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A Brief History of Cootie Catchers

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A cootie catcher is full of carefully-folded dichotomies. It’s centuries-old origami performed by kids (usually), many of whom live far away from the device’s country of origin. Delicate in its construction, but usually (in my experience) scrawled over with crayons or colored pencils with clunky renderings. Full of secrets, mysteries, and fates, all of which your friend just wrote right in front of you.

It’s a playground pastime for the inactive mystics and gossips of school, or a way to pass the time in class. The cootie catching practice has endured through the years, though individual ones never did. They were pocketed by those who got what they wanted and wished to preserve it, those who didn’t and wished to conceal it. Left on a desk, trashed, or left behind for someone else to ponder what it all means.

If you were unlucky enough to never encounter a cootie catcher, let’s back things up to the beginning.

The fortune teller also goes by chatterbox, whirlybird, or salt cellar, and that last name is actually reflective of how the origami figure was first introduced to the United States. The 1928 book Fun with Paper Folding contained the “salt cellar,” which, when inverted from how we’re used to seeing it today, was meant to invoke a container that could hold and pour salt. The points of a cootie catcher become legs and the spaces for fingers open up to hold the salt.

The exact lineage and timeline for the introduction of the cootie catcher around the world is somewhat murky. Most sources suggest it’s possible that it appeared in Europe as early as the 17th century. It’s safe to say though that by the 1950s, cootie catchers had started to appear in England and the United States, and propagated from there. Today, the game is played all over the world, and each place has its own name for the fortune teller.

As for the name: Most sources believe the word “cootie” came from the Malay word kutu, meaning “dog tick,” and was brought back by British soldiers after World War I. Some books include mentions of the “cooties” as bugs or dots drawn into the center of the catcher, so the legs act as pincers, swallowing the germs up. Girls were often the ones ridding each other of said cooties, intermixed with the telling of each other's fortunes. (And, probably, doing the tried and true “Circle, circle, dot, dot, now I've got my cootie shot.”)

For first timers or those in need of a refresher course, here’s how to make your own cootie catcher, just in time for back to school.

Once the cootie catcher is built, you can use it both for grabbing cooties off of your friend (without worry of infecting yourself), then fill it with messages and use it to tell fortunes (that’s versatility!). When you’re ready to use it, the fortune teller prompts their subject with a series of choices from the catcher (usually in the form of colors, numbers, or pictures) that will lead to one of the eight flaps inside, each concealing a message. There are plenty of other videos out there on the internet that go into more detail if you need some assistance with your prescience.

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Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
If You Love Antique Stores, This Subscription Box Is For You
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest

Do you love wandering the aisles of antique malls, shopping at vintage clothing stores, and filling your home with knick-knacks and ephemera from the past? Then this subscription box is for you.

Royal Treasure Chest is a curated monthly subscription that sends a package full of vintage goodies to your door, thoughtfully hand-picked based on your personal taste. The subscription box offering is an extension of Royal Treasure, an online vintage shop with a presence on Etsy and eBay and run by wife-and-husband team Denise and Royal.

Prices start at $15 for a monthly single-item box. Also available is a $40 plan (three items) and a $60 plan (five items). Your box is highly customizable. First, you select your category (or categories) from the following options: Beautiful old hardcover books, curios and knick-knacks, jewelry, tie bars and cufflinks, paper ephemera (like postcards or photographs), and ladies' or gentlemen's accessories. Then you can go into detail about your style, favorite eras, and likes and dislikes. That means it's great for indecisive people who want to treat themselves to a box of nice things every month.

To find the vintage collectibles, Royal Treasure's Pittsburgh-based team travels to estate sales in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Every box comes with a note printed on parchment paper recounting where your new treasures were found and gives details about the families that once owned them. (The grandfather was a World War I fighter pilot! This family of dance instructors counted a young Gene Kelly among their pupils!) It reads like a letter from a friend and gives a homespun feel to the whole operation.

I subscribed to the $40 plan and loved the items I got. Every box also included a bonus postcard with a message written by someone from another era. I definitely took Royal Treasure up on the opportunity to go into detail about my taste. One of the things I wrote was that I like dogs, and I got a lot of dog-themed stuff that made me smile. In one month's box, I got a porcelain dog figurine as well as a trinket box and a decorative plate with country scenes on them. I liked the puppy statuette and thought the box and plate were nice enough, but then I looked closer and realized they each had a tiny dog cavorting around the landscape and I appreciated them even more. Now that's attention to detail.

vintage clothes
Courtesy of Royal Treasure Chest
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Mathew Tucciarone
Candytopia, the Interactive Art Installation Made of Sweet Treats, Is Coming to New York City
Mathew Tucciarone
Mathew Tucciarone

A colorful exhibition is sharing some eye candy—and actual candy—with visitors. The sweet art pop-up, called Candytopia, is heading to New York City this summer following successful stints in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Gothamist reports.

Candytopia feels a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate room. More than a dozen rooms with psychedelic backdrops will be on view, as well as candy-inspired interpretations of famous artworks such as Mona Lisa and The Thinker. The installation is the brainchild of Jackie Sorkin, the star of TLC’s Candy Queen.

Many of the art installations are made from actual candy, but unlike Wonka’s lickable wallpaper, visitors will have to keep their hands and tongues to themselves. Instead, guests will be given samples of various sweet treats like gummies, chocolates, and “nostalgic favorites.”

Forbes named Candytopia one of the best pop-up museums to visit in 2018. New York City seems the perfect place for the exhibit, having formerly hosted other food-inspired pop-ups like the Museum of Pizza and the Museum of Ice Cream.

Candytopia will debut in New York City on August 15 at Penn Plaza at 145 West 32nd Street. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and they can be ordered on Candytopia’s website. Private events and birthday parties can also be arranged.

Keep scrolling to see some more installations from Candytopia.

A wing of the Candytopia exhibit
Mathew Tucciarone

An Egyptian-inspired statue made of candy
Mathew Tucciarone

A candy version of the Mona Lisa
Mathew Tucciarone

A shark statue
Mathew Tucciarone

[h/t Gothamist]

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