November 6, 2010

The Cow Game

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

Geology trips often involve very long drives. Rocks are sometimes conveniently exposed in the vicinity of civilization, such as at roadcuts, but often reaching rocks of interest requires a long, exciting drive. Or not so exciting, depending on the location. For instance, for my very first geology field trip I went on a two-week Western USA tour with a group of geology students and professors from Florida State University. Florida is pretty much just limestone, so to see other types of rocks the geology department goes on long drives and also cultivates a rock garden full of basalts and granites and such. The first day of this field trip, we drove twelve hours from Tallahassee to Texas. Not the most exciting day, but necessary to reach the rocks. 

When doing fieldwork for research, I generally ride to the rocks in a stylish Land Cruiser such as these:

Land Cruisers in Oman, January 2009.

 Land Cruisers are great when you have a few scientists and some gear. They can cross some impressive terrain and carry many hundreds of pounds of rocks. I actually prefer the older models (right) to the newer models (left). The newer models are shiny, but I think they’re less-powerful.

However, Land Cruisers are generally not sufficient for transporting large groups of geology students. For my undergraduate field program, we rolled in three Dodge Sprinter vans: 

A trio of Sprinter vans, Western USA, Fall 2005.

The Dodge Sprinter van is spacious, but that’s about all that can be said for it. Sprinter vans are ugly and are definitely not 4x4s. Sprinter vans are designed to deliver packages or flowers in town, not traverse rocky slopes. I have great respect for my geology professors and TAs… they bravely drove the Sprinter vans on coarse gravel roads, across bentonite mudflats (geologists will know just how dangerously sticky this mud is when it rains), and even through thick, slushy snowfalls.

Sprinter van in the slush, Western USA, Fall 2005.

Whatever vehicle you drive to the field, the long drives can be boring… especially in places where annoying vegetation covers up the interesting rocks.  Geologists have different ways of entertaining themselves on the long drives: iPod music mixes, books, long talks about rocks, and- last but not least- car games.

Today I am going to teach you an awesome car game to play next time you have a geologic (or any) roadtrip. Before I explain the game, however, I must warn you. After first hearing the rules, almost everyone thinks this is the stupidest game they have ever heard about. However, in my personal experience, almost everyone also ultimately ends up playing this “stupid” game. One or two steadfast skeptics usually whine about how annoying it is that everyone is playing this game. However, even these whiners usually participate randomly- generally to sabotage the person who is winning and hope that the game dies.

But the game does not die. It endures. It is often played for days at a time. Sometimes, the game is forgotten but then returns a few days later. The game is AWESOME.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to… THE COW GAME!

The cow game rules are as follows:
1. When you see cows, yell out “My cows!” Whoever yells that phrase first owns all the cows. If you call the phrase out first and can obviously count the number of cows, follow by saying, “I now have 5 cows.” If you already have 100 cows, say, “I now have 105 cows.” If you cannot count the cows, estimate how many you think there are in a particular field or barn or wherever. Participants are encouraged to argue about the number of cows a person has just claimed. Disagreements are settled by majority rule. In the case of just two people playing the game, disagreements are settled by whoever gives up first. Whoever has the most cows wins. There is no set timeframe for the end of the game, which can go on for days or even months.

2. If you see a white horse and are the first to yell “My white horse!”, your number of cows is tripled. If you call out “My white horse!” and it is really a goat or a black-and-white horse or something else upon closer inspection, all your cows die.

3. If you see a cemetary and yell “My cemetary!” (yelling “My graveyard!” is acceptable), everyone else’s cows die.

4. Cows are the most commonly owned thing. However, depending on where you are in the world you can play variations of this game. In Oman, I have played with goats (for cows) and camels (for white horses). In South Africa, I have played with ostriches (for cows) and springbok/rhinos/any other kind of cool animal (for white horses). When driving in North Carolina whitewater country, I have played with river rafts (for cows) and open canoes (for white horses… kayaks were too common). You can also decide to collect multiple types of livestock/animals/rafts.

5. Plastic/artificial giant animals, such as plastic cow signs at dairy farms, count. These add to your cow count and cannot die when someone yells “My cemetary!” Also, giant plastic animals are worth a gazillion coolness points each.

I learned the cow game on a kayaking trip in college, and I thought it was really stupid at first. Despite my initial reaction, I have now played the cow game on many long drives. I have taught the game to a few of my friends and colleagues, and now I am teaching the whole internet… though I imagine many of you have played various permutations of the game in the past.

Speaking of fake animals, during a trip to Costa Rica a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to encounter this wonderful white horse at a roadstop. I had a little trouble climbing on top… 

White horse 1, Costa Rica, June 2008.

… but I managed eventually… 

White horse 2, Costa Rica, June 2008.

A few days later on the Costa Rica trip, we had dinner at a restaurant with a giant fake cow in front. I went to climb the cow, but one of the restaurant employees followed me. I was worried and thought he was going to yell at me to stop climbing the cow. Instead, he brought me a ladder. Costa Ricans- or at least this particular man- are AWESOME… just like the cow game.

The nice Costa Rican man brings me a ladder, Costa Rica, June 2008.

Yee-haw!, Costa Rica, June 2008. 

Come to think of it, I’m not sure exactly why I needed to climb the fake animals in Costa Rica… perhaps it was worth an extra gazillion coolness points.