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Ringolevio (also spelled ringalevio or ring-a-levio)[1] is a children's game which originated in the streets of New York City, where it is known to have been played at least as far back as the late 19th century.[2][3][a] It is one of the many variations of tag.[4] It requires close teamwork and near-military strategy. In Canada, the game is known as Relievio, a name which was also used in Boston and Ireland in the 1950s. It is also, in some places, known as coco-levio.[5]

American activist and author Emmett Grogan wrote a fictionalized autobiography called Ringolevio,[6] which was published in 1972. Grogan wrote: "It's a game. A game played on the streets of New York, for as long as anyone can remember. It is called Ringolevio, and the rules are simple. There are two sides, each with the same number of players. There are no time limits, no intermissions, no substitutes and no weapons allowed. There are two jails. There is one objective."[7]

It is believed that the game was brought over from the British Isles, due to its similarities to a game called Bedlams or Relievo.[8] According to Stewart Culin, relievo became ring relievo and then ringoleavio.[9] A similar game, called Prisoner's Base, was played by members of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery against a group of Nez Perce.[10][11]


The game typically splits players into two teams, one of "hunters" and one of "prey". A confined area called "jail" is marked. Games often have set boundaries of how far from the jail pursued players can go.

The goal of the hunting team is to catch the "prey" by grabbing hold of them and performing a chant. This chant varies between regions, with different versions of the game using chants such as "chain chain double chain, no break away" and "Ringolevio, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3". If the pursued person breaks free at any point during this brief recitation, the person is not caught and can still play. If the chant is finished, the hunter takes the prey to jail (also called the "base" in some variations) and the captive is considered "out".[12]

The prey can free captured team members by entering the jail without being caught, tagging the captives and shouting, "All in! All in! Free-all!" (other phrases used include "All in, all in, all in, free allo" and "Olly olly oxen free").[13]

In some variations, the pursuing team cannot station any player of their team within line of sight of the jail. This is called "babysitting" (the term "puppy-guarding" is also used). The cry of "babysitting" can be made by anyone in the jail who feels that any member of the opposing team is lingering near the jail and blocking their rescue.

The goal of the pursuing team is to catch all the members of the other team, and "capture" them in the jail/base. The team being pursued tries to avoid capture and, if possible, free their jailed comrades. The game ends when one team has caught all the members of the opposing team, at which point the teams change their roles.

In popular culture[edit]

In addition to Emmet Grogan's book, the game is mentioned in:




  • French singer Little Bob called his 1987 album and the title track "Ringolevio".
  • The rapper Notorious B.I.G. mentions the game, calling it "coco-levo", in the song "Things Done Changed" on his album Ready to Die (1994). He notes that the game is no longer played and this is a symptom of social decline in inner city ghettos.[22]
  • Ring-a-levio is mentioned in rapper 2pac's song "Old School".
  • Lyricist Robert Hunter mentions "On the bank where children play 'ring a levio'" in his 1975 song "Tiger Rose".
  • Relievio is mentioned in Boston-based band Damone's song "On My Mind".
  • The song "Ringolevio" on the album Snowmads (2019) by hip hop group Onyx.


Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Before the first World War, one of the greatest games kids played was Ringolevio. In front of the Grace Church on East 92nd Street and Church Lane, each weeknight we formed a circle of 10 or 12 of us in two teams. The ones who went to hide would then try to sneak back without being caught by one of the guardians of the circle. If a boy managed to get in without being caught, he would yell, "Ringolevio!" and free everyone that had previously been caught. This went on until about 9 p.m. when we had to go home. Denton, John (2006-11-23). "Playing Ringolevio In Front Of Grace Church". Canarsie Courier. Brooklyn, New York. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23.
  2. ^ I do not know, however, when my mother and father began their long, dispiriting war against each other. Most of their skirmishes were like games of ringolevio, with the souls of their children serving as the ruined captured flags in their campaigns of attrition.


  1. ^ "ring-a-levio entry in Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary". Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  2. ^ See this journal article, published in 1891: Stewart Culin (1891) [Jul-Sep, 1891]. "Street Games of Boys in Brooklyn, N. Y.". The Journal of American Folklore. 4 (14): 221–237. JSTOR 534007.
  3. ^ "The hi-spy class includes, among many others, ringalevio (Brooklyn name)" Dunn, Robert (June 1904), "Games of the City Street", The Outing, 44 (3): 275–276
  4. ^ "Ring-a-Levio is a sophisticated cross between Tag and Hide-and-Seek." Albert, David H. Dismantling the Inner School. Retrieved September 30, 2014.
  5. ^ "Childhood in New York: Fab 5 Freddy, Graffiti Artist, b. 1959". New York Magazine. March 31, 2013.
  6. ^ Grogan, Emmett (2008). Google Books preview of novel by Emmett Grogan. ISBN 9781590172865. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  7. ^ Grogan, Ringolevio, 3.
  8. ^ "The Traditional Children's Games of England Scotland & Ireland In Dictionary Form - volume 1". Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  9. ^ "Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society". Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  10. ^ Sunday 8th June 1806. the 2 men returned from the villages. a number of the natives visited us and gave Frazer a fine young horse a number of the natives joined and got out our canoe which was Sank. our party exercised themselves running and playing games called base in the evening danced after the fiddle as the Indians were anxious to See them. "The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition". Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  11. ^ "The Forgotten Games of the Corps of Discovery". February 16, 2012.
  12. ^ "Streetplay Rulesheets: Ringoleavio". www.streetplay.com. Retrieved 2022-02-27.
  13. ^ "Streetplay Rulesheets: Ringoleavio". www.streetplay.com. Retrieved 2022-02-27.
  14. ^ The Young Racers/The Wild Angels. Dir. Roger Corman, MGM/UA DVD, 2007, at around 1 hour, and 8 minutes in)
  15. ^ Hector Elizondo (Narrator); Matt Levy (Director). New York Street Games (Motion picture). New York City. Retrieved November 14, 2011.
  16. ^ Carlin, George; Hendra, Tony (2009). Last Words. Simon & Schuster. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-4391-7295-7.
  17. ^ Conroy, Pat (1986). Prince of Tides. Houghton Mifflin. p. 3. ISBN 0-395-35300-9.
  18. ^ Woodson, Jacqueline (2014). Brown girl dreaming. New York. ISBN 978-0-399-25251-8. OCLC 870919395.
  19. ^ Roddy Doyle (1995). Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Penguin. p. 117. ISBN 1440673721.
  20. ^ Bill O'Reilly (2008). A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. Broadway Books. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7679-2882-3.
  21. ^ Woodson, Jacqueline (2022). The world belonged to us. Leo Espinosa. New York. ISBN 978-0-399-54549-8. OCLC 1267585121.
  22. ^ "The Notorious B.I.G. - Things Done Changed". Retrieved January 24, 2014.

Further reading[edit]