Les enfants jouaient à la main chaude.

Les enfants jouaient à la main chaude.

lay zah-fah zhway ah lah maa SHOAD. Click below to hear this.*

The children were playing the hand-stacking game.

I never even had any idea that this game had a name! Surely you’ve played it? It’s the one where you alternate hands in a stack, and the bottom hand pulls out and plops itself on top of the pile. The goal is to keep up a steady rhythm of hand-exchanging, without going out of order.

Young children rarely “get” the game, and quickly fall into a chaotic flurry of slapping and random hand movements without order or reason. But there is a logic to the game. It is even called a “parlor game” in some dictionary descriptions, which surely suggests rules and expectations.

In French, the game is called la main chaude. That means the hot hand, and I am supposing that it’s based on the conceit that the next-to-bottom hand is too hot, so the bottom hand moves to a cooler place (the top of the pile). And so on.

Does this game have a name in English or another language? What is the longest amount of time you have been able to keep the game going? How old do players need to be before they understand the concept and “play by the rules”? Is there any such thing as winning or losing le jeu de la main chaude?

*Some mobile phones, such as some Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:

la_main_chaude.mp3

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