The Mush Pot

One of the variations of Duck-Duck-Goose includes something called a mush pot. The mush post introduces a consequence to “losing,” even though you don’t actually lose forever.  “The goal,” explains the Wikipedist, “is to tag that person before he is able to sit down in the ‘goose’s’ spot. If the ‘goose’ is not able to do this, he become ‘it’ for the next round and play continues. If the person who is ‘it’ is tagged, he has to sit in the center of the circle (the ‘Mush Pot’ or ‘Stew Pot’ ‘Cookie Jar’ or ‘Pickle Pot’). Then the ‘goose’ becomes ‘it’ for the next round. The person in the middle can’t leave until another person is tagged and he is replaced.”

In all my many mentions of the game, I’ve never once described the Mush Pot variation – even though I knew it all too well. Yes, it’s a legitimate variation, and yes again, it adds a legitimately, shall we say, poignant wrinkle to the Duck-Duck-Goose experience. But, for my purposes, it was a wrinkle I didn’t find worth playing with.

My purpose, my not-so hidden agenda in playing games, has always been to play inclusively. Ever since kids taught me about the theater of games, it seemed to me that my one overriding goal was create a theater in which everyone is an actor. I could see no purpose, none at all, for excluding anyone from a game, even if the exclusion was only until another unfortunate goose fails at her appointed round.

So this became a rule for me, and has remained so my entire career. Everybody who wants to play gets to play. It seems so counter-productive to me to keep someone from playing, for any reason, for any time. And it’s gotten so that when I watch  school teachers or gym teachers or camp counselors or anyone leading games excluding a child from play, I get so genuinely puzzled. Because it’s become such a basic assumption for me that that’s what games are for. That’s what I am for. To provide that opportunity. To create that kind of theater, that kind of community. The kind where everybody plays.


  1. Lily on July 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Ironically, I had never heard of this variation. I would have to see it in action to see how it played out, but I wonder if, by adding the middle position, if it might add to the game. It adds a player, so that there are three people playing instead of two. Even if the third doesn’t have an active role. The person in the middle might actually appreciate the break from the game. Yes, if he/she wanted a break, they could just leave, but this way they get to watch from a really good vantage point what’s going on without the stress of wondering whether they will be picked or not. By placing them in the middle, one could say that they are not excluding them from the game, but rather putting them right in the middle of things. And, of course, there is always rule-bending that says that if they get tired of it, someone else can swap them out, even without the tag, (or they could quit and walk away at that point). Like I said, I’d have to see it in action to know how it would work.

    Agreed that “benching kids” from a game seems like an oxymoron. Why have a game if you are not going to let everyone play? We were playing a bobbing game yesterday at swimming lessons. Popcorn. When the teacher says popcorn, everyone bobs under the water. Last person to come up loses and is “out”. I never find these games fun (probably because I am under-co-ordinated, and typically lose first). I think popcorn is fun without the “out” part though.

    Love and laughter,

    • Bernie DeKoven on July 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      The traditional use of the Mush Pot is what concerns me. I’m sure there are many good variations that could increase involvement. In the description that I shared (found in the Wikipedia, and an accurate description of the rules), when the person who is IT gets tagged, she has to go in the Mush Pot and not play again until another player who is IT get tagged. So we have an example of a person WANTING to play, and not being able to. This is what I am objecting to. Just like you described in the bobbing game.

  2. Bernie DeKoven on January 12, 2013 at 4:01 am

    Last nite, while in Israel, in a place called Moshav Modi’in, I was speaking to a family (one of the founding families) about this very game. I was talking in particular about how children play with trying to get “not chosen” if they don’t want to be picked. One of the people I was talking with, a woman named Leah, mentioned to me how a skill like that was a matter of life and death for people in the camps (concentration camps). I went silent. I nodded. I cried. I went on.

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