September 16, 2019
Essay

One man’s quest for tiddlywinks

I once heard my grandmother complain that children don’t know how to play anymore. At the time, I didn’t know what she meant.

That is, until I tried to buy a set of tiddlywinks.

It all started a couple of months ago, when I was trying to find some obscure information on the Internet. I believe it had something to do with substituting my power drill for a wood lathe, and all I managed to find was a page describing how to polish a “squidger.”

A squidger, I soon learned, is the flat, round piece that is used to flip tiddlywinks into a little cup. I read on. It didn’t take long before I just had to obtain my own tiddlywinks set.

I think the main reason I wanted one is that, every time my wife has friends over, they decide unanimously to play Clue. Given the choice of playing the game, I would honestly be happier hovering over the nacho dip or hand-sharpening my band saw.

You see I just can’t seem to lose at Clue gracefully. I focus all my attention and intellect on the game, only to have one of the women win. And then I whine, and in return get the “don’t be such a baby” look.

So my thinking was this. If I had my own set of tiddlywinks, I could whip the game out quickly so everybody would feel obligated to play. And, just maybe, I could have a shot at winning.

Alas, tiddlywinks weren’t easy to find. From Orono to Belfast, I called every toy store in the Yellow Pages, but none of them- from small toyshops to national chain stores – carried the game. Two had never even heard of the game.

How can a toy store disavow knowledge of a game like tiddlywinks?

I think the real problem is that tiddlywinks requires a person to play with them. They do not play on their own. A tiddlywinks set includes colorful plastic discs, a couple of squidgers, and a cup. The excitement, the intensity, the strategy and competition all must come from the players.

I admit that I laughed, when I first saw pictures of children from the 1700s playing with a stick and hoop. “Let me get this straight. You spin the hoop with the stick, then chase it, and spin it again?”

But what, I wonder, would those children say if they saw youth today at play, seated in front of a glowing screen, their body still save for the subtle motion of thumbs and index fingers?

It would probably remind them of school, more than play. Especially when one of those children explains, “You know, we’re developing hand-eye coordination.”

You might argue that tiddlywinks was a fad, and that its demise was no more sinister than was the fall of the “Furby.” But let’s take a more universal example. From Roman times through the 1950s, most kids played some form of marbles, whether it was shooting them into a pit, rebounding them out of a ring, or simply trying to bust the other guy’s marble into little glass shards.

These days, it’s a little disconcerting that the child waving out the back window of a school bus has likely won at least one video game, but probably has no idea how to play marbles. What will happen to Western civilization, when all these children grow up and their parents and grandparents hand the reins of democracy over to them? Will their hand-eye coordination be enough?

I’m not going to take that chance. Once I figure out that wood lathe question, I plan to make my own set of tiddlywinks.


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