Thursday, May 25, 2006

Low-Tech Childhood Games

I'm starting to wonder whether people even remember how to play outdoor games that involve sticks and rocks. As I remember my childhood, the sticks and rocks games were a lot more fun than the computer games I played back then. Then again, I had the impression that the old Eliza program was supposed to be a game.

Anyway. My all-time favorite childhood game was "Kick the Can." You know, where everyone hides and the "it" has to spot the people as they creep in to base to try to kick the can and free all the people who've already been caught? Strict integrity on the part of the "it" is required, I realize, looking back.

"Capture the flag" is another good game, but it requires rugged terrain (to maximize the opportunities for sneaking through poison oak) and a good number of people.

I also frequently played a perverse variant of "Cowboys and Indians," in which the Cowboys spent most of the time in the Indians' jail and had to try to break out. The older kids were always the Indians and seemed to enjoy offering us Cowboys regular meals of mashed-up leaves. The jailbreaks were always futile, by the way. "Cowboys and Indians" flat-out sucked for the Cowboys.

Another great game I played as a kid we called "Duck on Rock," although, according to this source and this one, it's more usually called "Duck on a Rock" or somesuch. We played it roughly according to the "medieval version" described in the first link, but we usually built up a cairn of rocks instead of using a tree-stump.

What fun, ultra-low-tech games do you remember?


Blogger DaveC:

Suburban version of kick the can:

We played at night.

"It" had a flashlight and had to shine it on potential can-kickers, say their name, and then run back and touch the can.

There is a time limit after which you yell "Ally Ally In Free" and another person becomes "It". If there are people in jail, the 1st person in jail is "it", otherwise a person who hasn't been "it" recently is selected.


Daytime game: Rolly-Bat

5/26/2006 01:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

Never played, or heard of "kick the can", although games in which hostages were released were played. Pretty similar with local differences, plus endless versions of catch. A third person in football season was a pass defender, in baseball season a batter. Four was a game. Much more wargaming I think, involving stalking and ambushes, although heavy snow meant forts and snowball assaults. My son plays some of these games with his friends, even though football/baseball are rare due to lack of playing space, there is more basketball. In my experience, video games replace tv, not outdoor play. In the next generation, there may be a tragic lack of knowledge of Green Acres and Andy Griffith.

5/26/2006 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger Marilee Scott:

there may be a tragic lack of knowledge of Green Acres and Andy Griffith.

Um, yes. I think that has already come to pass. Alas?

DaveC, I have absolutely no idea what "rolly-bat" is. Care to explain? Also, our local variant of "ally ally in free" was pronounced "ollie ollie oxen free." I never had any idea what that was about, but it was the thing to shout.

I like IDP's thesis that video games are replacing tv, not outdoor games, but I'm more pessemistic. So many of my childhood outdoors games went completely unsupervised by adults, which is today considered tauntamount to handing one's children over to the Child Molestor Menace. I'd like to be wrong about this.

5/26/2006 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

Have a nice weekend, and you're wrong about this. There is more structured play and organization by adults, if we read the NYT style or whatever, but in my neighborhood unstructured play is and always has been the norm.

5/26/2006 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jay:

I understood "ally ally oxen free" as a corruption of "all the outs in free" from hide and go seek. Wikipedia has other possibilities.
Hide and seek - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

5/26/2006 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger CharleyCarp:

We played kick-the-can, and the shout was ollie-ollie-in-free. And sardines. And marco polo in whatever pools we could find.

When she was in third grade or so, I told my daughter that the very first "it" of the very first game of hide and seek was Mozart, and that the game was actually called Haydn Seek, because the first player found by Mozart was his father's friend FJH. She believed me, and told her friends and teacher. I have not been forgiven.

5/26/2006 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

My Boy Scout troop used to play capture the flag in city parks and wilderness areas. At least until we got kicked out of a park for being there too long after the sunset curfew. The funny thing about that was that a guy with a briefcase came up to a few of us and said, under his breath, "Hey, kids! There's cops around here", and then ran across the field shortly before the police told us we had to leave.

In Desolation Wilderness we played on opposite sides of a small lake with no other barriers. I once took over an hour to outflank the other team by going to a neighboring valley and then sneaking in from behind their territory. No one ever seemed to win, though. Too many fights over the rules.

5/26/2006 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

OMG, I used to play with Eliza for the longest time when I was really little. I totally thought she was a real person stuck in the computer who wanted to talk with me.

And now I hang out on Unfogged. A progession of sorts, I suppose.

5/26/2006 09:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

I never actually played Kick the Can in real life, but for several years my college roommate and I planned to write an online version: Net Kick the Can.

I'm not sure I remember how it was supposed to work.

5/27/2006 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

For a long time I've occasionally been going around asking people what they called kill-the-man-with-the-ball as kids. (I called it "kill the man with the ball.")

In what I remember as plain old hide-and-seek, we said "olly olly income free" or maybe even "olly olly oxen free" which is closer to what I take to be the original German. As for games, I don't know, freeze tag and mother-may-I. Last time I was in Pittsburgh I saw some French-speaking kids playing that game where you sneak up on someone when their back is turned and you have to freeze when they turn back around; the It person was saying "un... deux... trois... sommeil!" I think.

5/27/2006 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Marilee Scott:

Becks, you must have been a more gullible child than I was: I remember thinking that this Eliza character was written to be infuriating and boring. "This is a dumb game!" I would shout, and then I would try to make her ask me how I felt about pooping cows.

mrh, online kick the can? This bespeaks a sad, disembodied life! See, you have to run down from the hills, lungs bursting, adrenaline pumping, screaming at the top of your lungs: "KICK THE CAN!!!1!!" And all the people sitting by who've already caught shout "HOORAY!!1!" and the "it" who was chasing after you pants and hands its head in redfaced frustration. That's what the game's about. Glory.

Matt, if you ever find out what the "kill the man with the ball" game is about, let me know.

eb, I've played Capture the Flag high up in the granitic mountains in California, where flesh-eating manzanita bushes cover the cliff faces. Flanking manoeuvers involved hardship, as is right and true.

My honey told me this weekend about a particularly sadistic ball game he played as a boy called "Asses Up." It involves pegging the other little boys as hard as possible, and there's an element of ritual torture built in, in which for some infraction you have to lean up on a wall and wait to have balls flung at your ass. Sounds awful. Did anyone else play this horrible game?

5/30/2006 08:12:00 AM  

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