Cat’s cradle is a series of string figures created and passed back and forth between two (or more) people as a game. The name of the entire game, the specific figures, their order, and the names of the figures vary.
The game consists of two or more players making a sequence of string figures, each altering the figure made by the previous player. After each figure, the next player manipulates that figure and removes the string figure from the hands of the previous player with one of a few simple motions and then tightens the loop to create another figure. Diamonds might then lead to Candles, for example, and then Manger, an inverted Cat’s Cradle and so on. Most of the core figures allow a choice between two or more subsequent figures: for example, Fish in a Dish can become Cat’s Eye or Manger. The game ends when a player makes a mistake or creates a dead-end figure, such as Two Crowns, which can’t be turned into anything else.
The origin of the name “cat’s cradle” may have come from a corruption of cratch-cradle, or manger cradle. In an 1858 Punch cartoon it is referred to as “scratch cradle”.
Different cultures have different names for the game, and often different names for the individual figures. The French word for manger is crèche, and cattle feed racks are still known as cratches. The connection between the two words, cratches and cradle, may come from the Christian story of the birth of Jesus, in which a manger is used as a cradle. In Russia the whole game is called simply, the game of string, and the diamonds pattern is called carpet, with other pattern names such as field, fish, and sawhorse for the other figures—a cat isn’t mentioned. The game may have originated in China and Korea. In China the game is called kang sok (English: well rope), or catch cradle. In some regions of the U.S., this game also is known as Jack in the Pulpit.
The object is to see how long you can keep it going without messing up. For fun you can try speeding it up. See how long you can keep it going!