The Games People Play

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I became a New Englander over the weekend.  How did this happen?  I went out and participated in several rounds of Candlepin bowling.  This is a variation of “normal” bowling that is found in the Canadian Maritime provinces and New England.  A short version of the comparison to standard bowling is that the pins are narrower (looking like candles from a distance), you get three chances to hit them down (though still only two to gain a strike), the downed pins stay there throughout your turn, and you roll a standard ball that is the size of a softball that weighs around 2 pounds.  As with regular bowling, I started out well and then raced to the bottom of the pack over the course of the game.


In spite of globalization, games remain regional.  Other games that are at least more prominent in New England than in the Midwest are lacrosse, field hockey, and crew.  Lacrosse has Native American origins and when I lived in Louisiana, one of the local tribes played a version that was referred to as stick ball.

In 1993 when I was living in Iowa, they ended the era of 6 on 6 girls’ basketball which had dominated that state for decades before (  This gendered basketball form is not to be confused with the half-court basketball that was promulgated in places in the U.S. to help protect girl’s reproductive capabilities.

In New Zealand, girls played a version of basketball called netball.  I can’t say that I ever saw a game played, but my older daughter described it as basketball where you weren’t allowed to dribble.  Once you had the ball in your hand, you had to stay put.  She found it to be utterly mystifying and unsatisfactory, similar to my assessment of cricket where bats are flat and nothing seems to be happening.   

My younger daughter did pick up on a game similar to jacks when were in New Zealand, called knucklebones.  It used to be played with the knuckles of sheep, but now comes in the form of metal pieces in the same shape.  You compete with each other as you work through a series of more complicated moves.

Ping pong and badminton dominated in Hong Kong, lawn bowling in Canada and the UK, and curling in Minnesota.  This latter sport involves sliding stones across ice toward a target.  As I remember there was something related to a broom and the ice in Minnesota also.

Cold winters and ice seem to be the breeding ground for particular types of games.  In the U.S., people of all ages and gender participate in softball leagues.  Churches, businesses, and organizations each field their own teams and summers involve the schedule of weekly softball matches.  When I lived briefly in Canada, it was clear that seasons were reversed in terms of community-spirited competition.  Everyone joined community hockey leagues. 

When I moved away from Iowa, it just so happened that I sold my house to someone moving from Newfoundland.  In one email exchange on the details of the cross-border move, the purchaser of my house asked about hockey leagues.  I told him that there were none.  He responded, “You are kidding, right?”  I’ve always wondered if he joined a softball league…


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