Inspired by this list of top ten most violent children’s games, I was reminded of some games that we used to play on the playground, and one in specific: Red Butt.

In elementary school - 6th grade to be precise - we used to congregate in a small raquetball-like area on our playground. With brick walls on the sides, and a concrete wall opposing the open end, it was a perfect place for a Red Butt game. Matt would bring the blue raquetball in his lunch bag, and we would start the game.

Typically, the game was simply an exercise of throwing the ball at the wall, and catching it on the rebound. Repeat ad-infinitum until recess ended. But that by itself isn’t all that fun. So what’s the attraction?

The fun happens when someone accidentally (or on purpose!) drops the ball, or the ball touches someone and then touches the ground before it touches the wall. When this happens, any people who the ball touches needs to run to the wall and tag it to be safe.

In the mean time, the other players try to get the ball and throw it at the wall to get them “out”. During this scamble for the ball, if someone touches the ball and then the ball touches the ground, then they too must run for the wall.

Whoever doesn’t make it to the wall before the ball hits it is “out”. Anyone who is out must stand spread eagle against the wall, and the person who threw them out gets to throw the ball at them. All people who are out stand against the wall at once, so the thrower must make a choice as to who to hit.

Typically, the aim is for the posterior, hence the name. Still, bad aim or a bad throw could land the ball in other places. It was common for players with particular disdain for those they’ve thrown out to attempt a ricochet off the wall to hit more tender areas.

Assuming that all people who the ball touched successfully reach the wall and are safe, then when the ball next hits the wall, it is once again in play, and anyone who touches it must once again run for the wall. This property of the game leads to particular mayhem, since the players running for the wall might not realize that the ball is in play. A good strategy is to wait for the running players to tag the wall “safe”, and then aim the ball so it would hit them serreptitiously on the rebound, collect the ball, and throw them out. A completely legal, if underhanded, playground strategy.

For one reason or other, the adult playground supervisors never cared much about our sadistic tendencies. We also got to play a lot of dodgeball in gym class. At least until 7th grade, and then we started with square dancing. Was my school the only one to have suffered this? Why did they think that 7th graders would want to dance with opposite-gender partners?