M”s version of the game also included a base that the criminals could get to to defeat the cops and get away. As the cops did not always win (or the robbers didn’t) the aspect of good triumphing over evil or any other sort of overarching narrative did not appear to be part of “M”s approach to the game.


Emrich, D. (1973, April). Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song. In The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress (pp. 140-151). Library of Congress.