Cat's cradle is a series of string figures created between two people as a game. The name of the entire game, the specific figures, their order, and the names of the figures vary. Versions of this game have been found in indigenous cultures all over the world—from the Arctic to the Equatorial zones. In some regions of the US, this game is also known as Jack in the Pulpit.
Gameplay consists of two or more players making a sequence of string figures. The game begins with one player making the eponymous figure Cat's Cradle (above). After each figure, the next player removes the string with one of a few simple motions and tightens the loop to create another figure, for example, Diamonds. Diamonds might then lead to Candles, for example, and then Manger--an inverted Cat's Cradle--and so on. Most of the core figures allow a choice between two or more subsequent figures: for example, Fish in a Dish can go to Cat's Eye or Manger. The game ends when a player makes a mistake or chooses a dead end figure, such as Two Crowns, which can't be turned into anything else.
The game may also be played solo, as is done in Japan and Hawaii.
The origin of the name "cat's cradle" may have come from a corruption of cratch-cradle, or manger cradle[nb 1][nb 2] (though this derivation is disputed by the OED). In an 1858 Punch cartoon it is referred to as "scratch cradle", a name supported by Brewer's 1898 Dictionary. As "Cat's cradle" is often used to refer to string figures and games in general, Jayne uses "Real Cat's-Cradle" to refer to the specific game.
Different cultures have different names for the game, and often different names for the individual figures. The French word for manger is crèche, and cattle feed racks are still known as cratches. The connection between the two words cratches and cradle may come from the Christian story of the birth of Jesus, in which a manger is used as a cradle. In Russia the whole game is simply called the game of string and the diamonds pattern is called carpet, with names like field, fish and sawhorse for the other figures. The cat isn't mentioned. The game may have originated in China and Korea. In China it is called kang sok (English: well rope), or catch cradle.
Geneva Hultenius, Maryann DiVona, and Rita Divona completed 21,200 cat's cradles in 21 hours in Chula Vista, California between August 17-18, 1974. The Guinness Book of World Records reported it as a world record in the 1975 and 1976 editions.
- "Nares, under Cratche, an archaic word for manger, deems it to be the origin of the name of this game, which, however, he calls scratch-cradle. But it clearly, he says, meant originally cratch-cradle, the manger which held the Holy Infant as a cradle..."
- "This opens to us the meaning of a childish game, corruptly called scratch-cradle, which consists in winding a packthread double round the hands, into a rude representation of a manger, which is taken off by the other player on his hands, so as to assume a new form, and thus alternately for several times, always changing the appearance. The art consists in making the right changes. But it clearly meant originally the cratch-cradle; the manger that held the Holy Infant as a cradle."
- Anderson, John P. (2010). Joyce's Finnegans Wake: The Curse of Kabbalah, Volume 4, p.301. ISBN 978-1-59942-810-9.
- Gryski, Camilla (1984). Cat's Cradle, Owl's Eyes: A Book of String Games. Tom Sankey, illustrator. ISBN 0688039413.
- Gryski, Camilla (1985). Many Stars & More String Games, pp. 66–72. Tom Sankey, illustrator. ISBN 0-688-05792-6.
- Taylor, E.S. "Cats-Cradle", pp. 412–422 of Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc., pp. 421–422, Vol. 11 (January—June, 1855). London: George Bell (1855).
- Nares, Robert. A Glossary: Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, Etc., p. 203. London: Gibbings and Company, Limited (1901).
- "Snowed Up", John-Leech-Archive.org.UK.
- "Scratch Cradle", Bartleby.com.
- Jayne (1962), p.324.
- Buchanan, Andrea J. and Peskowitz, Miriam (2007). The Daring Book for Girls, p.277. ISBN 978-0-06-147257-2.
- (1989). Anthroquest: the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation news, Issues 39–46, p.17. The Foundation.
- Jayne, C. F. (1906/1962). String Figures and How to Make Them, p.324. ISBN 978-0-486-20152-8.
- McWhirter, Norris and McWhirter, Alan Ross (1975). Guinness Book of World Records, 1976, p.459. Revised. ISBN 978-0-8069-0014-8.
- McWhirter, Ross (1983). Guinness Book of World Records 1979, p.453. ISBN 978-0-8069-0130-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to String figures.|
- "Directions for play by C.F. Jayne", a digital version of C.F. Jayne's 1906 compendium, featuring many other string figures.
- "Directions for play at Alysion.org"
- "Directions for play at IfYouLoveToRead.com"
- "Directions for play at wikihow.com", a high-bandwidth page with videos for each of the different steps of the game.