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Players use string to make figures.
Cat's cradle is a well known string game or series of string figures. The name of the game, the specific figures, their order, and the names of the figures vary. Versions of this game have been found in indigenous cultures all over the world, from the Arctic to the Equatorial zones. In some regions of the US, this game is also known as Jack in the Pulpit.
How to play
The game begins with one player wrapping a loop of string around that player's own hands (around the fingers or wrists), then taking one side of the string and circling ones hands again. Then this player takes the string which runs on the inside of the left arm onto the first finger of their right hand, then, reaching through the triangle created, the loop on the inside of the right hand is taken onto the first finger of the left hand.
This creates two sets of crossed string between both hands. The second player grasps each cross horizontally with their thumb and first finger, pulls this outwards, down under the line which runs below the crosses from the first players wrists, and back up. The first player lets go of the figure, and the second player stretches it open by bringing apart their thumbs and fingers. This figure is the "diamonds". A series of other alterations produce more figures, some of which lead back to the diamonds while some are dead ends and cannot be transformed. (Some say that "diamonds" is the cat's cradle from the game title, while others insist it's the game title, and not any figure's.)
The origin of name "cat's cradle" may have come from a corruption of cratch-cradle, or manger cradle (though this derivation is disputed by the OED). The French word for manger is "crèche", and cattle feed racks are still known as "cratches". The "manger cradle" is significant in the nativity; Jesus was born in a barn and laid in a manger because there was no cradle. It is referred to as "Scratch Cradle". Different cultures have different names for the game, and often different names for the individual figures. (For instance, the Russians call the whole game simply "the game of string" and the "diamonds" pattern a "carpet", and have names like "field", "fish" and "sawhorse" for all other figures. The cat isn't ever mentioned, but the cradle is, though it's the initial figure that is called so.)
Cat's cradle is probably one of humanity's oldest games, and is spread among an astonishing variety of cultures even so unrelated as Europeans and Dyaks of Indonesia. Alfred Wallace who, while traveling in Borneo, thought of amusing the Dyak youths with a novel game with string, was in turn very surprised when they proved to be familiar with it, and had shown him some figures and transitions that he himself didn't know. The anthropologist Louis Leakey has also described his use of this game to obtain the cooperation of Sub-Saharan African tribes otherwise unfamiliar with, and justifiably suspicious of, Europeans.
Flags: Very Short (0-60 mins), Short (1-3 hours), With a Friend, Children, Teens, Adults, Seniors, Indoors, Outdoors, At Home, Morning, Day, Night, Sunny, Snowy, Rainy