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Counting-out rhymes and other methods of choosing players for games form one of the most interesting topics in the whole study of children’s games. Such rhymes and methods are found in use all over the world and are prehistoric, having descended like the great mass of children’s games from the serious practices of adults in the childhood of the race. Classic literature has innumerable references to such customs, as where in the Iliad the heroes cast lots in the cap of Atrides Agamemnon to know who shall go forth to battle with Hector, or choose by similar means their places in the funeral games for Patroclus. Many instances of the use of these practices are recorded in Scripture, including the famous one of the casting of lots for the seamless garment. Much collecting and investigating have been done as to these methods, several collections of counting-out rhymes, covering hundreds of examples, having been made in the interests of folklore, the history of magic, etc. Such rhymes are found in Asia, Africa, Europe, and America, not to mention the Sandwich Islands and other places presenting primitive conditions. The largest collection and most thorough study published in America was that made by Mr. H. Carrington Bolton of the Smithsonian Institute. These rhymes unquestionably originated in old superstitions and rites, including incantations of the old magicians and practices of divination by lot. The doggerel of counting-out rhymes is often traceable to old Latin formulas used for these purposes, a fact that shows the absurdity and artificiality of purposely manufactured rhymes.

In the majority of games it is necessary to assign various players to their parts in some manner that shall be strictly impartial. Thus, one player may have to be chosen to be “It” ;that is, to take the prominent, arduous, or often disadvantageous or disagreeable part; for example, the part of “Black Tom” in the game of that name, the “blind man” in blindfold games, etc. In many other games the players have to determine who shall have the first turn, or the order of rotation in which all shall play, as who shall be the first back in leapfrog, etc. In still other games, such as Prisoners’ Base, Black and White, and many ball games, opposing sides or teams have to be chosen. Some games have their own distinctive methods of assigning parts, but in most cases any method may be used. A few of the most popular, practical, and useful methods are given here. (See also Floor Formations in previous chapter.)

For very little children, the teacher or leader should choose or assign the players for the different parts, such as who shall be the first cat or mouse in the game of “Kitty White,” or who shall go into the center in many of the singing games. This method is often used for parlor games in children’s parties by the hostess, though many other methods may be used. For older players, the following methods will be found helpful.

COUNTING-OUT. ;This is a very popular method among children. One player in the group, generally self-appointed, but sometimes chosen by popular consent, does the “counting out.” He repeats a rhyme or jingle, touching one player on the chest for each accent of the verses. He always begins with himself and then touches the first one on his left, and so on around the circle or group in regular order. Any player to whom falls the last word is “out”; that is, he is eliminated from the succeeding counting and is not to be “It,” generally a matter for rejoicing. Such a player steps out of the group at once. This counting is continued, the verses being repeated over and over, until only two players are left, when the formula is again gone over, the one to whom the last word falls being free, and the remaining player “It.” When a verse is not long enough to go around the entire group, the player at his discretion may lengthen it by adding “One, two, three, ;out goes he!” (or she); or “O-U-T spells out!”

From many verses the following, without which no collection could well make its appearance, are chosen as typical for the purpose: ;

“Onery, twoery tickery tee,
Hanibal, Crackible, turnablee.
Whing, whang, muskadan,
Striddledum, straddledum, twenty-one!”

The following counting-out rhyme is famous in literary annals as having been taught to Sir Walter Scott before his open fire by that dainty little maiden, Marjorie Fleming: ;

“Wonery, twoery, tickery seven;
Alibi, crackaby, ten and eleven;
Pin, pan, muskydan;
Tweedle-um, twoddle-um,
Twenty-wan; eeerie, ourie, owrie,
You, are, out!”

The following are old and popular forms: ;

Enna, mena, mina, mo,
Catch a nigger by the toe;
If he hollers, let him go,
Enna, mena, mina, mo!”

“Monkey, monkey, bottle of beer;
How many monkeys are there here?
One, two, three, out goes he (or she!)”

“Aina, maina, moña, mike,
Bassalona, bona, strike;
Hare, ware, frown, hack;
Halico, balico, wee, wo, wy, whack!”

“Little fishes in a brook,
Father caught them with his hook.
Mother fried them in a pan,
Father ate them like a man.”

HOLDERS. ;A favorite method of choosing players, especially with boys, is that called “holders” or “hand holders.” When a group of boys decides to play a game, one suddenly shouts, “Picker up!” picks up a pebble and hands it to another boy. The one who picks it up is called the stone picker, and is “out” to start with; that is, he does not have to take part in the guessing of hands which follows.

Mr. Beard, who has recorded from observation this method of choosing players, gives an additional point which the writer has not happened upon. He says that the first player has scarcely shouted “Picker up!” before another cries “Wipe-’er-off!” and a third, “Stone holder!” “Picker-up hands the stone to Wipe-’er-off. Picker-up is then free. Wipe-’er-off makes a great show of wiping the stone off on his trouser leg, and hands it to Stone-holder. Wipe-’er-off is then free, and Stone-holder puts his hands behind him,” etc. This preliminary of handing the stone is often omitted, especially where a large group is to play, as the first holder of the stone has in a large group a good chance to go “out” as the guessing proceeds.

The person who holds the stone (a coin, button, or any small object may be used) places his hands behind his back so that the other players may not know in which hand he disposes the stone and then holds his closed fists out in front of him, with the backs of the hands (knuckles) upward. The first player on his left steps forward and touches the hand in which he thinks there is no stone. The holder opens that hand; if the guess has been correct, the guesser is “out” and the holder must go through the same performance with the next guesser. Should the one who guesses touch the hand which holds the stone instead of the empty hand, then he must become holder, taking the stone and going through the same play with it, the holder from whom he took it being “out.” In other words, the object of the guessing is to choose the hand which is empty, a successful guess putting the guesser out, a wrong guess making him the next holder and putting the preceding holder out.

DRAWING CUTS. ;In this method of choosing players, a blade of grass or hay or a slip of paper is provided for each player in the group. These should all be cut of approximately the same length, with the exception of one which should be quite short. One player, the holder, holds these in a bunch in one hand, first getting even all of the ends that are to show. The other ends are concealed in the hand, so that it is impossible, by looking at the extended ends, to tell which is the short piece. Each player in the group then draws one of the slips or pieces, the one who gets the short piece being “It.”

If desired, the slips may be put in a hat or box, the players drawing without looking in. This method is quite suitable for parlor games, where it is much used.

TOSS-UP. ;The toss-up is a very simple and popular method of choosing players. It consists in tossing a coin in the air and allowing it to land on the ground, to see which side will fall uppermost, each player having previously chosen a side, or, in other words, taken his chance on that side landing upward. Generally a coin is used, but a stone will do as a substitute, one side being marked. Shells may also be used, the throw to be determined by the light or dark side or the convex or concave side falling upward. The method of tossing is the same for any of these articles. One player tosses the coin in the air, the players having chosen “heads” or “tails”; the side of the coin having the date on it is called “heads,” the other side “tails.” The side wins which falls uppermost. If a coin or shell does not lie flat on the ground, but rests edgewise, the toss does not count. When this method is used by a group of players, each player is considered out who makes a lucky guess. Any player who guesses the wrong side takes the next turn for tossing the coin. Sometimes it is required that the choice (of heads or tails) shall be made while the coin is in the air, probably to avoid any juggling on the part of the tosser.

RACING; LAST OVER; ETC. ;A popular method of determining who shall be “It” for a game is for the players to race to a certain point, the last one to reach it being “It.” Or one of a group of players deciding on a game may say “Last over the fence!” when all climb or vault over a fence, the last one over being “It.” In the gymnasium this method is sometimes used when the players are grouped in the center of the floor. Upon hearing the shout “Last over!” they all scatter and jump over any available piece of apparatus, bars, horse, etc., the last one to vault being “It.”

The Wabanaki Indians use an interesting method, combining counting-out and racing. The players being gathered in a group, each player puts out two fingers, resting them on the ground, a stone, or any convenient place. A counting-out rhyme is then used, one finger being touched for each accent. A finger is doubled under whenever a verse ends on it, until only three fingers are left. The owners, whether they be two or three players, immediately start on a run, the counter chasing them. The one caught is “It.”

Some games have each their own distinctive method of choosing players, as in Duck on a Rock. These methods are described with the games wherever they have been obtainable.

CHOOSING SIDES. ;For many games the players are divided into two opposing groups or teams. When there is no special leader or captain for each group, some of the above methods of counting-out or choosing are used for assigning players to one side or the other. In most games, however, where there are opposing groups, a captain or leader is first selected. This part sometimes goes to the person who first shouts for it, but it is more usual for the players to choose captains, as special qualities are generally needed in persons in that position, and even young children are glad to place themselves under strong leadership. Captains or leaders, however, may be chosen by any of the previously mentioned methods, or they may be selected by a teacher or leader.

Two captains or leaders having been chosen, each chooses his own players, the choice being made alternately one at a time, the first captain selected generally having first choice. A good captain will select his players for the playing qualities needed in the particular game to be played. These qualities will vary in different games, and different players may be chosen for excellence in one particular direction, such as swift running, agile dodging, boldness in giving dares and taking risks; in ball games, skill in catching or throwing, or other forms of play; and in all games, the ability to “play fair,” and to cooeperate generously and with good temper. A player may be unskillful, and yet very valuable as a general helper if he possesses the qualities for cooeperation. The unpopular player is nearly always a selfish person, one who disregards rules or tries to win unfairly. Aside from the general contempt engendered by such qualities, a player having them is undesirable because he gets his side into disputes or runs a greater risk of increasing the opponent’s score with fouls.