One the most memorable little things from my childhood is also the simplest. It was a tiny red plastic barrel filled with little plastic monkeys that my grandmother kept on a bookshelf. In the simple spirit of the game, I made a fast doodlewash using only two colors. These were super inexpensive and available just about everywhere by the 70’s, but I only remember playing when I went to visit my grandmother’s farm. Looking back, I doubt she even purchased it herself as I’m sure it was just something brought by a cousin one Christmas and forgotten. But in my mind it always takes me back to her.

The phrase “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” had been around for years before anyone decided to riff on it and make it into a game. Actually the very first phrase was “box of monkeys” since that’s how they were transported to America. This shifted immediately to include “barrel” as those were used for alcohol so the connotation was doubly fun! (Also, there was a saying called “sucking the monkey” which meant drinking alcohol straight from the barrel, not, thankfully, what immediately comes to mind when you first read that phrase.)

Barrel of Monkeys consisted of grabbing one little monkey and then using it to pick up the other monkeys forming a monkey chain. The longer the chain got, the more difficult it became to hook another monkey and if you dropped one your turn was over. Yep… that’s the whole game. But it was still pretty addictive.

According to Wikipedia, a Dr. Gilbert Patterson holds the record for making the fastest chain, but a Sir Robert Donald of Orange County has the unofficial fastest claim (as well as two first names and the dubious honor of being knighted in California). Donald’s recorded game is allegedly being sent in for review to the unsubstantiated “North American Barrel of Monkeys Association” which proves one mustn’t always take Wikipedia terribly seriously.

But for me, this little game will always bring back memories of hanging out on my grandmother’s farm. There you would find me, sitting in a small chair by the window, having just eaten my Corn Flakes for supper while reading all the cartoons in her copies of Reader’s Digest. Not quite satisfied with the evening’s entertainment, I would always reach for that little red plastic barrel. This was many years ago now, during that wonderful, simpler time when there was really nothing more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

About the Doodlewash

M. Graham watercolors: Pyrrol Red, and Neutral Tint. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon black ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal


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39 thoughts on “Barrel of Monkeys

  1. Amazing how much depth you can create with 2 colors! Fantastic doodlewash, Charlie!! My preschool students loved stringing together the monkeys and would laugh hysterically when the chain fell apart. I wonder if my high school students would enjoy them too. Ha!

  2. We had a barrel of these at our house too! So simple and so much fun! Your Doodlewash is spot on too, right down to the color. It’s wonderful that they bring back such nice memories of your grandmother. When I stayed with mine, she always let me play with her Bingo chips. I used to love to play Tiddle Winks with them.😊
    (I’m waiting to see if my favorite childhood toy, the Etch-a-Sketch makes it into you January doodles. I hope I haven’t missed it!)

  3. Oh, thank goodness for a non-creepy doodlewash…LOL! I loved this game, too…and I love your painting of it! <3 The only games I liked better as a kid was pick-up sticks and jacks. It's the simple ones that are the best. 😀

  4. I loved that game! In fact, I purchased a red and blue one a couple of years ago. I have fond memories of playing the game with my friends. It is wonderful how a game can take one back in time. Your doodlewash looks just like I remember those little monkeys. Hehe! 😜❤️🎨

  5. well done, love you painting and post!
    made me think… geesh, what would the kids these days do with only the ‘toys’ we had when we were growing up……… they wouldn’t know what to do!

  6. …and just exactly what kind of fun is contained in a barrel of monkeys? I always wondered about the real barrel and the real monkeys.
    My grandmother had a swing in the cellar in the doorway to the little room where all the canned goods were stored. I love the images and atmosphere that simple things can recall. (K)

  7. Awesome stuff, Charlie – how on earth did you get such a gradient with only two colours? You are a magician. I never had a Barrel of Monkeys, but it sounds the sort of thing I’d initially think “pff”, then start playing around and wind up totally hooked. (And I enjoyed learning the phrase – I’ve never heard that before!) Some of the chains people have made on a quick Google search are pretty impressive!

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