Thursday, August 12, 2010


Childhood is a magical world where you have yet to learn the limits of imagination. Everything, every object, place or idea is a playground for the mind, and every game puts the stakes as high as possible simply for the thrill. "Don't let this touch the ground or the world will be blown up!"

And oh the games we played....

They say that some of the themes Beethoven incorporated into his symphonies came from the little tunes he heard being played in the villages while walking through the countryside. In the same manner, I would speculate that game manufacturers like Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Hasbro got many of the ideas for their games by sifting through the pop culture for ideas that were already pervasive. For example, Battleship.

My dad showed us how to make a grid and play that game on sheets of paper. We did not need a game board, fancy plastic molded ships and the like. We did it all for free, and had hours diversion. Best of all, besides price: you never had to worry about losing a game piece. But today, it is yours for only $38.78 from Milton Bradley and Hasbro. "You're the commander of your fleet, so prepare your strategy and lead your troops to victory!"

Other games have roots that initially seem a bit more obscure. Barrel of Monkeys, Ants in the Pants.... and today's theme, Cootie. I remember being in elementary school, running around being chased by girls on the playground and avoiding them because we didn't want to get "cooties." None of us had a clue what cooties were, only that it was bad. When we went to Grandma's house in the 1950's we used to play this cool game called Cootie. I never connected this game by the Schaper Mfg. Co. to what was going on in the playground till now.

If I remember correctly, each person started with a torso and by rolling a dice you got to add various components such as a head, antennae, eyes, legs and that little spiral shaped tongue. The first one to assemble a complete cootie was the winner.

So, a couple days ago I came across an article from the February 2, 1942 edition of Time magazine titled, Death Rides a Cootie. What!? The headline yanked me right in. And the first paragraph had me lashed on for the ride.

During World War I the cootie was a joke to many people who had never been bitten by one. Even itching soldiers stoically made a joke out of it. On the Western Front, thanks to frequent delousing and other precautions, the cootie seldom brought anything worse than a comparatively mild infliction called trench fever. But to millions of Germans today as to other millions in many of history's wars, the cootie means horror and death in the form of typhus.

The reason why the Cootie game was about assembling a bug is because the real cootie was a bug. Cooties were lice. And the reason boys ran from girls on the playground to avoid cooties must have certainly metamorphosed from certain adult games between men and women that could result in venereal diseases, cooties and crabs.

The lice in the trenches during the war were even more devastating, and one more reason why war was hell. The article Death Rides a Cootie is an informative read. But I'm still not sure why someone would make a children's game out of a louse.


Linda Summers Posey said...

I remember the Cootie game from my childhood. What a blast from the past! Thank goodness I was too young to understand the most fearsome implications of cooties. I did of course treat boys who feared getting them from me with the utmost disdain. LOL!

Happy creating - Linda

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the comment... yes, I had forgotten this one, too, till I bumped into that article.
We did have one boy on the playground who loved being cornered and caught by the girls on the playground. I'm curious where he is today.

Be well

Popular Posts