String Games

This simple string game involves players using a long string loop to make a complex figure using their fingers and hands. 

The game consists of two or more players making a sequence of string figures, each altering the figure made by the previous player. 

A simple version of the game is called Cat’s Cradle. The game begins with one player making the eponymous figure Cat's Cradle. After each figure, the next player manipulates that figure and removes the string figure from the hands of the previous player with one of a few simple motions and tightens the loop to create another figure. 

The game ends when a player makes a mistake or creates a dead-end figure, which cannot be turned into anything else. 

The first known reference is in The light of nature pursued by Abraham Tucker in 1768. 

"An ingenious play they call cat's cradle; one ties the two ends of a packthread together, and then winds it about his fingers, another with both hands takes it off perhaps in the shape of a gridiron, the first takes it from him again in another form, and so on alternately changing the packthread into a multitude of figures whose names I forget, it being so many years since I played at it myself." 

Independent versions of this game have been found in indigenous cultures throughout the world. 

A group of children holding string patterns
Making New Zealand: Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Children holding Maori string patterns. Photographs by H R Vine, 1939, black and white negative. PAColl-3060. 1642, [between 1768-1940]. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand/ Reference Number: MNZ-2024-1/2-F

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