6.28.2004

catch a tiger by his toe

I was walking home tonight and passed a group of kids - maybe 7 years old - sitting around a fire hydrant playing a foot-counting game. This prompted a number of thoughts, not least of which is "what parents let their children play outside unsupervised at 11pm on west 85th street?" The other, more important thought was that we really do not use foot-counting games often enough when it comes to decision making, and it is my personal responsibility to address this lack.

Foot-counting games, also known as counting-out rhymes, are much much more than your standard eenie-meenie-miney-moe makes itself out to be. The game these kids were playing was "bubblegum," and it goes as follows (with each syllable identifying a different foot going around the circle): Bubblegum, bubblegum, in a dish / How many pieces do you wish? At this point the person whose foot corresponds with "wish" says a number, and the counter counts that number around the feet. Of course, if you're a brilliant adult like you or I, you know that it's easy as pie to just prethink what number you'd pick so that it lands on you (or doesn't, as the case might be), but for these kids it's truly random. They haven't yet figured out that saying "seven" in a group of three will always wind up with the person to their right, and in a group of four will always be the person to their left. We used to believe we were increasing the randomness by lengthening the counts, so a simple "eenie meenie" sequence grew a tail of "my mother told me to choose the very best one and Y-O-U spells you and out you go go go go go." Obviously.

This is brilliant, of course. This is something we should use more often. It's a more complicated, less sophisticated, more ironically post-hip coin toss. It appeals to the same sentiment that inspired the resurgence in Sea Monkeys, Chia pets, and Slinky coil t-shirts. It involves feet! It involves counting! It incorporates athletic cliches not heard since the mid-80s! (when, after all, was the last time you saw someone play double-dutch?) If you get creative, you can turn jump rope rhymes into foot-counting games! (Cinderella, dressed in yella . . .) It's a conscious return to a time when putting your right foot into the circle was the fairest, most straightforward, most obvious way to figure out an answer. I honestly believe it could replace the United States government. Foot-counting games for president!

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