You Can Thank 1950s Suburban Architecture for ‘The Floor Is Lava’

David Franzen, Library of Congress
David Franzen, Library of Congress

No one knows who, exactly, was the first kid to play "The Floor Is Lava," the simple childhood game that has only one rule: You can’t touch the floor. But as Quartz reports, a new paper contends that the game wouldn't have come about if it weren’t for the rise of American suburbs.

Published in the Social Science Research Network, the analysis by Tim Hwang of the MIT Media Laboratory argues that architecture was a vital factor in the spread of the folk game.

In the new suburban housing developments of postwar America, builders began to market the relatively new idea of the family room, an informal room designed for the social needs of the whole family. This room was separate from the formal living room and dining room, both of which were more likely to contain the inhabitants’ good furniture and fancy china. In building plans popular in the 1950s and 1960s, they were also set apart from the kitchen. One 1965 poll found that seven of 10 new houses built that year contained a family room.

And these factors, Hwang argues, are integral to playing The Floor is Lava. Family rooms provide big couches, coffee tables, and other furniture that kids can move around, climb on, and use as props for the game. Bedrooms would be too small, and formal living and dining rooms too full of potentially fragile items that Mom and Dad would be livid to find disturbed. And kitchens were seen as a mother’s domain, meaning that she would likely be there to put a stop to any shenanigans.

"What is unique about the family room space is both the quantity of space and permission that it affords to the play of The Floor is Lava,” Hwang writes.

However, this is just a hypothesis, and no one can really identify who started playing the game first. Kids in urban apartments can also theoretically jump all over their parents’ living room furniture, if allowed. During my childhood, the game typically took place on a playground rather than inside, requiring players to avoid the ground rather than the family room floor. There are games that originated elsewhere in the world that also revolve around avoiding the floor—Hwang notes examples from Kenya and the UK. But given how the spread of suburbs in the U.S. during the postwar period affected home design, it makes sense that a game might arise from the new spaces children lived in. We may never truly know how The Floor Is Lava was invented, but architecture seems like a good clue.

[h/t Quartz]

This Allegedly Haunted House Came From a Sears Catalog

iStock.com/Reimphoto
iStock.com/Reimphoto

Most haunted houses have a dark history. The Winchester Mystery House in California was built by a widow trying to appease vengeful spirits; the Lizzie Borden house was the site of one of New England's most infamous murders. The backstory of an abandoned structure in Estancia, New Mexico, however, is far less disturbing than it is bizarre. According to WISH-TV, it was ordered from a Sears catalog.

In the early 20th century, Sears catalogs were a popular source of not just home goods, but actual homes. Between 1908 and 1940, the company shipped anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 prefabricated house kits in roughly 450 styles to buyers across the country.

One of these customers was a lawyer named Fred Ayers. He assembled his mail-order home in Estancia, New Mexico in the 1920s, and today it sits abandoned on the side of Highway 55. The site attracts people from all around looking to snap a picture of the dilapidated structure, and its reputation for being "haunted" makes it an especially popular roadside attraction around Halloween.

Despite the unconventional construction method, Sears's pre-fab homes were built to last. Many people have reached out to the company archives to say they're still living in a Sears home more than a century after it was erected. And with Sears filing for bankruptcy recently, the Estancia house appears to have outlasted its maker.


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[h/t WISH-TV]

Home of John Proctor, Salem Witch Trials Victim, Hits the Market in Massachusetts

Paul Aquipel
Paul Aquipel

It's not too late to secure an epic location for your Halloween party: as CBS Boston reports, the former home of John Proctor, a victim of the Salem Witch Trials, has just hit the market for $600,000

Constructed in 1638, the building was the home of accused witch John Proctor (the inspiration for the main character in Arthur Miller's The Crucible) leading up to his conviction and hanging in 1692. It had a Salem address at the time of the trial, but is now located in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Today, the home is a recognized as an official historic site by the Peabody Historical Society. In addition to its significance as a local landmark, the 4000-square-foot Colonial home offers six bedrooms, seven fireplaces, and an in-ground swimming pool. The building has been refurbished over the years, but parts of the original structure, including some wooden beams, can still be seen.

The house may not be haunted, but its red doors and black exterior are appropriately spooky. If a morbid private buyer doesn't snatch the home off the market first, the Peabody Historical Society is considering purchasing it and opening it to the public.

Interior of Colonial home.
Paul Aquipel

Interior of Colonial home.
Paul Aquipel

Interior of Colonial home.
Paul Aquipel

[h/t CBS Boston]

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