Whenever I hear the names of string games, I always think of something else: usually a Harry Chapin song, a psychological thriller from the 90s or something vaugely associated with Led Zeppelin or Kurt Vonnegut. (Vonnegut has a book by the same name for which he was awarded his Master’s in Anthropology.)
But string games or string figures, which are designs made by manipulating a loop of string with your fingers, have likely been around for a very long time.
We can’t know for sure. String, if buried, simply rots. Likely the creation of these designs, with over 2,000 known patterns, are one of man’s earliest games and have spread to very diverse groups around the world. Given that ancient cultures had string for things like fishing and weaving, it makes sense that it could also be used for entertainment.
Cat’s Cradle is one of the easiest string games to learn. It’s actually a sequence of string figures created by two or more people. The cradle, as in the above photo, is the first figure. Every other figure is created when another player carefully picks up the string from their opponent. Most of the following figures allow for the choice between two or more figures. The game ends when somebody makes Two Crowns, which cannot be turned into anything else. The world record for Cat’s Cradle is for over 21,000 sequential figures made over 21 hours. (They didn’t have YouTube then.)