Column: For the Love of Stupid Games

Maybe Lawn Jarts is a bad idea, but kids should have some unstructured fun during the summer months. Baloney Game, anyone?
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.

But not if you have children. Nowadays, you have to drive your kid to soccer camp and band camp, to this lesson and that clinic, to make sure they never have a single unprogrammed minute of summer to themselves.

Yes, something is gained from all this – like structure and safety – but something is lost, too. You see a basket in every driveway, but no one playing. Without their own games, kids never learn how to settle their own arguments. Does any 10-year-old know what a “do-over” is?

They’re forced way too young to specialize in one sport – a sport they are not likely to earn a scholarship for, no matter what their parents or coaches think, let alone a professional contract. What they’re almost certain to gain, however, is tremendous burn out, and knee joints on 20-year-old women that are as worn out as a 50-year-old man’s.

Yeah, sure, they’ll be busy and safe and supervised – but what fun is that? They miss out on the simple excitement of making up their own games – no matter how stupid or dangerous.

A few years ago I told you about the Garage Door Game, in which we took the garage door remote control as far from the garage door as possible, pushed the button, then tried to dive underneath the door before it cut us in half. Cool? Totally. Competitive? You bet.

Then there was the Triangle of Death, in which three of us took turns shooting each other with BB guns – for what reason, I can no longer recall.

I also explained the Baloney Game, which entailed whipping slices of baloney onto the ceiling, where they’d stick if you did it right, and then waiting for them to fall back to earth. If you managed to take a bite out of the pink disc on the way down, you won!

But I didn’t have time to mention a few other favorites, like the Evel Knievel Game, the Put the Milk on the Register in Class for a Month Game, and the Make a Towering Inferno Out of the Oreo Package on Your Mom’s Coffee Table and See What Happens Next Game.

I was going to explain these, but instead I decided to ask my Facebook friends for their favorites – and boy, howdy, they sent over 50 stories, many of them involving something called Lawn Jarts.

Anybody born after 1980, when lawyers were invented, might be asking, “What are Lawn Jarts?” Well let me tell you: Lawn Jarts were the darts of the gods: foot long, inch wide metal spikes of pure mayhem. If you played the game the way the box told you, they were already plenty dangerous – but only weenies bothered to read the box.

One friend and his buddies threw the Lawn Jarts straight up into the air as high as they could. Then, while the metal projectiles accelerated back to earth, instead of running out of harm’s way, they ran as close to it as they could get. They tried to see how close they could get to the falling spears before they pierced the ground. Closest, wins!

Our dumbest games came in three main categories: things you could fire at each other, like tennis balls, golf balls and BBs; things that moved very fast, like Schwinn Sting-Rays, mini-bikes and, yes, cars, often with you and your friends being yanked behind them on roller skates or skateboards; and things you could ignite, like firecrackers, bottle rockets, and good ol’ gasoline, which could create flaming tennis balls, which you could catch with your mom’s leather gardening gloves. Last one to quit, wins!

These games were not smart, safe, or educational. But we weren’t playing them to learn life lessons or make some travel team or pad our college applications. We just wanted to have fun – and, if we were lucky, survive.

And we did survive – even if we shouldn’t have. Now, I cannot defend any of these games – and for the love of God and my insurance premiums, please do NOT try any of these at home. Or anywhere else.

But we did have fun – and created memories that have lasted decades. Not one of my friends who sent me their stories wanted to trade those in for a summer spent in the back of a van going to soccer practice.

About the writer: Ann Arbor resident John U. Bacon is the author of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” and “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” – both national bestsellers. His upcoming book, “Fourth and Long: The Future of College Football,” will be published by Simon & Schuster in September 2013. You can follow him on Twitter (@Johnubacon), and at

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  1. June 28, 2013 at 10:25 am | permalink

    So much word on this. I’m grown and I sometimes hate having my entire life being “scheduled”…I certainly would have hated it as a kid. There’s a great meme I’ve seen on Facebook that talks about all the things we did in the 70s–rode in the front seat without a seat belt, jumped our Big Wheels over hills, rode double on bikes, drank out of the garden hose and yes, played with lawn jarts! Heck, even just running around the woods behind my house (until the stupid developer tore them down).

    I’m up for hosting a baloney party! (Free range, humanely raised pork only, of course ;))

  2. By Steve Bean
    June 28, 2013 at 10:31 am | permalink

    “…they’ll be busy and safe and supervised…”

    None of which is necessarily true or better than the alternative.

  3. By Donna Estabrook
    June 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm | permalink

    What about those unsupervised times when you climb a tree or sit out behind the shed and daydream? Not many kids have time for that these days either.

  4. By Mark Koroi
    July 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm | permalink

    Firecrackers are still around.