Category Archives: games

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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How I won baseball’s World Championship . . .

This posting consists of several e-mails that recently passed between me and my son-in-law (the team’s coach) concerning his son’s Little League baseball team performance this year:

Brantley’s e-mail to me on 8 June, 2009:

The little Cubs finished 3rd in the post season tournament, only  losing their final two games to the top two teams by one run each game. They had an exciting season. Their coach enjoyed it, but is glad it’s over also. Here are the scores for the four games:

Game One:
Wylie 9
South Garland 3

Game Two:
Wylie 11
Dallas 2

Game Three:
Wylie 11
The Colony 0

Championship Game Four:
Wylie 10
North Garland 4

Yesterday Brennan was voted by the other coaches in the league to be one of the 13 Wylie Little League “All Stars” for the All Star team, so he apparently will be playing a couple tournaments later this month and next. The Garland Tournament is June 20—these are “kid pitch” games and should be interesting, since these kids have only played “coach pitch” so far.

This is my response to Brantley on 9 June:

Kudos to Brennan (and to the coach) for a successful season — All Stars! — WOW! Tell Brennan to be especially careful when sliding into home plate. My very brief baseball career (on a Little League team sponsored by the American Legion Post in Suitland, Maryland) ended abruptly when I rounded third-base (the only triple I ever hit) and the coach waved me in. I slid in and wrapped my right leg around the catcher’s shin guard—broke the tibia cleanly in one spot (my tibia, not his) and cracked it in two places below and two places above the clean break. When the dust cleared, my right foot was lying at a 90-degree angle from the knee.

P.S. If you’ve heard this story already, just skip it—I won’t mind—much.

This is Brantley’s response on 9 June:

That is an interesting story, one that I had not heard. Were you safe?

And finally (maybe), this is my response to Brantley on 9 June:

Nope—I was out by a mile—as I remember it the catcher met me approximately halfway between third and home. Well, maybe I was a bit closer than that to home plate, but not much.

Boy, you’re really opened up an old wound. In all the years since the incident I’ve never once thought about whether I was safe—it didn’t really matter to me at the time, nor does it now—I never really liked baseball anyway.

But listen up:

Wouldn’t it have been great if I had been called safe? And wouldn’t it have been fabulous if we had been in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied—and mine would have been the winning run, and my team would have also won the district championship and went on to win the state championship, and would have gone on to win the national title, and then on to Japan to win the world title—I can see the headlines now in newspapers everywhere:

“Maryland Little League Team Declared WORLD CHAMPIONS—the winning run was scored when Mikey, the team’s award-winning left-fielder (and sometimes shortstop), crawled the last few feet to home plate on one knee, dragging his shattered right leg in the dust.”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that.

That’s exactly how it happened. I was safe, and it was the bottom of the ninth, and the score was tied so I brought in the winning run, and we were declared district champions, and we went on to win the regional championship and then the state championship, and then on to win the national championship, and then on to Japan to compete for the world championship, and we won there and became the world champions, and at each game I was the honored guest, seated on a special platform directly behind home plate (with my cast and crutches).

Yes, I remember it clearly now—that’s exactly how it happened and that’s how I’ll tell the story in the future. Thanks for nudging my memory. Actually, now that I’ve thought about it in greater depth, we may have still been at war with Japan.

No, I was right the first time—the year was 1947 and the war was over, although American troops were occupying Japan at the time. So I’ll stick with my memory that our World Championship was won in Japan.

Yep, that’s how it was. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Incidentally, three years later in April, 1950 I became part of the Army of Occupation in Japan. For more details click the link below:

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Posted by on July 30, 2009 in Childhood, Family, games, Humor, sports


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Sex & Chocolate Math—Find Anyone’s True Age . . .

Do you know someone who is reluctant to reveal their age? If so, ask them to play this “game of numbers” and you’ll know their age (if they play the game honestly—and you’ll know whether they did).

Use the Chocolate Math Formula to determine anyone’s age (including your own). A neighbor recently e-mailed me the formula, undoubtedly gleaned from the Internet. It works every time, and one can only speculate on how much time someone had on their hands in order to “formulate the formula.”

Special note: I took many liberties in making what I felt were improvements in the presentation of this posting. There is not even a fat chance (pun intended) that the Chocolate Math formula has been copyrighted, and trust me—my presentation is infinitesimally better than the one I received.


Ask that person (the one reluctant to tell their age) to take the steps outlined below—you might want to suggest that they apply pen or pencil to paper in the process, or perhaps use a calculator.

1. Choose a number from 1 to 10 ( including the numbers 1 and 10)—this
should be the number of times you would like to have chocolate each week.

2. Multiply the number you picked by 2.

3. Add 5 to the total.

4. Multiply that total by 50.

5. If you have already had your birthday this year, add 1759—if you have not had your birthday this year, add 1758.

6. Now subtract the 4-digit year in which you were born.

You should now have a 3-digit number.

The first digit is your original number (the number of times you want to have chocolate each week).

The other digits tell your age—oh, yes, they do—don’t deny it!

This year, 2009, is the only year in which the formula will work, so spread it around for everyone to enjoy.

Oh, and here’s a helpful hint—chocolate is not a mandatory part of the formula. Chocolate can be replaced by the number of times the person would like to eat out each week, or leave work early, or be late for work, or bathe the dog, or have sex, or wash the car—the possibilities are limitless, and depend only on the circumstances under which the game is being played. Regardless of the commodity or activity used, the formula will always work.

Neat, huh? Or, as the younger generation might say, “Sweet!”


Posted by on May 29, 2009 in games, Humor, math


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