Barrel of Monkeys

Barrel of Monkeys Doodlewash

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

 

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you'd like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!
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39 Comments
  1. Kari 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      Awww thanks Kari! 💕😃It was fun to try a really limited palette. Glad you think it worked. And yes!! I think your high school students would have a blast with these! Lol

  2. Oh my goodness, yeah. Boy, we used to play with these things all the time. hehe! Gosh, so many toys I’ve totally forgot about! 😀 Nice rendering, Charlie, and not an easy one either.

    • Author

      Thanks Laura! 💜😃This one was super tough actually…I kept getting lost in monkeys. 😊hehe… It was a fun game though!

  3. Teri C 2 years ago

    Fun, fun, fun and great colors and shadows.

  4. Nancy 2 years ago

    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!)

    • Author

      Thanks Nancy!! 💕😃Appreciate it!! And Bingo chips sound like a blast too! Hehe… The simple things were so fun back then. And nope…no Etch-a-Sketch yet…was t sure what to put on the screen. 😊It’s like a double drawing and intimidated me. lol

      • Nancy 2 years ago

        Yes, I can see where that would be tricky. 😕

  5. Teresa Robeson 2 years ago

    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. 😀

    • Author

      Haha! Yeah…I figured everyone needed a palette cleanser after the last few. There were some weird things back then! Glad you liked this one, Teresa! ❤️😃

  6. Sharon Mann 2 years ago

    Superb barrel of monkeys, this game I remember. We used to also play pickup sticks, that was one of my favorites. Cool painting Charlie!

  7. Jodi 2 years ago

    You drawing and YOU Charlie O are more fun than a barrel of monkeys!! 🐒

  8. Jill Kuhn 2 years ago

    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! 😜❤️🎨

    • Author

      Awww thanks Jill!! 💕😃Glad you liked it…it was more challenging than I expected. Hehe…the doodlewash and the game actually. But isn’t it fun to go back in time?!! 😉

      • Jill Kuhn 2 years ago

        Yes! Brings back wonderful memories! 😉

  9. debiriley 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      Thanks Debi!! 😃💕 And yes!! I agree…some of those older toys would seem pretty weak compare to smartphones. But I’m still amazed at how many are still being sold today, so there’s something to be said for simple I guess! 😉

  10. kathiwerner 2 years ago

    Oh, I remember playing this monkey game as a kid! Nice drawing!

  11. memadtwo 2 years ago

    …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)

    • Author

      Haha! Too funny, Kerfe! I wondered the exact same thing. I figure an actual barrel of monkeys would be terrifying since they’re be pretty pissed that someone jammed them in a barrel! Lol But the swing songs fun!! What a cool thing to do! 👍🏻😃

      • memadtwo 2 years ago

        Terrifying. Exactly.

  12. Susan Feniak 2 years ago

    🙂 Thanks for monkeying around!!

  13. collegebloggerblog 2 years ago

    Made me miss playing with those monkeys back in the day! do you know if they still make them?

    • Author

      They do!! I almost wanted to grab a barrel but stopped myself. 😊hehe… I’m surprised just how many of these toys are still made. They must have been good!

  14. Jacob 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      Thanks Jacob!! 😃I can confirm I the short time I’ve known you that you would be totally hooked!! Lol 😉 They are stupidly fun and rather addictive once you start! Lol

      • Jacob 2 years ago

        Yes, you know me too well… I’ve disclosed too much on here clearly! 😉

      • Author

        Never too much!! Haha! 😉👍🏻

      • Jacob 2 years ago

        Haha! One day I might let a skeleton out of the closet. Although I’m quite sure there are none in there… 😉

      • Author

        Keep digging then!! 😉lol

  15. Cathe 2 years ago

    I have to admit, I had no idea what the purpose of the barrel of monkeys was until you explained it here. I love your painting and your wonderful memories Charlie!

    • Author

      Lol…I still don’t know about the barrel of real monkeys, but the game was fun at least! Glad you liked this Cathe!! 💕😃

  16. stacilys 2 years ago

    This is great. I remember these barrel of monkey toys.
    🙂

    • Author

      Awesome! Weren’t they fun? Hehe…glad you liked this my friend! 😃

      • stacilys 2 years ago

        Haha. Yes. My mom has some for the grandkids even. They just don’t seem to go out of style.
        🙂

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