10 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: 1920s Game Time

By Delia DeLeest

The prosperity of the Industrial Age brought something new the average man or woman hadn't experienced much of in the past--free time. With electric vacuum cleaners and washing machines, a reduced work week and a general exodus from farm life to city and small town living, people had more time on their hands than ever before. Then, they needed to find something to do to fill that void. They found the answer in games and puzzles.

The first crossword puzzle was made in 1913, by the 1920s, the crossword craze was sweeping America. Everywhere you went, people were sitting, pencil in hand, filling in those little squares. The New York Times claimed they were a "sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport...people get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development." Most were sure the crazy fad would soon be forgotten.

Even bigger than crossword puzzles was Mahjong. Mahjong originated in China, but made its way to the Western world in the late 1800s. Its popularity in the States reached its peak in the 1920s where people, mainly women, spent hours at the game. Though there are many different versions, the one mostly played during this time was Chinese Classical Mahjong. Basically it consists of each player being dealt a number of tiles and through a series of draws and discards. They must match their tiles, with the winner pulling the final tile that completes their hand. The rules are so diverse and complicated that entire books have been written. The difficulty in learning the game didn't stop people from all over the country from investing up to three hours of their time playing a single game.

Board games were becoming popular during this time also. Halma, a cross between checkers and Chinese checkers became very popular. Parcheesi, cribbage, Snakes and Ladders, as well as a variety of other games were also stocking peoples' cupboards and using up all that extra free time.

Though the Great Depression slowed the sales and interest in board games, they came back with a vengeance in the second half of the century. Even today, in an effort to foster togetherness, many families have instituted "Family Game Night," and there are store aisles dedicated entirely to board games. With new games being invented all the time, I don't foresee the craze stopping any time soon.