The Story Behind The Circle Game Every Kid Played In Elementary School

Ever since it was popularized in schoolyards back in the 1980s, many people have wondered about the story behind the Circle Game. Just where did the Circle Game come from? Who invented it? And, perhaps most bafflingly, why is it so popular?

For those not in the know, the Circle Game is quite simple. One person makes a small circle with their thumb and index finger. They then try to get another person to look at the circle they've made without overtly drawing attention to it. If they are successful, they get to punch the person who has looked, usually either in the arm or shoulder (and in a playful way - the Circle Game isn't meant to be violent).

Sound silly? It is. No one would argue with you on that. But the history and facts surrounding the Circle Game are fascinating to say the least. The background of this phenomenon is shrouded in mystery - much like that 'S' you drew in elementary school - and conflicting stories and reports abound.

Let's explore a few of them below. Read on to learn some things you didn't know about the Circle Game.

  • It Was Supposedly Invented In The '80s…

    One of the most popular theories about the Circle Game's origin says that a man named Matt Nelson of New Bremen, OH, invented the game back in the early '80s. Nelson claims he is indeed the mastermind behind this mysterious pastime, which he says he invented in elementary school.

    "My whole life I've just been inventing cool things like that," Nelson told Vice. While it's debatable whether the Circle Game has ever been "a cool thing," Nelson is pretty adamant he's the inventor.

  • Did Jesus Play The Circle Game?

    Doubtful, but an interesting avenue to explore. A popular meme shows a statue of an angel, apparently playing the Circle Game with Jesus. If this artist's rendering of a biblical scene is in any way accurate, then the Circle Game is much older than anyone previously thought. And, to be fair, from the look of that Jesus statue, he's about to roll his eyes any minute at that angel's impertinence.

  • Despite Rumors, No One Has Been Arrested For Playing The Circle Game

    According to legend, someone was once arrested for playing the Circle Game with the cops. The story goes that a man in Chicago was pulled over by police, and when they asked for his license and registration, he made the telltale circle with his thumb and index finger.

    Unfortunately, the cops weren't in the mood to play schoolyard games, and the man was put in the pokey. While an entertaining story, it is in no way true.

  • The Internet Has Brought It Back In A Big Way

    The Internet Has Brought It Back In A Big Way
    Video: YouTube

    The Circle Game has become a meme in and of itself. People from all around the world have incorporated the game into photos and videos posted online. Everyone from The Hunger Games cast to everyday folks are playing the Circle Game. Could this maybe be just an excuse to let out some collective rage and punch people?

    That would certainly make more sense than the current explanation, which is... nonexistent. If there's a point to the Circle Game, it's yet to be discovered.

  • The Game Was Featured On A 'Malcolm In The Middle' Episode

    The Game Was Featured On A 'Malcolm In The Middle' Episode
    Video: YouTube

    The mainstreaming of the Circle Game likely started with its prominent spot in a 2000 episode of Malcolm in the Middle. In Season 2, episode 4, the show's central characters play it around the dinner table. Redditor/u/Globymike claims to have written this episode and commented, "[I] [g]ot the idea from playing it in the writers' room. Also got a very sore shoulder."

  • There Are International Variations

    The Circle Game reportedly became so popular that it spread to other countries. Actually, some claim the game was invented overseas; a very similar version known as ball-gazing supposedly started in Australia. Regardless of its origin, as the Circle Game has traveled from schoolyard to schoolyard and country to country, it's undergone different incarnations.

    Most of these variations surround the number of punches that are allowed, and by whom, when playing the game.