The Cootie-Catcher: Blast From The Past, Glimpse Of The Future


A piece of notebook paper once told me who I would marry. Actually this happened many times, revealing many different grooms, but my faith in the fortune-telling powers of cootie-catchers was never shaken.

While some on the Jezebel staff disdained such paper prescience, I was a wholehearted believer in the powers of the cootie-catcher – seen in the South Park clip above left from the 9th season episode “Marjorine”- the name game, and especially MASH. I’ve compiled a little gallery of games like this below — it’s also a pretty good summation of my grade-school hopes and dreams. Observe:


: MASH, my favorite, is kind of complicated. First you write MASH on top of a sheet of paper. Below that, draw a box. Around the box, write categories of things you are curious about in your future. At my school, these were almost always boys we would marry, jobs we would have, cars we would drive, and, of course, the colors of our inevitable wedding dresses. For each category, you pick three good outcomes. My top three boys, you’ll notice, are Scotty (the boy I liked in grade school, who once promised to fight another boy for “the friendship of me” after I wore my super-trendy red-and-black-striped minidress-and-bike-shorts combo to school), Johnny Depp (duh), and Michael Stipe (shut up). Then your friends get to pick one bad outcome for each category. For boys, that would be Steve, who had this habit of licking the desks when he thought no one was looking, and whose butt-crack I accidentally grabbed once during math (long story), forcing me to wash my hands one million times. Then you shut your eyes and make tick marks in the box until someone tells you to stop. Take the number of tick marks, start with the M, progress clockwise through the options, and cross one out when you reach the number. Keep going until you have just one item in each category — this is your fortune. In the example below, it was revealed that I would marry Michael Stipe (shut up), that my wedding dress would be off-white (zzz), and that I would ride a dog to my job as a cat wrangler (seems like a bad idea). Oh, the MASH part stands for Mansion Apartment Shack House. I forgot to do that part this time because it always struck me as the most boring.

2. The Name Comparison Game

: [If anyone had a better name for this game, we’d love to hear it. None of us can remember what we called it.]You thought MASH was complicated? Check this out. Write your name and your crush’s name. Starting with the first letter of your first name, count the frequency of each letter and write the numbers in a line. Example: there are 2 A’s in “ANNA NORTH SCOTTY JONES” so I wrote a 2 first. There are 4 N’s, so I wrote a 4, etc. Now add the first two numbers and write the result below the second number. Add the second and third number and write the result below the third. Keep going until you have another line that is one number shorter than the previous. If you get a 2-digit number, write only the second digit. Keep doing this until you have a line with just two numbers — that is the percent chance that you and your crush will be together forever. If you don’t get it, don’t feel bad, it took Anna H. two phone calls to explain this to me, and number 3 offers a way simpler variant.

3. The “True Love” Game

: [Thanks to Hortense for this one!]
Write your name and your crush’s name. Count how many times each of the letters in the word “TRUE” appears in both names. Add those numbers up. Now count how many times each of the letters in the word “LOVE” appears. Add those numbers up. Write the first number next to the second number, and use THAT as your foolproof percent-likelihood-of-everlasting-love. This method gives me and Scotty only a 44% chance at being together forever, which seems more accurate since I haven’t spoken to him in about sixteen years (and 3 months, 13 days, 6 hours . . .)

4. The Cootie-Catcher

: As seen on South Park, this is a fortune-telling game of medium complexity. It involves a lot of paper-folding, which fit right in with the huge origami craze that took my school by storm in about second grade. Here’s a great set of instructions for how to make and use a cootie-catcher. The South Park kids give a good demonstration of how to play. The most important thing is to include a balance of good fortunes like “You will marry Scotty!” and bad fortunes like “Steve likes you” or “You will be homeless” (equally bad in my mind at the time).

5. Lemon

: Write down five girls’ names, five things you can do to a lemon (i.e. lick, bite, slice), five boys’ names (or other girls’ names), five body parts, and five locations (i.e. my childhood favorite, “closet”). Don’t let your friends see what order you write them in. Then ask your friends to put the numbers 1 through 5 in random order. Select the item in each column that corresponds to each number, then combine them to form a Mad-Lib type sentence. In this example, I picked the sequence 13452 (I cheated a little). This yielded the sentence “Anna sliced David’s dick in bed,” which handily reveals the basically sadistic nature of this game. Another interesting thing about Lemon is it doesn’t exactly tell the future — except insofar as the time for playing it is well before any of the players have licked, let alone “peeled,” anyone’s balls. It’s sort of a bridge between innocence and experience, between the does-he-love-me chastity of the name games and the sexual experimentation of a later favorite, Seven Minutes in Heaven. We didn’t have the word “tween” when I was one, but now that we do, I can say this is definitely a game for tweens.

I was sort of embarrassed at how unquestioningly I believed in these games, even in the face of obvious problems like the fact that each MASH yields a different fortune every time, or that the name comparison game gives a different percentage depending on whose name you write first. Anna H., however, isn’t embarrassed at all — she looks upon her cootie-catching days with nostalgia, because she fears girls aren’t playing these games anymore. Are kids today entrusting their futures to the fickle flickering screen of a computer instead of a steadfast sheet of paper? Did you play games like this? Can you think of any others? Did boys ever join in the fun? And would you be glad or sorry to see them go the way of that weird hoop-and-stick toy the old-time youngsters liked to play with?

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