Uncle Calvin’s No-Waste Games

Famed humorist Robert Benchley contributed an item to the January 9, 1926 issue of The New Yorker (I do seem to plunder the New Yorker archives a bit these days, and I should add that of course all these materials are © The New Yorker).Typing this, I thought it wasn’t really one of Benchley’s better efforts.

Uncle Calvin’s No-waste Games

“There is a time for play as well as a time for work. But even in play it is possible to cultivate the art of well-doing. Games are useful to train the eye, the hand and the muscles, and bring the body more completely under the control of the mind. When this is done, instead of being a waste of time, play becomes a means of education.” — President Calvin Coolidge’s Christmas Message to the boys and girls of the nation.

And now come, boys and girls, it’s play-time! You have worked hard enough for one day, and Uncle Calvin is going to teach you some peachy games to clear the cob-webs out of those brains of yours. Play-time! Play-time!

But first of all we must remember that play in itself, is a waste of time. And who remembers what we learned yesterday about Wasted Time? The boy or girl who wastes time, or anything else, is just as naughty as the boy or girl who steals, for, after all, wasting is stealing, isn’t it? And play, just for the sake of play, is stealing time which belongs rightfully to our parents, our teachers or our country. And we don’t want to be known as thieves, do we?

So the games which Uncle Calvin is going to teach us are games which will do us good in one way or another. While we are playing them we shall, at the same time, be helping to make our eyes, our hands, and our minds more efficient. And, as we play, we must keep thinking: “Is this helping me? Or am I wasting time which I ought to be devoting to my lessons or my work or my country?” The first game that we are going to play is called


This is just lots and lots of fun – and good for your eyes, too. The boys line up on one side, and the girls on the other. Now Uncle Calvin will stand over here and write on the board a lot of little teeny-weeny figures, problems in percentage, and we will see which can read them off and answer the problems the faster – the boys or the girls. Come now, boys, you don’t want the girls to beat you, do you? All right. . . ready, get set. . . go!

((More fun and games after the cut))

Now we are going to play a dandy game called DRY, Tom, DRY.

We must remember in playing this game not to get all hot and sweaty and too excited, for it is really a game to train our hands. Three girls come over here to the sink, and three boys stand in a line from the sink to the table.Now each boy gets a brand new wiper and each girl a little tub full of hot water and dirty dishes. Now the game will be to see which girl and her boy-partner can wash and dry her dishes first. As each dish is cleaned it is handed to the boy with the towel and when he has dried it he places it on the table. You must be very careful in passing the dishes not to drop them. Here is where the excitement comes in. For if you drop and break a plate, Uncle Calvin will lick hell out of you. . . Now, no gigling, Walter Pearson! You don’t see Uncle Calvin giggling, do you? All ready? . . . Then – play!

And now for our final game we have a big surprise for you. The game is called PRINTER’S PIE

and what do you think? You are all actually going to take part in the government of this big country which we all love so well! We are going to play a game called “type-setting” and, when we have finished, we will find that we have not only had loads and loads of fun, but that we have saved the Government thousands and thousands of dollars. Now here is how the game is played:

Each child brings his little savings-bank to Uncle Calvin and with what Uncle Calvin finds in there he will buy a box of type and a “galley” for each one. Then you stand in front of a high sort of desk and take a piece of paper which Uncle Calvin will give you. On this paper will be written something -different things- which your government wants to have printed. You will follow this very, very carefully, and try and find the little pieces of type in the box to correspond with the letters in the “copy”. Now put these words and sentences in the “galley”, or “holder” and pretty soon you will find that you will have an exact duplicate in type of the page which Uncle Calvin has given you. Isn’t that exciting! An exact duplicate! This page of type will then be taken from you and plates made from it and then it will be printed and then you will see your own work in the Congressional Record and all the little pamphlets that your congressman sends you. Just think! Your own work in print!

And, just because you have had all this fun, your government will have been able to cut down its printing appropriation to almost nothing and you will have trained your eyes and your hands and your minds which will please Uncle Calvin more than he can say.

And now, that we have had our play, we must scamper back to work, for, as Uncle Calvin said in his cheery Christmas message, there is a time for play as well as a time for work, and, so long as you don’t waste time when playing, you will be able to work all the better for your parents, your schools, and your country.

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