I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a number of different cities where I was exposed to some interesting local customs. Northern Virginia has a little bit of everything mixed into one, but the blue bloods there are nuts about their horses and steeple chases. Northeast Tennessee is crazy about it’s football and marching bands. And Northeast Ohio….? Well, I’ve discovered that they’re diehard corn-holers.
When my kids first talked about corn-hole I did a double-take as it sounded like a profanity, but it turns out it’s just a local slant on good old bean bag toss. Put a little corn in a bag, cut a hole in a board and you’ve got yourself genuine corn-hole toss.
Over the last couple of weeks the bean bags have been flying all over town — and it’s not just college students. I’ve seen old timers out tossing their corn too.
Corn hole is low budget fun and I’ve noticed that many people decorate the boards with favorite team colors, fraternity names, and other artistic creations.
I had not seen corn hole in New York, Virginia, Maryland or Tennessee so I thought it was an Ohio thing. It turns out (see news article below) that it’s more of a Mid-West thing, as Wisconsin-ites love to toss too.
Maybe we can springboard this craze into a sports tourism windfall by hosting an annual Kent Corn Hole Competition…who knows, we might be on to something big!
And from what I’ve seen around town, we might have some local champs right here.
Back to beanbags
For the State Journal
May 11, 2007
It’s the hip, happening game that all the cool kids on campus are playing. It’s not Frisbee, Sudoku or even Beer Pong.
It’s beanbag toss!
I was mildly amazed recently to walk fraternity row on Madison’s Langdon Street and see — between the usual games of cross-street football — a group of fraternity brothers playing beanbag toss on the sidewalk, complete with homemade boards: twin, painted ramps with holes sawed through, for scoring points.
But I was staggered, a block later, to see a second fraternity with the same set-up.
Look out, extreme sports: Beanbag toss apparently is the latest Cool Thing To Do. Can Pick-up Sticks be far behind?
It was first spotted as a Midwestern trend in 2005, when The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that beanbag toss was becoming a popular part of tailgating. Since then, it’s spread everywhere. But why?
Beanbag popularity has even the experts baffled. “I can’t offer you anything specific about the resurgence of it, but I certainly have noticed it because I’ve participated in it plenty,” says Joe Kapler, curator of the “Toy Stories” exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum, which runs through May 26.
“I’ve seen it in the last four years or so,” he says. “I’ve played it in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois quite a bit in the last four years, just hanging out at picnics or parties — the social thing. I’ve seen it at my friends’, neighbors’ and peers’.”
What’s the appeal?
The appeal of beanbags is perhaps as primal as it is mysterious. “Dr. Toy,” better known as Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, is an author, consultant and founding director of San Francisco’s International Toy Museum. Of beanbags, she tells me, “They express a basic need to play games that involve throwing things — which even primates do.”
Yes, but primates also like bananas, throwing poo and eating bugs — hobbies which so far have not have appeared on campus, at least publicly. In short, no one can really explain the recent popularity of beanbag toss. “I’m even starting to see a commercially made target board,” says Kapler. “Depending on where you go, there’s even a prescribed list of rules.”
One of those manufacturers is Baggo Inc., of Hot Springs, Ark. Its president, Kirk Conville, says the trend is real, and that it is indeed centered in the upper Midwest. “I would say that it seemed to originate more on the south side of Chicago, really. And Cincinnati, Ohio, believes they invented the game, if that makes any sense at all.”
In Cincinnati the beanbag target game is called corn-toss and “cornhole.” Media there claim that it was invented in 1999 at the University of Cincinnati. They also almost universally explain that its college popularity is “because horseshoes are too dangerous for drunk people.”
Maybe. As for the regional Ohio name, beanbags are often filled with corn, not beans. Cornhole may also refer to the hole in the target game; it’s a rude synonym for a human orifice (hint: not your ears). Why this is something that Cincinnati would want to brag about is a mystery in itself.
Despite Ohio’s 1991 claim, Baggo has been around since 1948. “Certainly we didn’t invent the game,” says Conville. “We just packaged it up, made it a little more portable, a little more durable, a little more attractive than the wooden sets.”
Make your own!
You can make your own beanbags and target boards, of course. Auerbach remembers “getting them from grandmother, who used remnants from sewing projects.” You can even find target-board plans on the Internet. Baggo-brand games start at $89.95 for two lightweight boards and a selection of corn-filled bags. Collegegear.com features wooden boards with licensed athletic insignia, $99 for a pair, plus beanbags. Their football-themed boards look like Camp Randall or Lambeau Field, after a large meteor has struck near the end zone.
“When we did a patent search, there were probably about 100 patents, dating back to cavemen throwing stones onto boards,” Conville says. “So the game’s been around since who knows when. My grandpa was building wooden sets.”
As for beanbags themselves, some claim that they were invented by Dioclesian Lewis, a largely forgotten but influential social activist and teacher who popularized play in physical education. After the Civil War, his book, “The New Gymnastics,” introduced beanbags and Indian clubs (or duck pins) to children’s classes nationwide. Auerbach, however, notes that every ancient civilization had something like beanbags.
But why beanbags, and why now? What’s next? Tailgate Spirograph? Campus Hippity Hop? Marbles?
“It’s something kids can do, something adults can do,” says Kapler. Conville agrees. “I really have no reason why, other than that probably because anybody can play the game from young to old,” he says. “You don’t have to be a star athlete. Everybody can be competitive at it, and that always makes it fun.”
Or perhaps the real reason is the social aspect of beanbag toss. As Auerbach points out, primates like throwing things. And we’re primates. And primates are social animals. For example, as I strolled on Langdon Street, past the second fraternity beanbag game, an attractive young woman walked by me in the opposite direction.
From behind me, one of the frat boys called out to her, “Hey, wanna play?”