Teetotums

Teetotums

“Are you a child or a teetotum?” a creature asks Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871). The bewildered Alice can’t think what to say in reply. Spun from one mad adventure to another, she might well resemble the iconic “teetotum,” or spinning top, that was used in 19th-century board games.

Cardboard teetotum, The Strong, Rochester, New YorkToday, most board games use dice to propel players around a game board. But in the 18th century, dice were seen as dangerous. Dice were used in gambling, after all, and gambling—as many books rushed to tell readers—led inevitably to bankruptcy, starvation, and all manner of horrible deaths. The virtuous heroine of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) notes that while educational theorists advocate teaching children to read through games, “every Gentleman, who has a Fortune to lose” should “tremble at the thought of teaching his son… the early use of dice and gaming!” What were anxious parents to do?

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The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

“Summer just opens the door and lets you out.” Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart The front of a school building shimmers in the sun. A loud bell rings. The doors burst open and a flood of children spills out, cheering and tossing papers into the air. This image, used to the point of cliché, signals…

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Rack ‘Em Up

Rack ‘Em Up

I grew up in a small town with a population of roughly 5,000. It may not look it now, but it was once booming with activity and businesses. A basket factory and a canning factory ranked among the major employers. Then the train quit making stops in town. Without convenient access to supplies, factories slowly…

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Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Since last summer, you may have noticed small groups of millennials walking briskly toward landmarks surrounded by people staring intently at their smartphone screens. Every now and then, cries of delight or disdain erupt from the gatherers. “Oh good, a Snorlax!” someone murmurs appreciatively. “Just another Rattata!” another person groans. These folks aren’t speaking in…

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Nerf Ball

Nerf Ball

“Stop playing with that ball inside the house! You’re going to break something—take it outside!” Those are familiar phrases that I heard when I was younger, and I am sure many other children can relate. What helped alter parental attitudes towards indoor ball play? Well, that would be the introduction of the Nerf ball, a…

The Eyes Have It

The Eyes Have It

When The Strong museum recently acquired a Shirley Temple doll from the 1930s, it went to the museum’s doll conservator Darlene Gengelbach for treatment. These dolls have sleep eyes that open and close with metal rockers. The rocker is a spindle attached to the inside of the doll’s head with a small weight attached to…

Attention Trekkies: Star Trek Tridimensional Chess!

Attention Trekkies: Star Trek Tridimensional Chess!

In 2015 David Howe, an avid chess enthusiast in Rochester, donated 40 different variations of chess sets to The Strong’s permanent collection. Howe’s gift included 4-Way Chess for four players, 3 Man Chess in the Round, Grand Chess, Knightmare Chess, and Stealth Chess to name just a few. A chess purist might ask, why tamper…

Good to Go: Playful Ways to Get Around

Good to Go: Playful Ways to Get Around

It seems that now, perhaps more than ever, people everywhere are constantly on the go. Traveling to work or school, the gym, or the grocery store—the list goes on and on. We eat on the run, drink coffee on the run, and even get our information on the run thanks to smartphones that make emails,…

“All Aboard!” for Fun with Trains

“All Aboard!” for Fun with Trains

Growing up in Pennsylvania, my parents frequently looked for family excursions within a few hours’ drive from our home near Pittsburgh. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, became a frequent destination for the Novakovics, thanks in part to my younger brothers. Both Bobby and Billy loved reading the Thomas the Tank Engine series by Reverend W. Awdry; watching…

Out of this World: A Brief History of the Yo-Yo

Out of this World: A Brief History of the Yo-Yo

I remember my first yo-yo: a blue Duncan Imperial. I was 7 years old and had saved up enough of my allowance to buy it. The drive to the store felt like an eternity. When I finally opened the package, the bright, shiny yo-yo smelled of plastic and felt as smooth as ice—it was perfect….