Traditional Games

A collection by MFS' Irvin Rice,
(Louisville, KY)

Editor's Note: We live in a sensitive age, and folk-communities -- because they're more concerned with what goes on within their group boundaries than they are with what's outside them -- do not always rank sensitivity high among their concerns. I have heard objections to such traditional and historic game-terms as "Blind Man's Buff" and "Indian Wrestling." I ask that readers of goodwill understand that certainly no offense is intended in accurately reporting the old-time vocabulary of children's lore.  AD

Preface

Believe it or not, there was life before electronics took over our entertainment needs. Before computers, before television, even before radio, people, especially young people, found creative ways to entertain themselves and each other, and in the process learned very useful social skills.

This is a small collection of games that were (could still be) played, with a very minimum of equipment or no equipment at all and required mainly the attentive co-operation of groups or small number of persons.

They taught (tacitly, the main idea being fun) the necessity of rule compliance and reciprocity in social interactions, verbal and math skills, self-reliance, co-operation, and self-acceptance based on group acceptance. They fostered ingenuity in the invention of pleasurable activities and games based on personal discovery and interaction with others. They taught young people to function in a world of other real people rather than in some cold, unreal virtual reality.

They were sometimes delightful then, and they are still usable, if not used, now, and the preservation of their memory is instructive in our understanding of our cultural roots and current cultural directions.

GAMES REQUIRING NO EQUIPMENT

ARM WRESTLING

Two opponents sit across from each other over a table or some flat surface. Each places his or her right elbow on the table close to the right elbow of the opponent. They clasp right hands and on a given signal they press against the opponent's hand seeking to force him down so that the back of the forearm is flat on the table. The match is over and won when one of the contestants has his or her right wrist pressed to the table surface

CHARADES (Lemonade)

One person (or team of person) performs movements which suggests words or meanings to a group of observers who try to guess the words which names the meaning being hinted. Points mat be allotted for getting the right message in the least time.

In the version called "lemonade" the person performing the hinting motions is addressed by the group (or its spokesperson) as if he or she were a traveler, by this patter:

"Hello Stranger, what's your trade?"

He or she replies: "Lemonade."

The group then says "Show me some signs, if you are not afraid!" Then the body movements suggesting words begin.
 

CLUB FIST

A small group (five or six at most) begin with one player extending one clenched fist with the thumb extended upwards. The other players, in turn, grasp the extended thumb of the person preceding them, making a fist of their own hands and letting the next player grasp their raised thumb. When all are engaged they are joined in a stack of fist involving all their hands.

When all hands are involved, the first player addresses the person with the tipmost first, saying "What have you got there?" The obligatory reply is  "Club Fist!" --  to which the first speaker challenges: "Take it off or I will knock it off!" If the challenge fist owner declines to remove his hand, the challenger (using the bottom hand of the stack) tries to beat it loose. When the hand is removed the ritual is repeated until there is only one fist left.

Then one (or all in unison) of the remaining players engage the last fist owner in this patter:
 

"What have you got there?"
 "Bread and cheese."
"Where's my part?"
"The rat got it!"
"Where is the rat?"
"The cat got it!"
"Where is the cat?"
"The dog killed it!"
"Where is the dog?"
"The ox gored it!"
"Where is the ox?"
"The butcher killed it!"
"Where is the butcher?"
"The rope hung him!"
"Where is the rope?"
"The rat gnawed it."
"Where is the rat?"
"The cat got it!"
"Where is the cat?"
"Behind the door cracking chestnuts."

The first one who smiles, laughs, or shows any teeth gets a rousing box (blow with fist) and fifteen pinches.

All then endeavor to sit stone faced while causing others to smile. When one person's composure cracks all punch and pinch him or her.
 

COUNTING OUT

Counting rhymes, of which there were many and of many variations, were sometimes used by participants in games to determine who played key roles or who was first to start the action. One that is hard to forget is:

"Wire Briar Limber Lock,
Three geese in a flock
One flew east and one flew west
And one flew over the Coo Coo's  nest."

The performance and use of the counting rhymes (other than the pleasure of reciting them) was that the speaker would point at each of the objects or persons being potentially chosen as each word or syllable of the rhyme was pronounced. That person or object being pointed to when the last word or syllable was spoken was the chosen one.
 

CRACK THE WHIP

A number of players (usually from 6 to 12 would be optimal) join hands in a line. The designated "Whip Cracker," located on one end of a line, would run, pulling the rest of the line of players in a given direction. At a point at which the cracker felt that the most speed and effect could be reached he or she would stop or suddenly and alter direction of motion so that the line of runners holding each others' hands would extend in an arc in which the person at the opposite end of the line would have to be moving so much more rapidly than the crackers' end that inertia would cause the last person in line to lose grip, be flung away, or fall. The thrill may not have been the violent conclusion so much as the unusual sense of speed and acceleration, which immediately preceded it.

THE FARMER IN THE DELL

This is a game of participation, chanting and choosing. It was usually played by children of kindergarten or very early school age. Forming a circle the participants sing a little song: "The farmer in the Dell, The farmer in the Dell, Hi! Ho! The merry - o (Derry - o). The farmer in the Dell."

By a  method agreed upon among them they call out the names of the player chosen to be a "farmer" and that person moves to the center of the circle. The song then becomes: "The farmer takes a wife The farmer takes a wife. Hi! Ho!. The merry - o, The farmer takes a wife." Whereupon the "farmer" chooses one person from the circle to join him or her in the middle of the circle. The pattern is repeated as other persons and tasks are chosen and performed by the "farmer".
 

FLINCH

Flinch can be played anywhere two people are in close proximity, are bored and have an excess of aggressiveness. The game actually consists of not flinching. One person aims a blow at the hand or a whip of the fingers at the other intending to come as close to the target person's body as possible without touching. These feints are usually aimed at the upper body or head so that the vision of the coming blow is involved. If the target person flinches the person aiming the feint at him or her has the privilege of delivering a real fisted blow to the flincher's upper arm, near the shoulder. However, if the aggressor in aiming the pretended blow actually does strike the target person when the intent is to produce a flinch by means of a feint, then the target person is allowed to strike a real blow on the arm of the aggressor.
 

FOLLOW THE LEADER

One person is designated the leader. The others are obligated to follow wherever the leader goes, surmounting whatever obstacles or spaces are traversed, and doing all the actions and motions, which are performed by the leader. The game can be played so that players are eliminated by their failure to perform tasks or go where the leader goes, But it can also be a game of participation where doing is sufficient reward, and there is little or no notion of "Winning or losing".

HIDE AND SEEK

The number of participants seldom grew too large for effective play because there were not many children around at any one time. As many as a dozen could play and have fun. More could slow the game beyond enjoyment.

One person was designated as "It". That person's task was to find all the other players after they had been given a sufficient time to hide. Their proximity could be controlled by the amount of time "It" gave them. This was done by "It" hiding his or her eyes (so that the hiding could not be observed) by counting to given number. When the counting was done "It" would loudly declare: "Ready or not, here I come." It would then try to ferret out the hidden players. The last one found or the one successful in not being found might be rewarded or allowed to be "It".

"It" did the counting and began the search from a "base". If the hiding player could touch the base without being observed by the seeker that player was declared to have "Come in Free". When the seeker gave up the search those not found were declared to have a right to come in free.

In some versions of the game the seeker would end the search by singing out "Ollie, Ollie, Ox in Free."

I SPY

Usually played in parlors or other rooms indoors, this game involves what is hidden, declaring "I SPY!" when the hidden person or object was seen by one of the participants. If there was a loser it would be the last person to see what was the object of the search. The rewards of "Spying" first could be that the first finder got to hide the next object.

Other, more elaborate forms of the game of finding and recognizing had other names and might be played by one person saying a rhyme indicating that an item which was seen by him or her could not be guessed by others. Clues were then given as to colors and shapes. The person guessing the observed object then got to pick a mysterious object.

INDIAN WRESTLING

Two persons lie with their right arms touching with their feet in opposite directions.  Their hips should be approximately parallel. Each raises his or her right leg to a position perpendicular to the ground and lowers it again three times counting: "One, Two, Three". On the third time the two participants interlocked their raised hands and press so as to try to roll their opponents backwards over his or her heads. The person who moves the opponent or rolls the opponent over wins.

JOHNNY ON A PONY

This game dates back at least to the nineteen twenties. It involves building a "Pony" or bridge of bodies, which must support ever-increasing weight as other bodies are heaped upon it.

Four (number may vary, but four is optimal) persons, usually boys, would build a "Pony" by arranging themselves on hands and knees in a line with each boy's head placed on the back of the boy in front of him. This created a kind of interlocking human bridge. The other team of participants, one at a time, would jump at the back of the "Pony" from a running start. The object was to overstress and knock down the "Pony." Those comprising the "Pony" won if they withstood the onslaught without buckling. Those attacking won if their increasing combined weight unbalanced the pony and caused it to fall down or apart.

As each of the "Riders" jumped on the "Pony" he called out "Johnny on a Pony". Usually the procedure called for the first on-jumper to land on the back of the first kneeling boy in line. The second jumper on the second jumper etc.

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN

The game probably has many other names involving guarded territory other than a hill or a mountain. It consists of one person struggling with or through others to achieve some difficult to reach position (usually the top of a small hill or a large rock), and then defending the possession of that spot from all others who seek to pull or push the king from his perch. It involves a lot of pushing, pulling, and shoving around. There are usually no time limits. The game usually ended when one person proved he or she had enough strength and endurance to maintain the position on the "Mountain" until all the others "gave up".

LONDON BRIDGE

Two persons form an arch by facing each other and clasping their hands as high in the air as possible. All the other participants pass through the arch formed by their arms while all sing or chant: "London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, My fair lady!" At the last syllable of the chant the two persons forming the arch  lower their clasped hands encircling and capturing whichever passer happens to be under the arch at that time. That person may then be disposed off by elimination or by assignment to another role in the activities. Or the whole procedure may be simply done again for the fun of participation.

LEAP FROG

This game can be played rudimentarily by only two persons but optimally involves a half dozen or more. Three persons space themselves a few feet apart and get down on their hands and knees. The other persons approach this line of crouching players from behind and using their hands (placed on the back of the kneelers) vault over the backs of the kneeling players. It is a test of muscle strength and co-ordination as well as a way of acting silly. Any winning or losing has to do with who can make the most or the best vaults.  (If only two play one simply vaults over the other). The last kneeler may rise and vault over those in front, then kneeling in front again.

MOTHER MAY I

This game seems to invite partisanship and favoritism, but may (and usually does) teach the development of the sense of fairness and reciprocity. One person is designated as "It". A course is laid out to be covered by the players' motions. There are some different kinds of steps or movements, which may be allowed. Each player in turn asks "Mother may I take (X number) of (name the kind) steps?" to which "It" responds arbitrarily with "Yes you may" or "No you may not" or with permission to take some kind of steps not requested, that is "You may take three giant steps." Play continues until someone has reached the goal at the end of the course, then that person becomes "Mother" or "It". The game begins again.

MY SHIP COMES SAILING IN

In this game of guessing and imagination one player thinks of some desired or familiar objects and challenges others to guess what is being thought of. He or she begins the game by saying "My ship comes sailing in." Others respond "What's it loaded with?" The first player then describes what is being thought of or imagined, giving its colors and sizes and other characteristics. The other players then offers guesses as to what it is. The person who first guesses correctly wins.

PEEK EYE

Arguments could be offered whether this is really a game or just an activity. If it is really a game it is very rudimentary. The action is the covering of one's eyes while engaging in the object of the game, which is to see another's eyes without one's own eyes being seen. The most basic version is done by parents or older children with infants or toddlers who are just becoming aware of the existence and names of body parts.

PUMP PUMP PULLAWAY

 This game requires about a dozen or more players. On a field the participants divide into two teams,  each starting from and defending a "home base," forming into two lines facing each other far enough apart to allow running, The two teams try to occupy the other team's "home base" without being caught or tagged by the defenders. This requires that they pass through each other uncaught or that they capture those attempting to pass. A player caught becomes the member of the capturing team. The team with the most players will obviously occupy the opposite goal or home base with the greatest number of players, or the game may persist until all players are on one team.

RAIL ROAD SPELLING

The game begins by one person spelling a word. The next person has to think of a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word and spell it correctly. The next person meets the same requirement. One variation might be that each round of words spelled must use words containing an increasing number of letters. If a person fails in any aspect of the task, either thinking of a word or spelling it, that player is eliminated. Last person wins.

RED LIGHT

"It" stands at one end of a course laid out to be traversed. All others are seeking to be first to reach the goal at the end of the course. "It" covers his or her eyes: "Green light!" participants move as far and fast as they dare towards the goal. At the pleasure of "It" he or she cries out "Red Light!" and uncovers his or her eyes. Whomever "It" sees in motion must return to the starting point. Whoever gets to the goal first becomes "It". The game is repeated until fatigue ends it.

RED ROVER

Two teams (preferably of ten or more persons) line up facing each other across enough space to allow full speed running. Each line of players grasps one another's hands, trying to form an impenetrable barrier. Each team has a captain. When the lines are in place and all are braced, the captain of one team chants "Red Rover, Red Rover, let (name of person in the other line) come over." The named person charges at the opposing line, picking a point in the opposite line of clutched hands which seems weakest, and throws his or her body against that set of hands, trying to break the grip and break through the line. If the line breaker is successful he or she selects someone to come over and join the other line. The object is to get all players in one line.

ROOSTER FIGHTING

The simplest form of this activity is for two persons to bump into each other seeking to knock one or the other off balance. Variations might include doing this standing on one foot or doing it within prescribed boundaries (like sumo wrestling) or even doing it with two opponents on each team, one riding piggy-back on the other.

RIDDLING

?

A good parlor or shade tree pastime was riddling. One sought to confound or "stump" others present by quoting a set of circumstance described most often in the form of a rhyme or chant. It is a game of verbal misdirection or attention. It promotes listening and speaking skills and allows the person offering the riddle to be entertaining while appearing clever if not smart. Most riddles were well known and kept their form. The art was really best practiced by each riddler having to present spontaneous and original riddles at each occasion. Here are two occasion of formerly well known riddles

"All saddled, All Bridled, All ready to go, I have told you three times and you still don't know what is my horse's name?"
Answer: The horse's name is "ALL".

"As I was going to St. Ives I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks.
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kittens.
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, how many were going to St. Ives?"
Answer: "One".

ROCK SCISSORS PAPER

Two or more participants make a fist of one hand and wave the fist up and down three time counting, " One, two, three." On the third descent of the fist each player turns his or her fist into one of three position: flat with fingers together and fully extended ( paper) maintaining most of the fingers clenched in a fist but extending the index and middle fingers (scissors) or keeping the fist clenched (rock). According to a circular order of superior importance (paper wraps rock, rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper) players then earn the right to spank each other on the forearm with two extended fingers. E.g.: Bill chooses to flatten his hand into "paper" while Sam maintains a clenched fist or a rock; Bill gets to slap Sam's wrist because "paper wraps rock" George, however extended two fingers to make scissors so he gets to slap Bill's wrist because "scissors cuts paper".

If only two are playing the exchange of gestures can be used to settle some choice of possession or who goes first.

SIMON SAYS

One player is designated to play "Simon." All the other players must perform whatever actions "Simon" says to do. The person playing Simon dictates actions by saying "Simon says stand on one foot" or "Simon says sit down." Everyone must do what "Simon Says." If the command giver says only "Sit down" after a series of "Simon says" commands and an inattentive player obeys a command that "Simon" did not say then that player is out. The command giver tries to trick players by slipping in a command not prefaced by "Simon Says."

Last one not eliminated wins.

TELEPHONE (GOSSIP)

This game is known by both names. It is played by having a number of players sit in a line side by side. The message giver writes down a message, which is not shown until the end of the action and then whispers that message into the ear of one of the players at the end of the line. That player then turns and whispers the message into the ear of the person beside him or her. This repeats until the last person in line receives a message and must then pronounce it aloud to the group. The message repeated by the last hearer will be usually some kind of distortion of the original, which is read to demonstrate the contrast. A funny twist to the game is to think up messages which could sound funny if misunderstood or mispronounced. There are no winners, just laughs.

TUG OF WAR

There are many possibilities to a game so fundamentally simple as two chosen teams of possibly equal or unequal strength pulling in opposite direction on a stout rope. Sometime there is only a goal line between the teams and one group must pull the entire other team over the goal. Sometimes there is a pit of water or mud in the middle so that the penalty for being pulled is rather automatic. Another way for a team to win is to keep pulling until the opposing team collapses and/or gives up. Sometimes the hardest part of organizing a game is to get everyone not to start pulling until a signal is given. Sometimes it is fun for previously uninvolved people to choose a pulling side and join it.

SHEEP IN THE PEN

The task and challenge of this game is for one person to capture and keep corralled all the other players. It is a game related to "hide and seek". The designated shepherd allows all other players to scatter and conceal themselves, then go searching. When a hider is found, the shepherd commands that player to get into the "pen," a designated area of confinement. Added to the challenge of searching out the concealed players is the ability of the "SHEEP IN THE PEN" to run away while the shepherd is not looking. So the shepherd must find the hiders while keeping and eye on the "pen." Usually the shepherd is required to call the name by calling: "SHEEP IN THE PEN, Billy, Sam, Or Fred."
 

TAG

Surely there cannot be a game at once more simple and more variously played than the game of "TAG." The basic game consists of touching another player who then becomes "It." "It" must chase the other players and "tag" them (one at a time) and the only real object of the game is to be "It" for the shortest amount of time possible.  It is a game that can be spontaneously started and ends only with fatigue, boredom, or lack of interest.
 

GAMES REQUIRING MINIMAL EQUIPMENT
 

These games are arbitrarily limited to those that could be played with things readily available around the house, scrap objects or specially designed equipment like jacks or marbles.

ANNIE (ANTE) OVER

Two teams of players separate themselves by some very large obstacle like a house or barn. One team begins by throwing a ball over the dividing obstacle (which has to be large enough so that the teams cannot see each other). The team on the opposite side allows one member to catch the ball and then run around the divide to throw the ball at the members of the other team. Those hit by the ball must then join the other team. Obviously the game ends when all are on one team.
 

BLIND MAN'S BLUFF [also called "Blind Man's Buff"]

(actual 19th c. photo)
 

The person who is the "Blind Man" is blindfolded and the other participants arrange themselves in some fashion so that when the blindfolded player encounters them he must identify each person by means of touch. The encounters may be structured by letting only the "Blind Man" move around the circle of participants, or by letting each of them in turn or randomly "STEAL A TOUCH" of the "Blind Man" coming at him or her from different directions. If the "Blind Man" grasps the toucher, he must identify whom he has captured or release him or her. The person whose identity is correctly guessed by the "Blind Man" must then don the blindfold and become the "Blind Man".
 

BUTTON, BUTTON, WHO'S GOT THE BUTTON

All the players except one sit in a circle with their hands pressed together (palms together as when someone prays), while the one not sitting presses his palms together holding a button. He passes his pressed-together hands between the pressed-together palms of each of the seated players (so that no one can see whether he leaves the button in the seated player's hands) and secretly leaves the button in the hands of one of them. The standing player then chants: "Button, Button, Who's got the button?" and calls the name of one of the seated players. That player must guess which of the others has the button in his or her hands. The successful guesser may then take a turn at distributing a button and calling for guesses. If the chanter and button giver chooses to give the name of the person to whom the button was given, that person can dissemble by "guessing" another person's name even when he or she knows the guess is wrong.

DODGEBALL

This game requires a ball about the size of a soccer ball and a relatively large number of players. About one half of the players form a circle around the other players and try to hit them with the ball. The ball passes through to the other side of the circle to be thrown again unless it hits a player and then bounces to the outside circle to be thrown again. Any player struck must join the throwers in the circle. The last player unstruck in the winner.
 

DROP THE HANKY

This game plays best with ten to twenty participants. The players form a circle around which one player walks or runs carrying a handkerchief. The single player drops the handkerchief behind the feet of one of the players in the circle and runs around the outside of the circle trying to reach the position occupied by the person behind whom the hanky was dropped. That person, once aware that that a handkerchief was dropped behind him or her, picks up the handkerchief and tries to tag the dropper with it before the dropper can complete the circuit and jump into the space formerly occupied by the victim of the dropping. Play usually continues until all have had active participation or until boredom ends it.

HIDE THE THIMBLE

A thimble, being relatively small and hard to see without effort, is hidden by one participant and searched for by the others. This is best played as a one room, indoor game. The person doing the hiding will usually give position clues as the searchers move about the room seeking the thimble (usually placed in plain sight but in a place not obvious) saying: "Billy's getting warmer," or "You're cold," ("Warm" = close, "cold" = distant). The person first finding the thimble gets to do the hiding next. The hiding places obviously require more and more ingenuity as the game continues in a confined space.

HOPSCOTCH (POTSY)


[hopscotch-diagrams have been found in the Roman Forum and in Pompeii; legionaries would run the course in full field-gear, for training in speed and agility -- ed.]

A matrix of squares containing numbers is drawn with chalk on a sidewalk. Then each player tosses a rock and hops the number of spaces indicated by the number in the square the rock lands in. Hit a line and lose your turn . The hopping allows only one foot in each square, and if you step on a line you lose your turn.  If a hopper comes to a place where there are two squares side by side the hopper lands on both feet at once, one in each square. When the hopper has hopped into the number of squares earned by the toss of the rock he or she must go back to the starting line and wait while others make their turns. When it is his or her turn another number is obtained by the toss of the rock and hopping begins where it left off along the matrix of squares. The first person to traverse the full matrix and return to "go" wins.

HOOPS

This is a skill activity done with metal hoops and a guide device made by nailing a one-foot-long stick perpendicularly across the end of a longer one, forming a cross. The player held the end of the longer stick without the cross piece while guiding the rolling of the hoop with the cross piece at the other end of the stick. The races and the other skill contests could be organized, but the activity most frequently allowed for individual fun.

JACKS

This game requires the use of a dozen or more small four-pronged, metal object called "jacks" and a small rubber ball. One player throws or spills the "jacks" onto a surface, preferably a smooth one, and then bounces the ball. While the ball is in the air the player must pick up (with the same hand as bounced the ball) a number of the "jacks" scattered on the surface. The number of "jacks" required to be snatched up while the ball is in the air corresponds to the number of times the ball had been bounced by that particular player. If more than one player is participating, the contest is to see which player can scoop the largest number of "jacks" on the bounce of the ball, working up from one on the first bounce, two on the second etc. The player who goes longest without missing will obviously succeed in having grasped the greatest number both collectively and in one scoop.
 

KICK THE CAN

At least two versions of games by this name occurred. One was like "shinney" or field hockey played with your feet instead of a stick. A can was used a hockey puck and kicked about towards goals. Another kick the can game was more of a pursuit and capture game like "STEAL THE BACON" in which one person tried to guard the can and capture those who tried to kick it. All the players but one would hide or keep their distance while the guarder tried to catch them. As the guarder got further form the can in pursuit of others, those being pursued could slip behind him and kick the can without being caught.

KITE FLYING

This may be more of an individual activity than  a game, although various kinds of competitions can be done with kites. It is also true that a kite borders on being too exotic as equipment for the kind of pick-up games being discussed. Yet even kids who could not afford to buy kites sometimes constructed there own clumsy but flyable models. Some light sticks and some paper and strings allowed many ingenious children to indulge in this activity. Not only can flying competitions be arranged but design of the kite itself offers an opportunity to compete and excel.
 

MARBLES

The basic game of marbles requires a ring drawn in the dirt, a "tau line" [also spelled "taw"  --ed.] drawn in the dirt some distance away, and some marbles. Two or more players can play. Each has several marbles of which a given player are placed in the ring. Each player selects one marble with which to "Shoot" at the other marbles. It is called the "Tau" players begin by standing behind the circle and tossing their marbles towards the tau line. Closest to the line shoots first. "Shooting" is done by holding the Tau marble between the bent index finger and the knuckle of the thumb then flipping the marble forward towards it target by the straightening action of the thumb. This must be done "KNUCKLES DOWN" which means that the knuckle of the hand doing the shooting must be pressed to the ground while the releasing of the marble takes place. The object of the shooting is to knock one or more marbles out of the ring by striking them with the tau. When one or more are knocked out of the ring the shooter then collects those knocked out of the ring and shoots again, from that point on the ground where his tau stopped rolling. The one collecting the most marbles wins. Playing for "Keeps" meant that players in fact kept as their own any marbles they knocked out of the ring. This game has given us two very well known expressions in our common language. "Knuckling down" means getting seriously and intently ready to perform according to rigid specifications. "Playing for Keeps," means there are serious consequences to the actions about to be performed.
 

MUMBLY PEG


Sailors on station in the South Pacific theater playing mumbly peg to pass the time in WWII

This game was played with pocketknives. Many boys were the proud owners of these. Each player opened one blade of his or her knife and performed the challenging task of sticking the knife blade in the ground by flipping it from a series of evermore difficult positions. The first one who missed was eliminated or lost. The first throw was usually a simple flip of the open knife. The second flip was done by balancing the knife point down, on a finger or some other part of the hand and then flipping it with a motion of the other hand so that it stuck in the ground. The points in the body from which the sticking operation had to originate became progressively more awkward going to the elbow, the shoulder, the chin, and perhaps others agreed upon by the players.

Territory:  one version of MUMBLY PEG required that two players draw out in the dirt a large square and then divide it in to two equal halves by a center line. The thrower of each knife would try to stick his knife blade into the territory of the other players. If he were successful, the middle line then moved to the point in the opponent's territory where the knife had struck and the owner of that territory had to strike back inside the described area. The point was to run the opponent tout of the box. When the middle line moved so far back towards the edge of the box that the remaining territory was smaller than the width of the hand the game ended.

PEG: the name Mumbly peg may have originated by one aspect sometimes played by its participants, which was that the loser of the match had to remove from the ground with his teeth a wooden peg driven into the ground by the winner.
 

MUSICAL CHAIRS

This activity requires a piano or some other easily interrupted source of music. A ring of chairs is arranged so that there is one fewer chairs than there are players. When the music plays all move around the circle. When the music stops each sits down in the chair closest to him or her. The one person without the chair is out. Then one more chair is removed from the circle and the procedure is repeated. Each time the music stops one more person is eliminated and one more chair is removed until only one person and one chair remains.
 

PICK UP STICKS

The sticks for the game are now commercially produced, but the game can be played with a handful of relatively straight and smooth sticks found in one's yard. The bundle or handful of sticks is dropped into a pile and each player takes turns and taking away as many as possible without moving more than one stick at a time. The person with the most sticks when all are picked up wins.
 

PIN THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY

This game really requires more special equipment then the other games in this category. It requires a fairly large picture of a donkey, which can be hung on the wall. This drawing can be done by hand with crude materials, but the game has enjoyed such popularity that most people now purchase the manufactured and colored drawings. The tail of the donkey is missing, but a piece of paper is kept separate and equipped with a pin on one end. A player is blindfolded and spun around three times and then guided to a position facing a donkey picture on the wall. That blindfolded player must then step towards the wall and stick the tail to the picture. The inevitable errors of placement yield amusement. The person coming closest to the correct placement of the tail would be the obvious winner.

ROCK SCHOOL

This is a game you can play on porch steps. The teacher holds a rock behind his or her back, then extends both closed hands to one of the other players who must choose which hand holds the rock. Each successful selection of the rock-holding hand entitles the correct chooser to move up one step. Turns are taken until one person reaches the highest level and then takes the place of the teacher hiding the rock for the next round of guesses at the lowest level.
 

SHINNEY

This game is most quickly described as hockey played on the ground with a tin can for a puck and any kind of sticks the participants can find to hit the can with. The can must be knocked through a goal. There is reason to suspect that the name of the game has to do with the location of most of the bruises, which seem inevitable in an unsupervised game with sticks.
 

STEAL THE BACON

Some relatively limp object or whatever is available and can be clutched and carried in one hand is the "bacon," or the object to be captured. It is placed in the middle between two lines of players who have numbers. Someone calls out a number and the players who have that number run to the "bacon" and try to snatch it and run back to their own line before the other player can catch them.  Scoring is usually based on how many successful captures a side makes by the time all players' numbers have been called. A cloth or glove could serve as bacon.

STICK BALL

This is a form of baseball played in a confined area like a city street, with ad hoc designations of bases and boundaries and with sticks for bats and whatever kind of ball is available and small enough to serve.

TIDDLEDEWINKS

This game consists basically of clipping a small disk from a flat surface into a cup by pressing down on its edge with another small disk, thus causing it to flip. It can be played with coins or other nonstandard disks but recently has been available as manufactured sets of plastic disks and cups. Usual play involves two players with different colored disks taking turns trying to flip the most disks into the cup.
 

HITTING THE PENNY

This game requires a coin. It is placed in the center of a square. Four players stand at the corners of the square and toss a ball at the coin. Hitting it scores a point. Flipping the coin over by hitting it with the ball scores double. As the ball bounces over or away from the penny it is caught by the player closest to its trajectory, and that player then tries to hit the coin.
 

JUMP ROPE

Seemingly endless tests of skill at jumping the twirling rope could be used in making up jump rope contests. The equipment needed is a length of heavy cord or light rope long enough for two people to swing it between them standing far enough apart for one or more other participants to jump up over the rope as it touches the ground each time it is whirled by the two end holders. Probably the most common form of the activity involved the rhythmic chanting of rhymes timed to the movement of the rope and the jump of the jumpers:

"Billy and Sally sitting in the tree
K-i-s-s-i-n-g.
How many kisses did she get?"

Then the jumper would continue jumping the twirling rope until he or she "missed" (failed to jump without tangling feet in rope); the most jumps or longest duration was a winning effort.

Another rhyme (or part of the first):

"First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then come children
In  A Baby Carriage
How many children will she get?"

The forms of the competiton of the rhymes could be as various as the imaginations of the participants.
 

KISSING GAMES

The learning of skills was not an insignificant part before electronics. Social interactions were an inevitable and important part of them. A set of such playful interactions were kissing games which allowed forbidden actions to be experienced and practiced without social disapproval or consequences.

POST OFFICE

One of the two best known kissing games, Post Office, allowed one player to go off from the group into another room and proclaim that there was "A LETTER FOR ____________" naming one of the group. That named person had to go into the private area to be kissed by the "POSTMAN" who had called that person's name. The person who received that letter became the postman and called another name to come and be kissed. Although the presumption was that kissing took place privacy ensured that those too shy to comply could pretend that they had kissed even when it was not true.
 

SPIN THE BOTTLE

This was a little less private and more immodest kissing game in which all sit in a circle and one player spins a bottle. When it comes to rest with its mouth pointing to one of the circle that person is kissed by the one who spun the bottle. But it had to be done then and there in full view. Some still kissed demurely or prankishly, but some took full advantage.

THROUGH THE WINDOW

This activity involved a line of persons passing through openings made by other person joining hands. A song about passing in and out of the windows was sung and at its close "Windows" made by the clasped hands were closed by the grasping of that person "IN THE WINDOW". That person could then be kissed.
 

For more traditional games, from all over the world, click here