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|AKA ball in a cup or balero|
Typical Mexican cup-and-ball
|Players||depending on how many|
|Playing time||About 45 seconds to a few minutes per round|
|Skill(s) required||Hand-eye coordination|
Cup-and-ball (or ball in a cup) is a traditional child's toy it is a wooden cup with a handle, and a small ball attached to the cup by a string. It is popular in Spanish-speaking countries, where it is called "boliche". The name varies across many countries — in El Salvador and Guatemala it is called "capirucho"; in Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico it is called "balero"; in Spain it is "boliche"; in Brazil it is called "bilboquê"; in Chile it is "emboque"; in Colombia it is called "coca" or "ticayo"; and in Venezuela the game is called "perinola". A variant game, Kendama, known in England as Ring and Pin, is very popular in Japan.
The cup-and-ball has its origins in Mexico in the sixteenth century. The game was loved by King Henry III of France; he was often seen playing in public. After his death, the game went out of fashion. For 100 years the game was only remembered by a small number of enthusiasts such as the Marquis de Biévre.
The game had its golden age during the reign of Louis XV — among the upper classes people owned baleros made of ivory. Actors also sometimes appeared with them in scenes. The game was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions the game early in his Confessions when stating his reservations about idle talk and hands, saying (in trans.) "If ever I went back into society I should carry a cup-and-ball in my pocket, and play with it all day long to excuse myself from speaking when I had nothing to say."
The main goal of the game is to get the ball into the cup. While the concept is very easy, mastering the game sometimes requires many hours of practice. To play, the player holds the cup by the handle and lets the ball hang freely. The player then tosses the ball upward by jerking the arm holding the toy, attempting to catch the ball in the cup. If they succeed at getting the ball in the cup, they get one point. They then do it again and again to see how many points they can get in a row. If the person messes up, they then have to start over with zero points.
There are several styles of gameplay such as la simple, la doble, la vertical, la mariquita, la puñalada, and la porteña. Some tricks that can be done are capirucho, por atrás, and media vuelta.
- The player must not use any body part other than their handle-holding arm to catch the ball.
- The player must not purposefully bounce the ball off their body to change its trajectory.
In popular culture
- The Family Guy episode, "The Fat Guy Strangler," included a humorous TV commercial featuring the toy, saying it has been Mexico's favorite toy for 340 years. The gag was referred to in a later episode, "Padre de Familia."
- The toy was parodied in The Simpsons episode "Marge Be Not Proud".
- In the "Sign Language!" episode of Oobi, a deaf girl named Amy impresses Oobi and Kako with her technique, to the point of being dubbed "Cup-Ball Queen." She takes a deep breath, then gets the ball into the cup with a brusque flick of her wrist.
- In the Blackadder episode "Bells", Lord Percy asks Bob if he'd like to play a game of cup-and-ball. Later in the episode Queenie is seen playing with a cup-and-ball.
- In The Wise Man's Fear, a story within a story tells of Jax, a boy who is shown many wonderful things, none of which make him happy. Another character interrupts the tale: "Ball and cup doesn't make anyone happy," Marten muttered. "That's the worst toy ever. Nobody in their right mind enjoys ball and cup."
- In Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that "the only morality within reach of the present century is the morality of the cup-and-ball" (195).