The Origins of 15 Beloved Playground Games

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

Most kids’ games have no exact traceable origin. Children seem to come up with familiar ways to play no matter what time or place they live in. But even though it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where these games originated, there’s some incredible history behind your childhood favorites.

1. Jacks

Jacks are at least as old as ancient Greece, except at that time the jacks and ball were tiny sheep bones or rocks. It was still the same idea: toss and catch the jacks in a prescribed fashion—only for most of history it was called “Knucklebones.”

2. Red Rover

One theory is that the game, with its distinctive chant, was named after an 1828 steamboat that took passengers back and forth across the Hatchie River. Another suggests it was a taunt early English children directed at Viking invaders.

3. Blind Man’s Bluff

Blind Man’s Bluff became especially popular in Tudor England, even among adults. The game was even said to be a favorite in the court of Henry VIII.

4. Tetherball

Depending who you ask, tetherball is either an offshoot of the romantic “Maypole,” or it evolved from a game played by the 9th century Tartars that was a lot like tetherball but used pieces of vanquished enemies as the ball.

5. Kickball

Kickball was invented in Cincinnati in 1917. It was also called Kick-Baseball and Soccer-Base. Its accessibility as an organized sport for even small and uncoordinated children was quickly recognized. By the early 1920s, P.E. teachers all over America had begun using kickball as a standard practice in gym class.

6. Hopscotch

Some sources state that hopscotch began in Roman-ruled England. The courses were 100 feet long and were used by Roman soldiers to build agility while wearing full armor. The “scotch” in hopscotch attached itself later. It’s an English variation of “scratch,” in that players were hopping over scratches made on the ground.

7. Marbles

Marbles are ancient and have been found in Pharaohs' tombs and in Aztec ruins. There is no one way to play marbles—every schoolyard has its own variants. The classic version of marble-playing we know today came into existence in the early part of the 20th century, when mass-production made it possible for children to buy whole bags of beautiful glass marbles for only pennies.

8. Mumblypeg

Depending on whom you ask, this game either originated in 17th century England or 19th century America. Mark Twain mentioned it as one of Tom Sawyer’s favorite activities, and the image of young boys tossing pocketknives at their feet and then removing them from the dirt with their teeth (making them “mumbly”) feels distinctly Twain-ian.

9. Capture the Flag

Though no one has traced the precise beginning of capture the flag, it is most likely a child’s re-creation of a battlefield. In many military cultures, the battle is not won until you are in possession of your opponent’s actual flag.

10. The Farmer in the Dell

This game, where children form a circle and in turn pick farmers' wives, children, dogs, servants and cheese, probably originated in Germany in the 1820s. It was a courtship game played by adults originally, then became popularized in America by German immigrants. A “dell,” by the way, is a small wooded valley.

11. London Bridge Is Falling Down

The London Bridge has existed in one form or another since the Roman occupation, and it has fallen down many times. Some believe the game that accompanies the rhyme grew from a widespread tradition of bridge dances popular in the Middle Ages. Some historians also believe that the rhyme itself refers to a superstitious practice of killing and burying a child at the bridge site to keep it from collapsing.

12. Double Dutch

Double Dutch, where jump ropes are whirled opposite each other, is thought to have evolved from the way ancient rope makers made their product. Workers tied the ropes to their waists and a large wheel, wrapping strands as they walked backwards. Supply runners would have to jump these ropes when slack to make their deliveries.

13. Croquet

Croquet originated in 11th century France, where it was called jeu de mail. The “croque” is related to the French crochet, which can mean “crook,” likely the shape of the stick first used for mallets.

14. Shuffleboard

Shuffleboard has been around for at least 500 years. Henry VIII is said to have forbid his archers to play the game because it diverted their attention from their archery practice. It was originally played with shovels, and coins were used instead of pucks. The evolution of the name “Shuffleboard” is a neat study of etymology: shovelgroat…shoveboard…shovelboard…shuffleboard.

15. Foursquare

Foursquare likely had ancient origins, but the version children play today came to popularity after the 1940s. It was originally called “boxball” because of the quadrants used, and it was especially popular in urban areas where there wasn’t enough room to play other traditional ball games.

Disney's 10 Scariest Movies

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney: Known for catchy songs, cute animal sidekicks, brave Princesses … and occasionally scarring children for life. A lot of Disney’s more famously upsetting moments have to do with deathBambi’s mother and Mufasa’s father, for instance—but sometimes the studio goes plain horror movie with it. As Halloween approaches, here are 10 of Disney’s scariest movies.

1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return Oz establishes its “wait, what the hell am I watching?” cred early on, when Dorothy Gale—back in Kansas following her adventures in Oz—is shipped off to the doctor for a round of electroshock therapy to cure her insomnia and “delusions.” Dorothy is saved from her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fate and whisked off to Oz again, where she finds that the Nome King and Princess Mombi—Nicol Williamson and Jean Marsh, who also played the doctor and head nurse—have destroyed the Emerald City and turned most of its inhabitants to stone. Playing Dorothy in her first feature film role is Fairuza Balk, who would go on to star in perpetual Halloween favorite The Craft. Return to Oz is the only film directed by legendary editor Walter Murch, most famous for his work on Apocalypse Now.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The collected works of Ray Bradbury have been adapted into dozens of films, only a handful of which were written by the late author himself. The final feature film to be written by Bradbury is 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in its first act is a typical, sweet—if somewhat dark—drama about two young boys growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Then a carnival rolls into town, and things get real messed up. Running the carnival is Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), who grants the townspeople’s wishes in ways that … well, let’s just say they’re not very nice.

3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)

“Made-for-TV ‘80s movie about a gag gift salesman and his family” doesn’t scream terror, but Mr. Boogedy defies the odds to have some legitimately creepy moments. Granted, it’s not a subtle film: a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion in a town called called Lucifer Falls shouldn’t really expect to have an easy go of things. The mansion, believe it or not, is haunted by not one but three spirits: a widow, her child, and the eponymous Mr. Boogedy, who back in Colonial times sold his soul to Satan for a cloak that gives him magical powers. It’s Mr. Boogedy’s character design that gives the movie its biggest ick factor; the film’s makeup designer, Rick Stratton, would go on to win two Emmys. Mr. Boogedy’s cloak is eventually sucked into a possessed vacuum cleaner.

4. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Director John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods isn’t only scary because it gives Bette Davis and current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and then-child actress) Kyle Richards a decent chunk of shared screen time. Based on a 1976 novel, the film—like Mr. Boogedy—follows a family that moves into a mysterious house haunted by some mysterious presence. In The Watcher in the Woods, that presence is thought to be Karen, the long-disappeared daughter of the house’s owner, played by a collecting-those-paychecks Davis. Spoiler alert: There are actually two presences. One is Karen. The other is an alien. The original ending of The Watcher in the Woods actually showed the alien, but the effects were so bad that the premiere audience broke out laughing, causing Hough to reshoot the climactic final scene with the aliens as a vague blur of light.

5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is made up of two half-hour, kid-friendly literary adaptations, the first from The Wind in the Willows and the second from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neither segment is particularly scary … up until the last few minutes of “Sleepy Hollow,” when the animators went all-out to make schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman a contender for Disney’s scariest scene. Clyde Geronimi, who with Jack Kinney directed the “Sleepy Hollow” sequence, would go on to co-direct Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians.

6. Pinocchio (1940)

Jiminy Cricket hopping around and The Blue Fairy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” might be the most enduring images from Disney’s second-ever animated feature, but let’s not forget that Pinocchio could be scary when it needed to be. The film’s most potent bit of nightmare fuel comes in the scene where a bunch of children are magically transformed into terrified, crying donkeys so they could be sold away as slave labor. Looks like Disney had a taste for causing childhood trauma early on.

7. “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)

Spooky and cute: Why not both? The 1929 short “The Skeleton Dance” threads the needle deftly, with its depiction of a quartet of skeletons dancing around a graveyard maintaining the goofy tone that marks most of the early Disney shorts while still providing an ample dose of the shivers. “The Skeleton Dance” was drawn by Ub Iwerks, who several years earlier had designed Mickey Mouse.

8. Fantasia (1940)

Most of the segments in Disney’s Fantasia are markedly un-creepy—unless you consider ballet-dancing hippos disturbing, which makes a fair amount of sense—but with “Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney went full dark and stormy night. Set to the title song by composer Modest Mussorgsky, the film depicts the ancient Slavic deity Chernabog (whose name means “black god) calling all sorts of assorted demonic creatures to him before being driven away by the rising of the sun. Bela Lugosi served as a live-action reference for Chernabog, spending a day at Disney Studios striking a series of ominous poses. Nothing that Lugosi provided was ultimately used, as animator Bill Tylta was unimpressed by it.

9. The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron was an infamous failure for Disney, earning a mere $20 million domestically against a budget that made it, at the time, "the most expensive animated feature ever made.” With the film, Disney ditched the songs and lighthearted feel that marked its animated features up to that point in favor of a darker fantasy epic; notably, The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating. Though it’s notoriously regarded as a flop, there’s one area in which The Black Cauldron is quite successful: making its villain, the Horned King, absolutely terrifying. Even the way he dies is nightmare-inducing: The magical black cauldron that the Horned King hoped would give him power to take over the world with an undead army instead melts his flesh off. It’s a bit more gruesome than the typically death-by-falling most Disney villains get.

10. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Initially released in 1993 to middling box office returns (Disney made the odd choice to release this Halloween-themed movie in July), director Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to achieve cult status. Omri Katz, since retired from acting, stars as Max Dennison, who with neighbor Allison and younger sister Dani must defeat the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches who were hanged during the Salem witch trials. One of the witches was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestor Esther Elwell was accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem; she escaped execution when prosecution from witchcraft was done away with.

9 French Insults You Should Know

Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images
Rawf8/iStock via Getty Images

Ah, France—internationally synonymous with fine wines, fashion, and elegant cheeses. As it turns out, the country is home to some pretty fine insults, too, as the list below demonstrates. If you need some more ways to express your distaste in a foreign language, we've also got you covered with insults in German. (If historical insults are more your speed, you can peruse these old English insults, or learn how to level a sick burn like Teddy Roosevelt.)

1. Va te faire cuire un oeuf // "Go cook yourself an egg."

Figuratively speaking, this means “leave me alone.” Historically, the idea is that men would criticize their wives cooking dinner, who would then respond, "Go fry yourself an egg"—reminding their mates that they're incapable of cooking anything other than an egg.

2. Bête comme ses pieds // "You are as stupid as your feet."

The feet are the furthest part of the body from the brain, so supposedly, the most stupid. Besides, have you ever seen smart feet?

3. Péter plus haut de son cul // "To fart higher than your ass."

If you have gas in your stomach and try to expel it above your behind, you will fail. It's just too ambitious. This phrase means that a person is arrogant, or thinks they are able to do impossible things. They're a show-off, basically.

4. Poule mouillée // "Wet chicken"

Chickens are not known for their bravery. Especially when it rains, they try to hide, as ridiculous as that may be. A wet chicken is someone who is afraid of everything.

5. Mange tes morts // "Eat your dead."

You use this insult when you are very mad at someone. The original meaning is "You have no respect." It's said to have started among the Yenish people—a European ethnic minority with nomadic origins.

6. Sac à merde // "Bag of sh**"

No need for explanation right? Speaks for itself. Often used while driving.

7. Tête de noed // "Knot face"

Someone stupid. Literally, the knot refers to the tip of the penis, but in essence the term has a meaning similar to (but even ruder) than the English dickhead.

8. Couillon/Couillonne // "Little testicle"

A relatively mild insult that means something like "idiot" in English.

9. Con comme une valise sans poignée // "As stupid as a suitcase without a handle."

What good is a suitcase if you can't carry it? In a similar vein, "con comme un balais" means "as dumb as a broom."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER