Tag Archives: wood

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

Balero, Mexican toy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 2019
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):



Main Piece:

A balero is an authentic Mexican toy made of wood. One part is made in the shape of a barrel with a hole in the middle, which is then tied to a small wooden shaft. The point of the toy is to make the barrel turn so that the shaft is inserted into the barrel’s hole.


The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. Growing up he had very little money to spend on toys so he would make his own variation of the classic toy.

20190410_104024 The picture shows his own variation on the classic toy.



Touch Wood

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 58
Occupation: Physician
Residence: River Forest, Illinois
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/16/2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.


Main piece: As a surgeon, whenever we do GYNe surgeries in the operating room, I find that all obstetricians gynecologists are pretty superstitious. So after we complete a surgery, we never REALLY complement ourselves and say “that went really well” because that would jinx us, so we always just say, if we DO say anything about how the surgery goes, we have to always add touchwood at the end so, “that surgery went pretty well touch wood,” because we know we’re really not out of the woods for at least 48 hours.


Q: Why do you do this?


E.N.: I do this as a safeguard against something bad happening.  It’s more of a superstition.


Q: Who did you learn it from?


E.N.: Have no idea who I learned it from – likely my parents.


Performance Context: Gynecological surgeons would perform this after they had completed a surgery.


My Thoughts: Medicine and superstitions tie into each other. Though medicine is not typically based on luck and is more based on hard science, I think it is interesting that the phrase “touch wood” is still used. It is used as a preventative measure: it is sometimes believed that if something is said, then it won’t happen. In this scenario, if a doctor explicitly says a surgery went well, it is believed by some that the surgery will not have positive results in the end. Saying “touch wood” is a preventative measure to make sure that what has been said continues to hold true.

“Measure Twice, Cut Once”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 22MAR2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Kropp was a secret geek in high school. He thoroughly enjoyed sports, rap, and women but had a soft spot for cartoons. He says he would secretly want to be a superhero if he had the chance – “a dope superhero” at that. He is currently a USC student studying environmental science, is enrolled in the NROTC program and loves to skateboard. He has very close ties with his extended family. He hopes to one day commission into the navy as an officer.

“When it comes to sh** that matters, you measure twice, cut once.” Not only is Kropp talking about how much he loves woodwork (because he actually spends hours messing around with wood, even though he doesn’t have a woodshop area yet, he plans on getting one when he graduates college); but Kropp heard this friendly proverb from his father. When Kropp would make mistakes growing up his father would correct him and say this over and over again. He thought his dad was such a hero, such a role model. Then he heard teachers in school saying it. He felt betrayed. When he went home to ask his father about it. His father replied “Son…its a saying. Something you should live by. But something we should ALL live by.”

The way I heard about this is because he and I were working on a project together for a class. I measured the cardboard wrong and we had to go buy a new one. And there you have it. He shook his head and said “Measure twice, cut once”. When I asked him to elaborate he gave the story above. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand it. It was a common meaning – the phrase – but the context was unfamiliar to me.

Analysis: I really love this quote. My parents don’t mess around with tools or maintenance much, the way Kropp grow around a handy father. So I had never heard that saying before, but knew exactly what he meant by it. Basically, think before you do. Don’t jump into things without double-checking, holding everyone or thing accountable. He then elaborated that you could measure a thousand times though, and still end up cutting it wrong. But at least then you can say you tried.