A familiar game played by children with a string twisted on the fingers. — Webster, 1882
It was so cold, Mary and Laura must stay in the house. They played “Cat’s Cradle” with a piece of twine and while the wind blew howling and shrieking among the tall grasses of the High Prairie, they were sheltered and happy. – Little House on the Prairie manuscript
Twine was changed to string for the published version, but 19th century instructions for playing cat’s cradle often suggest the use of twine. The name is a corruption of cratch-cradle or manger cradle, in which the Christ Child was laid. A Cratch is a creche (or manger). At the time of Little House on the Prairie, racks used to feed cattle were sometimes called cratches.
Cat’s Cradle is one of those games best learned by doing. It is definied as “a childish amusement, played by two persons with a piece of twine joined at the ends, and variously disposed on the fingers and thumbs of both hands of one of the players; then taken off in a different form with both hands by the other, and so transferred alternately from one player to the other.” If you can’t find a friend to teach you, click HERE to see how it’s done.
When I was researching Laura and Mary’s play games from Little House on the Prairie (Cat’s Cradle, Hide the Thimble, and Bean Porridge Hot), I found a game called “The Two Prisoners.” Using slip knots so the strings can go over the hands easily, tie strings on the wrists of one player, then tie the end of another string on the wrist of the second child, passing the string through the string of the first child before attaching the other end to the second child’s other wrist; oh, just look at the drawing!
Now tell the two children to free themselves without breaking the string or untying it from their wrists. It can be done!
cat’s cradle (LHP 20; BPC 39)