What Makes a Game Classic? My Buddy Plays Mahjong

What Makes a Game Classic? My Buddy Plays Mahjong

What makes a game classic? Part of the answer is longevity. Most people consider chess classic; we’ve played it for centuries. What about playing cards? Woodblock-printed cards appeared during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), while written rules for card games were first seen in15th-century Europe. Another characteristic of classic games is continued popularity. Games such as Monopoly in the 1930s and Scrabble during the 1950s broke sales records at first. But they continued to sell in the years that followed and do so today. Like chess and playing cards, these games are now available in electronic formats, but people still enjoy the tabletop versions. In the spirit of those other famous games, I’d like to propose the tile game Mahjong as a potential classic.

Parker Brothers Mah-Jongg set, about 1920. The Strong, Rochester, New York.Mahjong’s roots reach back to China’s invention of playing cards. Early Chinese card illustrations represented amounts of money—as in gambling. Mahjong relates to a series of draw-and-discard card games in which players try to collect sets, or melds, of identical or related cards. The game rummy also makes use of this mechanic. Sometime in the middle 19th century, bone or bamboo tiles got substituted for the cards in this game. In Asia the tiles are thick enough to stand on end, so players easily conceal their hands; Westerners use thinner tiles on racks. The game caught on and made its way to Europe in the late 19th century and to America by 1920.

|
Comments Off on What Makes a Game Classic? My Buddy Plays Mahjong

Playthings and Intellectual Property

Playthings and Intellectual Property

I was a visiting Research Fellow at The Strong museum in July 2017. While at the museum, I researched the history of the toy industry, focusing on the ways in which the main trade journal, Playthings, represented the struggles of different companies to capitalize on the different opportunities the market offered to them. In doing so, I traced…

|
Comments Off on Playthings and Intellectual Property

What Goes Around, Comes Around

What Goes Around, Comes Around

As Chief Curator for The Strong, I start each morning with a to-do list and an idea of what I’m hoping to accomplish, but I can’t always picture what will turn up in the course of a day. Sometimes an unsolicited package turns up as part of the day’s mail delivery. In this instance, the…

|
Comments Off on What Goes Around, Comes Around

The Picnic Tradition: Playing Together and Staying Together

The Picnic Tradition: Playing Together and Staying Together

Labor Day weekend will be filled with the lighting of grills, the balancing of over-filled paper plates on knees, and the splashing of feet in lakes and pools. It’s prime picnic time in America! People have been picnicking for more than 500 years. The French term “pique-nique” first appeared in print in 1694, referring to…

|
Comments Off on The Picnic Tradition: Playing Together and Staying Together

Teetotums

Teetotums

“Are you a child or a teetotum?” a creature asks Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871). The bewildered Alice can’t think what to say in reply. Spun from one mad adventure to another, she might well resemble the iconic “teetotum,” or spinning top, that was used in 19th-century board games. Today, most board…

|
Comments Off on Teetotums

The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

“Summer just opens the door and lets you out.” Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart The front of a school building shimmers in the sun. A loud bell rings. The doors burst open and a flood of children spills out, cheering and tossing papers into the air. This image, used to the point of cliché, signals…

|
Comments Off on The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

Rack ‘Em Up

Rack ‘Em Up

I grew up in a small town with a population of roughly 5,000. It may not look it now, but it was once booming with activity and businesses. A basket factory and a canning factory ranked among the major employers. Then the train quit making stops in town. Without convenient access to supplies, factories slowly…

|
Comments Off on Rack ‘Em Up

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Since last summer, you may have noticed small groups of millennials walking briskly toward landmarks surrounded by people staring intently at their smartphone screens. Every now and then, cries of delight or disdain erupt from the gatherers. “Oh good, a Snorlax!” someone murmurs appreciatively. “Just another Rattata!” another person groans. These folks aren’t speaking in…

|
Comments Off on Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Nerf Ball

Nerf Ball

“Stop playing with that ball inside the house! You’re going to break something—take it outside!” Those are familiar phrases that I heard when I was younger, and I am sure many other children can relate. What helped alter parental attitudes towards indoor ball play? Well, that would be the introduction of the Nerf ball, a…

The Eyes Have It

The Eyes Have It

When The Strong museum recently acquired a Shirley Temple doll from the 1930s, it went to the museum’s doll conservator Darlene Gengelbach for treatment. These dolls have sleep eyes that open and close with metal rockers. The rocker is a spindle attached to the inside of the doll’s head with a small weight attached to…