Monday, June 20, 2011

Classroom Games or, how our teachers used up the endless minutes they couldn’t fill with educational material

It’s amazing how some childhood experiences can transcend both generations and state lines. I grew up over 1000 miles from my current residence, yet somehow all of my teacher friends here utilize most of the same games and time fillers I knew when I was a child. Either there is some super elaborate network of teacher communication that has been going strong for the last few decades or those who work with children aren’t always as creative as they like to think.

Whatever the reason, any good teacher or substitute always had a few of these classroom games up their sleeve to fill a dreaded five or ten minute gaps in the daily routine. To their credit, these brave adults were essentially locked in an airtight room with us for eight hours a day; even the most innovative of educators has trouble filling a few minutes here or there with no designated activity. In order to fill the void, our crafty teachers utilized some of the following games to keep us organized and discourage general classroom chaos:

Heads Up, Seven Up

Heads up, seven up is like the gold standard in classroom games: everyone played it and everyone inexplicably believed it was worthwhile. There is no real point to the game, but kids eat it up regardless. Many of us spent the better part of our youths with our foreheads pressed firmly against our wooden desks, thumb extended heavenward, obeying silently as a teacher or classmate ordered us, “Heads down, thumbs up!”

The seven lucky chosen ones circulate the room, each pressing down a single classmate’s thumb. Then “Heads up, seven up!” is called, and the players (who mostly cheat mercilessly with glances at shoes) attempt to guess who pushed their thumb. Some people would use tricky tactics like pressing lighter or harder than would be characteristically associated with them, but in general there’s very little chance we could blindly guess at who pushed our thumb.

Hot or Cold

Especially popular with young children, our teachers probably liked Hot or Cold because it was so time consuming. A student would leave the room and the teacher would hide an item somewhere in the classroom. When the student re-entered, the class would direct them toward the hidden item by rating each movement as either “Warm” “Hot” “Cool” or “Cold.” If your teacher was good at hiding things this process could take quite a bit of time, thus keeping us busy for as long as they needed.

Quiet Game

Ah, the quiet game. Is there no moment more satisfying to a teacher than to have tricked his or her entire class into being silent under the ruse of a game? It’s not a game; it’s just being quiet, but someone wins and most kids lose. For some reason, it remains an effective way to silence children in public or on long car trips. There doesn’t even need to be a prize. Just declare someone the “winner,” and children will continue to compete for your attention.

Around the World
At the very least, Around the World was more educational than the other distractions on this list. Usually played with math or other easily flashcardable facts, two students compete to offer the correct answer first. The loser sits back down in the seat, and the winner goes on to battle his or her classmates at flashcard mastery. Teachers used varying rules, but usually whoever made it all the way around the classroom was awarded some sort of prize and tricked into learning multiplication tables.


If you think too carefully about it, hangman is a pretty morbid premise for a children’s game. On the upside, we had a chance to practice writing and spelling, but on the downside, the poor man has to be hanged for your inability to guess letters correctly. For those of us who were really horrible at Hangman, our teachers would offer us consolatory hats and ties and other hanged man accessories to further delay ending the game before we finally solved the puzzle. Little did they know they were also setting us up for a lifetime of being awesome at yelling the correct answers out at Wheel of Fortune.

Silent Ball

Kind of like the Quiet Game with a Nerf Ball, Silent Ball was another crafty ploy by our clever teachers to keep us from chatting during downtime. Students stand near their desks and throw the ball quietly to each other. Any bass passes, out-of-bounds throws, or missed catches led to an “out,” meaning you had to sit down in your seat. The last students standing were the winners, but the true winner was the teacher, seeing as how she had figured out how to adapt the Quiet Game for older, less gullible students.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seriously Strange 90s Children’s Games

As kids, most of us accepted children’s games at the face value at which their producers marketed them to us. It was rare that we would question the validity or normalcy of the games we saw advertised on TV. The catchy jingles encouraged us to beg our parents to buy them for us, and that was that.

Adult hindsight, however, tells a different story. More careful inspection of some of our most coveted highly-advertised games leads us to question the sanity of the people who produced them. There are more than enough crazy toys to mine several posts worth of material, so in this case, I’m just going to focus on the inane board games that by some miracle of bad judgment were green-lighted by R&D into full-scale production:

Grape Escape

I blame my adult love affair with wine with the subliminal messages garnered from endless hours of playing “Grape Escape” All that grape crushing was bound to latently inspire me somehow.The idea of Grape Escape involved constructing play-doh grapes and navigating them around a dangerous game board full of grape-splatting dangers and obstacles. The worst part was our little grapes had faces, so as soon as we’d grown attached to the anthropomorphic little fruit morsels, we had to bear the guilt and responsibility of smushing them with a steam roller.

Gooey Louie

Who exactly was buying this game for their children? When faced with a shelf full of wholesome and sometimes educational game, what kind of adult thinks, “Hey, we should get the nose-picking one!” I’m going to pin the purchases of this game on the so-called “fun uncles.” I can’t imagine many parents being incredibly enthusiastic to shell out $14.99 for their child to pull fake boogers out of a giant face.

Crocodile Dentist

Perhaps a regular game of human dentistry wasn’t quite exciting enough to warrant its own game (let’s face it, it’s no “Operation.”) Someone must have been pitching their dental work game pretty hard when someone around the brainstorm table said, “Hey, let’s make it a crocodile!” I can only imagine everyone else voiced their assent that crocodile dentistry was indeed more interesting than a regular cleaning and checkup and called it a day.

Mr. Bucket

If nothing else, this one deserves a spot on the list for its questionably PG-13 rated commercials. Did no one at Milton Bradley think it may be a potentially bad idea for Mr. Bucket to introduce himself and immediately bring up the balls that come out of his mouth? Seriously, Mr. Bucket, at least buy us a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal or something.

Potentially lewd commercial aside, this game is clearly a ploy by adults to exhaust children using tedious, repetitive tasks. You put balls in the bucket, the bucket pops out the balls, you put the balls back in the bucket...well, you get the idea.


Has no one ever heard of calling an exterminator? At the very least investing in one of those 25 cent traps from Home Depot. This whole setup seems like a needlessly complicated means of going after a single mouse in the house. When I see a mouse, I never think, “Hey, I should take everything in my house that’s not bolted down, create an elaborate marble maze involving plastic cheese, bathtubs, and falling baskets, and spend several hours waiting for the moon to be in the seventh house and for Jupiter to align to with Mars so the conditions will be auspicious for mouse trapping.” Well, now I might think of it, now that it’s all written out like that. But I’m still not going to do it.

Don’t Wake Daddy

In theory this one makes more sense than several of the other games on this list. The object of the game is to not awaken the snoring plastic father while trying to sneak to the kitchen to fix yourself a midnight snack. I can’t say for sure, but was this perhaps one of those extreme anti-obesity households where they secure the cupboards with padlocks at night?

Whatever the reason for the stealthy snack operation, the means of trying not to wake Daddy are certainly questionable. If you land on a space that indicates you must make a noise, you have to pound Daddy’s alarm clock repeatedly. Now I’m not a sleep expert, but I have to imagine that setting and continually re-setting an alarm clock is not the best way to ensure someone stays asleep.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Remember when this technology excited us?

At some point in time, all now-tired technology was new and exciting. With the rapid rate of technological change, it is tough remember a time when what now seems simple seemed like super high-tech space age innovation. While we now use many more advanced forms of these gadgets and gizmos in our everyday lives, the first time we saw them, most of us were incredibly impressed. Here are just a few of the things that may once have blown us away with their modernity but have since been relegated to technological relics:

Caller ID/*69

It was fun to see who was calling, but it certainly made telemarketing and prank phone calling far more difficult. While you may have legitimately been wondering if someone’s refrigerator was running, you were now in peril of that angry crank-callee’s mom calling back your home and complaining to your parents. Talk about sucking the enjoyment out of frivolous childish fun.


In the days before cell phones--if you can strain to remember back far enough--there were pagers and beepers. For awhile, they existed as viable forms of communication for more than just doctors and drug dealers. When mobile or car phones were still as big and bulky as a suitcase, beepers gave us our first taste of the craving to be constantly and uninterruptedly reachable.

Beepers and pagers also gave us license to get incredibly creative with our use of beeper codes, arguably the most primitive predecessors of today’s text messages. 911 meant an emergency, but some were more cryptic, like the popular “143,” representing the number of letters in each word of “I love you.” Some of us also liked to utilize the upside-down number-to-letter comparisons, like 07734 as hello. Beepers may have encouraged creativity with messaging, but having to find a payphone to call for the full scoop was a less than efficient means of communication on the go.


Portable music you can bring with you? Back in the 80s, many people had never seen such a thing. Thus began the socially acceptable norm of blocking out all outside stimuli/avoiding human interaction by permanently attaching headphones to our ears. We’ve come a long way with portable music players since the introduction of Sony’s Walkman, but you have to admit it’s a lot harder to play a mix tape on an iPod.

America Online/Prodigy/Other early internet providers

I can still remember my first encounter with the internet. Our friends told us they had the internet, and I asked, “What is the internet?” I don’t think children growing up today in even the most remote regions of the world would ask such a naive tech ignoramus-style question. Our friends had “Prodigy,” an early internet service that linked to news, weather, message boards, and other prehistoric internet capabilities. At the time though, I couldn’t imagine anything more interesting than reading the bland reprinted news and weather reports that took thirteen minutes each to fully load.

Another friend’s family were early adopters of America Online; she told me she once tried searching the internet for “rhino” and came up with no results. Nothing. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine coming up empty on an internet search for just about any topic, but someday we’ll be able to act crotchety to our grandchildren who can’t appreciate that we were around before the internet’s search database was fully populated with pertinent information.

Dial-Up Internet

While we’re discussing the internet, we can’t possibly forget how we used to connect to the internet. More specifically, many of us will forever remember the sounds it made. A combination of dialing, beeping, and crackling static set the mood for most of our modem-driven early internet encounters. Today we take for granted our generally simple and uninterrupted methods of connecting to the internet from our computers and mobile devices, and we whine relentlessly when our connection speeds lag or stop working for even a minute a two.

In our dial-up days, there were all sorts of tricks to reset your modem when a connection was unavailable, and God forbid one of your family members picked up the phone while you were trying to establish a connection. Your AOL running man could be frozen in a perpetual state of mid-jog, forcing you to go through your long lists of alternate dial-up numbers until one finally struck a good connection.

Videotaping TV Shows

A recent survey showed that a 79% of respondents indicated that a specific home technology improved their relationship with their partner. The gadget in question? A DVR.
Once upon a time, we had to actually watch shows at the times dictated by the networks who air them. Back in our day, the only way to save your favorite show was to insert a blank (or re-recordable) VHS tape and go through an incredibly complex series of remote control commands to set a recording.

Digital Cameras

Just a few short years ago, photos used to be a surprise. You took the shots, you dropped them off to be developed, and when you got them back, you laughed over how horrible everyone looked in all of them. If we took pictures like we do now back when we relied on actual developable film, we would waste an incredible amount of money. After each group portrait, now we all have to check it out and approve it to ensure we’re not making a silly face and our eyes aren’t mid-blink. Digital cameras have significantly increased our collective sense of vanity; while once we were willing to settle for not always looking our best, now we’re pushing for twelve takes on those group shots to ensure we are fully camera-ready.

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