Upon hearing that the board game Monopoly had recently retired the iron game piece and replaced it with a cat, I had a flashback to playing games as a kid. The funny thing is that it was a big event. Open the box, take out all the pieces, sort them, set up the board, distribute assets, choose your “man,” roll for who goes first, proceed. No bells or whistles, nothing electronic (ok, unless you count the light-up nose on the Operation patient), nothing but luck, some strategy, and the frequent “do over” requests. And one more thing. Interacting with real people vs. a keyboard, a video screen, or animated images.
Everybody had their own take on some of the rules, of course. Did you put the orange $500 bill in the middle of the Monopoly board for anyone who landed on Free Parking? Did you allow an extra roll of the dice if one die went off the board — or took a millisecond too long to fall out of the cup? Did you ok a tile switch if the Scrabble tiles you pulled originally stank on ice? Did you go up the Chutes and down the Ladders if your luck was running out?
One of my favorite games as a kid was Knock Hockey (sort of a precursor to air hockey). I’m not even sure that Knock Hockey was its official name, although that’s what we all called it. Picture a large, rectangular wooden board with sides, a goal slot cut out at each of the narrow ends, each goal protected by a square, raised block. The idea was to hit the wooden puck into your opponent’s goal using a miniature wooden hockey stick.
Not as easy as it sounds, because while you were lining up your shot, your opponent was all over you, attempting to knock the puck away and score. You learned all about angles, hitting shots off the square blocks and having them riccochet across the board and then into the goal. You learned about protecting your fingers from overzealous hockey sticks and from flying pucks. You learned to love the sound of wood hitting wood, and the whoosh of the puck flying out the goal, onto the floor, and then rolling under the sofa where only the hockey stick could reach it. You learned to play. To compete. To have fun, even if you didn’t win a particular round.
The coolest part of Knock Hockey was the start of each round. The puck was placed in the center of the board, each player holding his or her stick alongside it, ready for the face-off. And then came the chant, accompanied by the knocking together of the sticks: “One na hockey, two na hockey, three na hockey …” escalating in tempo and volume until the moment one player or the other hit the puck into play.
The chant? When you’re raised in New York, you sometimes have the habit of running your words together because you’re in such a rush to get everything out before someone else wants to talk. Hence, “knock” got shortened to “na” — who has time to wait when playing for the title of greatest Knock Hockey champ in the universe?
Unlike in Knock Hockey, there are no complete do-overs in real life (there’s also no crying in baseball, unless you’re Bill Buckner in the ’86 World Series, in which case your tears would be totally understandable). Of course, in real life, most of us don’t run around waving hockey sticks and screaming “one na hockey, two na hockey, three na hockey” either — probably a good thing.
But I do believe that the way we played as kids is bit of a predictor of how we live as adults. Remember how in Monopoly everyone wanted to own and build hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk? I preferred the St. Charles / States / Virginia triad. The color was much prettier. Which explains why I’m creative, not wealthy.
Play it forward.
© 2013 Claudia Grossman