Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XVII, Number 3663
Thursday, Jul 25, 2002


A short while ago, I received a curious letter via e-mail that I would like share with you now. The e-mail’s author (let’s call him Bruno) is a landscape architect at Parks who, on this particular day, had a terrific idea for an article.

"Maybe I should not admit this," he wrote, "but of the four painted games that we regularly install [on the pavements of new playgrounds], I am only clear on how Boxball is played." The confession continued: "I am not sure how Skelly or Nations is played, and I am confused about Potsy. Is it just tic-tac-toe?"

Bruno had raised questions I couldn’t answer (and I’m certain that Bruno and I aren’t alone). Thanks to the advent of computers and the internet, however, the keys to virtually all life’s mysteries are a just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Speaking of which, let’s start with last things first: Potsy is not "just tic-tac-toe," as Bruno had guessed. But our friend wasn’t too far off the mark. In actuality, "Potsy" is simply New Yorker-speak for "Hopscotch." It originated in Britain during the early Roman Empire, and it’s been played throughout the city for generations. Today, there are variations of the game in countries all around the world including Aruba (where it’s called "Pele"), Bolivia ("La Thunkuna"), and France ("Escargot"). Of course, if you ask people around here, they’ll say New Yorkers know how to play it best. "I’ve seen kids play it a bunch of variations," says Recreation Analyst Kelly Gillen. "It’s such a simple game that requires no supplies, and yet kids could play it for hours."

It’s not clear where the word comes from, but potsy refers to the object used in the game. Traditionally, potsy is made from three safety pins clipped together, but one can always substitute a rock or a penny or a Parks pager. Now, for those of you that don’t know how to play Potsy, here are the ground rules: Toss potsy into the first box; jump with one foot at a time into every other numbered box until you get to the end (don’t touch the lines); when you get to the end, turn around and come back; on your way back, pick up potsy; throw potsy into the next box and start again.

Another game that involves some skills and tossing is Skelly. The name of the game comes from the word skull and refers to the skull area (ie, the unplayable center of the board). The object used is usually a bottlecap weighted down with wax , and the object of the game is move your piece to number 1 ("ones") all the way through the number areas up to number 13 and then back again. A player can advance through the game by successfully hitting their bottlecap into the next number (touching the lines doesn’t count in this game) or by "killing" their opponents (that is, knocking them).

For a more action, play Boxball, which resembles tennis and involves a square court divided into four smaller square boxes. Ideally, this is a four player game. First, the player in the King Box (ie, starting box) drops a tennis ball into his own box and then serves it into any of the other boxes. The receiving player must let the ball bounce once in her own court before she hits it into another players box. A player is out when either the ball bounces more then once in his court, he doesn’t let the ball bounce at all in his box, or finally, he knocks the ball out of bounds. When a player is out, the other players rotate towards the King Box, and the time-out player must wait at the sidelines until all the other players have rotating serving.

Finally, Nations is a variation on dodge ball and tag. Kids playing the game stand around the court—which is a large circle with a smaller inner-circle. Each child chooses a nation to represent. One child begins by taking a large ball and throwing it into the circle. At the same time, they must declare war on another "nation." All the kids but the one named, must run away from circle as fast as possible. The "attacked nation" must try to grab the ball and then hurl it towards any of the dispersing children. Whoever is hit, becomes the next "nation" to throw the ball in and declare war. "We didn’t play Nations in a park," says Commissioner Dotty Lewandowski. "There weren’t as many cars back when I was a child, and we used to play it in the street."

Of course, you’ll have to visit one of Parks’ 991 playgrounds to really understand how to play these games, and as you can see, there are a range of different types of games you play depending on your energy level.

If you do decide to hit a playground after work with your friends or colleagues and you happen to see someone playing there already, it might be Bruno. If it is, you should thank him for asking the question that helped us all learn a new lesson.

Written by Eric Adolfsen


Yesterday in the Arsenal Gallery the Parks Library hosted a lunchtime lecture by Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry, authors of the new book Garden Guide: New York City. Originally planned to be in the Library itself, the list of people wanting to see the slide show and lecture grew so long that the event was forced to move upstairs.

The authors discussed just a small selection of the 100 gardens included in their book. Accompanying the talk was a slide show consisting of images both included in the book as well as many others. Each photo provided a beautiful, colorful view into some of New York's most verdant pastures.


"There is real magic in enthusiasm.
It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment."

Norman Vincent Peale


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