One needn't be a sociologist or Eric Sevareid to have realized by now that there has been an unmistakable upsurge, of late, in adult fascination with pleasures normally reserved for the young. The bicycle boom was only the beginning. And now the renaissance is upon us - a frivolous sport bonanza that has us lining up at toy stores (which these days include places like Brentano's) to buy a better Frisbee, snare a brighter marble. Kite stores have become a whole genre of boutique in Washington, while in New York new adult toy stores like Childhood have a price barrier so steep that children can't hope to compete with the likes of Dustin Hoffman and Elliott Gould, who go there to add to their respective collections of vintage toy clowns and wind-up cars.
It may be we're drawn on sunny spring days back to those victorious afternoons of old when, at age six, we were the best yo-yo spinner on the block. (Can we still make it sleep?) But, whatever, a sophistication is afloat that assures us it is now all right - not sissy - to get serious about Frisbees, kites, marbles, yo-yos and so many other rites of light-hearted skill. The popularity is new; the sophistication, though, we've seen before, for 'twas always thus that grown-ups took those sports reserved for children as their own. What, for instance, was Andrew Jackson doing when he was told that Lincoln was dead and that he was now President of the United States? He was playing marbles. What did Abbie Hoffman perform in public to get him cited for contempt of Congress? He "walked the dog" with his yo-yo. For years, the American Kitefliers Association was for adults only, while in England, marbles are still primarily considered playthings for adults. As for the Frisbee, it has gone to college as a bonafide, sometimes ferocious intercollegiate sport now heading for the Olympics.
Not the least of the reasons we seem to be reviving the art of simple sports is also the plain fact that the price is right (see box). And that, most importantly of all, yo-yos, frisbees, kites and marbles are . . . fun. Yo-yos
You look at a kite and smile gently, thinking of lofty things. But when you see a yo-yo, the tendency is to break out in a broad grin as earthly images return of candy-store yo-yo contests where heanied perfect masters vied for the chance to take home a cloth Duncan "champean" patch, and of frustrated teachers who called the thing the "truant's delight."
Ever so simple in principle - two hemispheres on a string, joined by an axle, which fall by gravity and return by momentum - yet so enticing in practice. Compared to the kite, the yo-yo is a humble device whose chief appeal is in its lack of pretension, its outward humility.
Roughly half a billion of them have been sold since 1930, which means that there are still more yo-yos around than there are Americans. Part of their lasting universality is their price - from a dime in the Twenties, they've gone up to only a little over a dollar, still an affordable form of entertainment.
A spin-off of one of the most ancient toys, the spinning tops, there were yo-yos in ancient Greece. A vase, circa 500 B.C., shows a boy playing with a yo-yo, and some claims have been made that they existed even earlier in China. The Filipinos insist, however, that they were the first to yo-yo and that they used them as weapons in prehistoric days. Killer yo-yos dating from the 1500s were fashioned of four-pound hunks of flint attached to twenty-foot-long thongs. The yo-yoer would wait in a tree for his prey and bola-style, knock it senseless or dead with a blow to the head.
The modern incarnation of the device can be traced to a wily gent with a flair for promotion named Donald F. Duncan. He saw his first yo-yo in 1928 in California at the only place that was making them. The small company's owner, Pedro Flores, knew a few tricks and could promote the yo-yo, so Duncan paid him $25,000 to do so. While yo-yos had predated Duncan in the United States, Flores' Filipino model used a string that was looped around the axle rather than being attached to it, thus turning the thoughtlessly amusing discs into a skill toy of imagination and dexterity.
Duncan's second distinction was his superb ability as a yo-yo promoter. He got the yo-yo into production, registered the name Yo-yo, with the patent office, and coined the motto, "if it's not a Duncan, it's not a yo-yo."
Duncan's early partner was William Randolph Hearst, who used yo-yo contests to promote his newspaper. Meanwhile, Duncan hired Filipinos to promote yo-yos, and soon had one pro demonstrating for every 100,000 Americans. Actresses, home-run kings and big-city mayors posed in photos with Duncan's yo-yos, and a young Bing Crosby crooned promotional ditties. Duncan set up national yo-yoing contests, with the most coveted early prize being the All-American yo-yo sweater given neighborhood champs.
The Duncan yo-yo company crested in 1962 when it sold 25 million of them for $6.8 million, but the string broke in 1965 and Duncan Company declared bankruptcy. Duncan sold his name and good will to Flambeau Plastics of Baraboo, Wisconsin, and in 1971 yo-yos made a comeback when they were listed as eighth on the Toy Hit Parade in a trade publication. By 1975, yo-yos were back above the 25 million-a-year mark, with the action centers university campuses.
There is a wide choice of plastic yo-yos on the market today, but avoid the anchored-string variety and the gimmicky types that won't stand up to workhorse application. It's hard to go wrong with the Festival All-Star Champion, new Duncan Imperial or the Duncan top-of-the-line Professional, a rugged hunk of Tenite acetate with a steel axle, At $2, it is the Rolls Royce of yo-yos.
String. It depends on your height. Put the yo-yo on the gound and cut the string at your waist or just above it. Tie a small loop at the end of the string and pull part of the long end of the string through the loop.
Extra Performance. Strings last longer and yo-yos spin longer with the use of a little string wax. A dab of candle wax or the special Duncan wax should be rubbed sparingly along the top six to eight inches of the string. But not too much or the yo-yo will slip.
Major Precautions. The only truly delicate element of the instrument is its axle - countless thousands have been ruined by knife or scissors scratches made trying to remove a broken string or cutting a knot. The small burr produced by the scratch acts like a buzzsaw against new strings. A dull crochet hook is the best instrument to use for such surgery.
Unwinding. An overtwisted string won't spin, so watch for it and let the yo-yo unwind by its own weight when necessary.
Cleanliness. A ditry string somehow inhibits performance, so change it when it turns gray.
Form. Place the slipknot around the first joint of the middle finger. Palm upward and the string leading off from the top, flip the yo-yo over the top of the finger. When it gets to the end of its string, a slight jerk will bring it back to your hand, which you should turn over to catch the yo-yo.
Then try some tricks.
Sleep or Spin. The key to most other tricks, you will want to learn this well, adding to the number of seconds you can get it to spin while still being able to get it to return. Flick the yo-yo vigorously from arm's length and don't move at all; it should spin at the end of the string. If it does not sleep, the odds are either that you are not flicking it hard enough or the string is too tight at the yo-yo end.
Walking the Dog. Simple. Get a good spin and let it roll along the ground a ways before bringing it back, but don't let any slack get in the string while the yo-yo walks.
The Buzz Saw. Walking the dog across a newspaper, which produces the title sound.
Forward Pass. Drop your yo-yo hand to your side, swing it back just a little, then throw it out fast, letting go of the yo-yo at the same time. Then open your hand to catch it on its return.
Around the World. Start with a forward pass but keep your arm moving upward to get the yo-yo to sleep in fron of you, which should then put it in orbit behind you. As it comes back into view about knee-level, give it a tug to bring it back to open hand. More than one orbit before the catch is a mark of an expert. Caution: This trick requires a lot of room and is best done outside.
For more on tricks - there are lots - write to Duncan and Festival for fifty-cent booklets. Giant Book of Yo-yo Tricks, Flambeau Plastics Corp., Baraboo, Wis. 52913; or Yo-yo Secrets, Box 909, Pawtucket, R.I. 02862. Or write to Dolores Brown at the Flambeau Plastics address for information on when a Duncan demonstrator will be in your neighborhood. Marbles
Small stones, deliberately chipped and rounded, have been unearthed at Stone Age digs on three continents, Aztec ruins have yielded little troves of them and in North America the Mound Builder Indians left them buried in the mounds. They were found in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, were carried all over Europe by Roman legions and have been a part of literature since Homer's time.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary says that the suitors of Penelope, queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus, played marbles for her hand when they thought her husband was dead.
For the British, marbles is mainly an adult pastime - it is a common pub game and centuries-old books at Oxford and Cambridge have preserved the early rules. The British clergy saw it as proper for a Lenten pastime and to this day, Good Friday in the British Isles is still considered marbles day.
The British passion arrived in the New World as a diversion for children and adults. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln were all marbles players. (Jefferson was not only an avid player but a collector of the orbs as well.)
The first factory for American marbles was owned by C. Dyke of South Akron, Ohio, who in 1884 turned out 30,000 clay marbles a day.
Today there are five companies making marbles in the U.S. - four in West Virginia and a fifth in Illinois, and the volume of marbles now in use includes at least a half billion domestic types, plus millions more imported from the Orient.
The first step in taking up marbles is selecting a good shooter, or taw. Shooters are normally from a half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter and you will probably want to try several in this size range for feel. The size of the shooter usually depends on the size of your hand.
Your shooter is a speical marble which you will not want to give up until a better one comes along. Shooters are generally made of glass, steel or agate, with the latter being best by tradition and generations of universal acclaim. Agates - or aggies - are relatively expensive today (they are only made in Germany from real agate or limestone) and cost about $2 apiece, but occasionally they show up in antique shops, auctions or garage sales when there is no heir in a family to pass them on to.
Next, you will need a bag of common marbles, most of which are five-eights of an inch in diameter, made of glass, and can be bought almost anywhere. The varieties are:
Steelies - usually ball bearings or balls from pinball games.
Crockies - fewer and fewer of these clay marbles are still used as they roll toward antique status.
Plastics - very unsatisfactory marbles - for one thing, they don't click right when hit; and for that reason have yet to be honored with a nickname.
Glass - Solids - or little solids, solid in color and also used for Chinese Checkers.
Rainbows - common multicolor marbles, usually five-eights of an inch in size.
Rainbow Reelers - large rainbows used as shooters.
Milkies - marbles with a lot of translucent white glass.
Cat's Eyes - clear, with a wedge of color suspended in their centers.
It is important to know your marbles because there is a varying scale of values which goes with them and which you should be aware of to protect your interests.It's pretty safe to say that just about everywhere a purey is worth at least a half-dozen clearys, steelies are worth more than any glass marble (except for antiques) and real aggies are wroth hundreds of glass marbles. The best way to check the situation out is with the kids in the neighborhood.
Next you will want to master basic shooting. Holding your shooter is easy - put it between your index and second fingers with your hand open, then double up your hand folding your thumb under the shooter so that when you close your hand it is resting on the upper joint of your thumb. Now touch one or more knuckles to the ground - however it is most comfortable and natural feeling - and you are ready to shoot with your cocked thumb. As you push out with your thumb to shoot, you will want to tighten up slightly on your index finger to give the shooter a bit of backspin. As you practice, you will see how important this backspin is in giving you control. As the shooter is released, follow through with your thumb as you would with a tennis racket or golf club. Once you can do this, you should begin sharpening your aim by shooting at other marbles and can try your hand at a game.
Ringer - The game played in the nationals, it is the most important one in the U.S. and Canada, and it is simple: The player shooting the most of thirteen marbles out of a ring ten feet in diameter wins the game.
The thirteen marbles are placed in a cross inside the ring and play begins after the players have lagged to see who goes first. Each round begins as the lead player knuckles down outside the ring line and tries to knock a marble out of the ring while keeping his shooter inside the ring. As long as his shooter stays in and he continues to knock the other marbles out, he keeps going.When he misses, the next player begins. In the street version two to six can play ringer, but in tournament play only two can play and the first one to remove seven marbles from the ring wins.
Chasies - Usually for two players, this is the marble version of follow-the-leader. The lead player shoots his shooter in any direction and the second follows trying to hit the first shooter. If the second player hits the first shooter, he keeps the hit marble and then shoots, again in any direction from that point. If the second player misses, the lead shooter tries to hit the second shooter.This continues until one player is out of marbles or an agreed time limit is reached.
Potsies - A game which is played for keeps and often for high stakes. An unlimited number of players contributes a given quantity of marbles which are put inside a large circle on the ground. As in ringer, the players lag for position in the lineup and keep shooting as long as they are knocking marbles out of the ring while keeping their shooter in it. The first player who wins the majority share - the number of marbles divided by the number of players plus one - wins and takes all the marbles left in the pot.
Black Snake - This is one of the most common hole games, in which seven holes are dug at irregular intervals to form a course. Each player must land his shooter in each of the seven holes taking in turn as many shots as needed and then return through the same seven holes to the starting point where he gains the status of "black snake." Once you have become a black snake you have the right to shoot at other people's shooters, but if you are hit by a black snake - even if you are one - you're out of the game. And if a black snake lands in a hole while trying to hit another player, the snake is out. This game is usually played for fair because it is only played with shooters, and is popular because it provides good practice in shooting.
While tournament ringer and other serious games are quiet and carefully regulated, some games involve as much noise and wit as they do skill. Potsies and black snake allow "shouts" by mutual consent of the players. Some of them are:
Evers allows you to move around the ring, and ups permits you to lift your shooting hand off the ground, while no evers forbids these options. Peaks and cleans in the ring gives you the right to smooth out the path in front of your shooter. Cow trails shouted at the right moment is license to dig a trench with your finger in front of your opponent's shooter; and still in the realm of dirty tricks, if you holler buries, you are allowed to step on your victim's shooter and push it into the ground. Worse still, you can yell grindings and work the other person's marble into the ground with your heel (making no grindings an important precautionary call). Draps lets you pick up your shooter and drop it like a bomb. Finally there is the all-important cry of fins - or fens, depending on where you live - which immediately suspends all rules and shouts by others while you plan your shot and shouts - a most important call.
The appealing thing about shouts is that they add another creative dimension to playing and they allow you to cheat in an above-board manner. You can bellow hinching or fudgies and get away with just that - a real tonic to the soul in a world where the rules to so many games are so carefully legislated and enforced. Frisbees
WITH no clear precedents in antiquity, legitimate child of the twentieth century, coming to flower in the Plastic Age following World War II. "A ball looking for a game," snapped some of its critics who completely mossed the growingly apparent point that the Frisbee was a ball for all games and the reason for numerous new ones.
Given its relative infancy as a plaything, one might not expect the Frisbee to have the rich culture of the yo-yo or the marble, but it does.In fact, some contend that among the play subcultures, only the kite is in the same league as the Frisbee.
The earliest known Frisbee was a pie tin from the now-defunct Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Somewhere along the line, probably in the Twenties, people began independently to discover that these tins were a cheap form of amusement because they sailed beautifully with very little practice. In 1946, when the vets began to swell the colleges of New England, it became very popular to flip the Frisbie tins back and forth across the grass on warm afternoons.
Despite its initial popularity in New England as a pie bonus, it was not until 1948 that a West Coast man, Walter F. Morrison - with no apparent awareness of the Frisbie - fashioned rather crude flying discs out of plastic and began selling them as Flyin' Saucers. He did well on his own and in 1955 caught the attention of Wham-O Manufacturing Co. With a slight spelling modification, Wham-O adopted and registered the original and strikingly appropriate name which was shouted by early users as warning in much the same manner that golfers yell "fore!" The Frisbie was then designed for better aerodynamics and grip and marketed as a piece of sporting equipment rather than as a toy or novelty.
To date, more than 100 million Frisbees have been sold worldwide, not counting the millions of variations and knock-offs produced.
According to Dan "The Stork" Roddick, editor of Frisbee World, there are those who claim that the flying disc represents not a game but a way of life. Below are the rules by which that life is controlled. Together they form a concept of prediscenation upon which the Frisbyterian religion in based.
The rules have been recognized for many years but have only recently been codified. We have listed them so that we might better understand the forces that control our play. Hopefully, it will allow players to quickly identify situations in which they are inexorably involved and communicate that fact to other players through the use of rule numbers only. A shoutof "Rule A!" floating across the playing field should not be sufficient to produce an emphatic reaction from all players within earshot. It is not true that:
1. The most powerful force in the world is that of a disc straining to land directly under a car, just beyond reach. (This force is technically termed "car suck.")
2. The higher the quality of a catch or the comment it receives the greater the probability of a crummy rethrow. (Good catch - bad throw.)
3. One must never procede any maneuver by a comment more predictive than, "Watch this!" (Keep 'em guessing.)
4. The higher the costs of hitting any object, the greater the certainly it will be struck. (Remember - the disc is positive - both cops and old ladies are clearly negative.)
5. The best catches are never seen. (Did you see that? See what?)
6. The greatest single aid to distance is for the disc to be going in a direction you don't want. (Goes the wrong way -goes a long way.)
7. The most powerful hex words in the sport are "I really have this down - watch." (Know it? Blow it.)
8. In any crowd of spectators at least one will suggest that razor blades could be attached to the disc. ("You could maim and kill with that thing.")
9. The greater your need to make a good catch the greater the probability your partner will deliver his worst throw. (If you can't touch it, you can't trick it.)
10. The single most difficult move with a disc is to put it down. (Just one more.)
The major forms of Frisbee competition include:
Frisbee Golf - played much like regular golf, it is the most popular copy of another game. Players begin at tee areas, curve around or scale over hazards and holeout of hitting predetermined objects - usually poles or baskets. The strategic challenges exceed those of golf, according to the International Frisbee Association (IFA), since there is a wider range of flight patterns available) - rollers, curves, hovers, skips, etc., not to mention the challenge of wind.
Frisbee golf has its own national championships and one municipal course.
Guts Frisbee - Teams of from one to five - usually five - decapitatos face off along goal lines fifteen yards apart across a neutral zone. The object is to send forth a shot so hard and fast that the other team cannot make a clean one-handed catch. A bad throw on offense or a miss or bad catch by the defense gives the other team a point. The winning score is twenty-one points and the winning team must have a two-point edge.
Ultimate Frisbee - A field game, Ultimate pits two seven-person teams against each other on a sixty-by-forty-yard playing field for forty minutes. The object is to score a goal by passing the Frisbee into the other team's end zone.
Maximum Time Aloft (MTA) - A competitive exercise in which players attempt to keep the disc in the air for the longest period of time. Each player makes a "boomerang" throw, and time is counted from release until it is caught with a clean one-handed catch.World's record: fifteen seconds by Canadian Ken Westerfield.
Distance is measured from the foul line to the point where the Frisbee first touches earth. A few Frisbee experts have reached over 100 yards. World's (contested) record: John Kirkland's 336 feet.
Accuracy -Contestants attempt to spin their Frisbee through a hula hoop set at increasing distances (usually 15, 25 and 35 yards).
Throw, Run and Catch - Each player throws a "boomerang" attempting to cover the longest distance to get to a point where he can still catch the Frisbee. The distance measured is that between the point where it is thrown and the point where it is caught. Record: 174 feet, 6 inches, by Ken Headrick. Kites
The once-harsh invective, "Go fly a kite!" has become the call to worship for a dedicated band of paper aviators who share the extraterrestial high of kiting.
Kites have been around for at least 3000 years. Pacific folklore is flying with kites which are variously worshipped as gods, seen as agents of gods, or used as vehicles for communicating with them.Early Asian kites were used as agents of divination - land was divided by the gods' will as shown by where a kite touched ground. The Chinese often fitted their kites with whistles and musical devices which were played by the winds, and as early as 200 B.C. kites were assigend military tasks. They were used to measure within the walls of enemy palaces, drop leaflets and send messages. In sixteenth-century New Zealand, kites were still being used to solve murders - a kite sent aloft in the name of the deceased would be watched to see who it hovered near and that person in turn would be killed.
However, western breezes were devoid of kites until the fifteenth century. Some of the kiting milestones thereafter are:
1752 - Benjamin Franklin and his twenty-one-year-old son proved the electric nature of lighting with a common kite made from a square silk handkerchief.
1825 - George Pocock experimented with the first kitedrawn carriage, attaining a speed of twenty miles an hour.
1848 - A kite was the vehicle for laying the first line for the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls.
1876 - Chinese kites were on exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, heightening American interest in them.
1893 - Lawrence Hargrave, an Englishman living in Australia invented the box kite, a classic immediately adopted by meteorologists.
1899 - The Wright Brothers began using kites to get the feel of flight and lift. Their first true airplane was a modified Hargrave, box kite capable of carrying a person.
1901 - Marconi made his first tran-Atlantic radio transmitter with the aid of an antenna carried 400 feet by box kite.
1901 - Texan Sam F. Cody crossed the Channel in a kite-drawn boat.
1905 - Cody used one of his "bat" to send a British liertenant aloft 1600 feet, still a record.
Today's kiting rage is expressed in the sale of 40 to 50 million kites a year, with countless more built by do-it-yourselfers. Many of the fancy new kites sell for $5 or more, and some, fetch more than $100 a copy. Kite boutiques have sprung up everywhere, and New York's pioneering Go Fly A Kite Store now offers nearly a hundred different models.
However, spring kite festivals - popular in the Twenties and Thirties - had all but died out a decade ago. The spring rites are now staged from Honolulu to Boston and Toronto, sometimes drawing crowds of 5000.
Festival kites range from tiny acrobatic-sized affairs to dining-room table-sized offerings - mostly homemade and outlandish contrivances made of anything from cardboard mailing tubes to plastic pillows.