Monday, April 23, 2012

Cat’s Cradle, a Folk Game:

There are games that we seem to never seem to forget no matter how old we become. Many of the games we learned as children growing up in America were brought here from different countries at different times. One such folk game was Cat’s Cradle. 

This hand game consists of one or two players trying to make certain patterns by interweaving the string with their fingers, sometimes passing it onto other players. Anthropologists started studying all types of string games around the 1800’s. Dr. Alred C. Hadden and Dr. W.H. Rivers changed the study behind this historical game. In their research they found certain patterns, which sparked their idea of making a language with the string figures. Historically, it has been shown that there are similarities in string games played in East Asia, Africa, the Arctic, the Americas, and Pacific Islands.
Cat’s Cradle, like other folkloric elements, can reflect the history of the country that it is played in. Each country has its own name for the shapes that are made with string. By looking into those names and string patterns specific animals of a region can be identified.  For example, the Inuit made shapes of the now extinct Wooly Mammoth. 

In some cases the designs were believed to be able to thwart evil spirits or bring good luck. And in the non-play activities of Greek philosopher Heracles, the string was used to develop certain knots and slings relating to the human body. This idea was further developed in the 4th century by Orbanasius who created  string figures that demonstrated how to set and bind a broken jaw. 

The beauty of folk games, like every other facet of folklore, is it’s ability to adapt to the times and needs of the people it is found in. 

To learn the steps of playing Cat’s Cradle check out this website! 


  1. Oh my goodness, I remember playing this game on the playground as a kid!! I was never really good, but I had so many cool strings ;)

    1. It was a popular school yard game. I remember the thrill of being able to master the 'more complex' designs. What fun that was!