As Dr. Haddon has pointed out, the familiar game of cat's-cradle probably had its origin in Asia whence it was introduced into Europe; it has also spread to some extent among the Asiatic islands. It is well known in China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Borneo; and it may be known in Java, Celebes, and Australia. It is apparently unknown in Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and to the Amerinds. In Europe it is recorded from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, France, and England. From France it has spread into Northern Africa, for Dr. W. H. Furness found several little Arab girls in the tapestry school in Algiers who played it exactly as we do; they learned it in a French school. Of course it is probably known in all parts of the world which have felt the influence of European culture.
We have not been able to find any record of the time or manner of its introduction into England, but this must have happened within comparatively recent years as there are no references to it in the older literature. Moreover, no satisfactory explanation of the name "cat's-cradle" has ever been given; its other name, "cratch-cradle," may refer to the two important stages of the game: the "manger" (a cratch) and the "cradle."
In Southern China cat's cradle is known as Kang sok = Well rope; in Swatow the name means "Sawing wood." In Korea it is called Ssi-teu-ki = Woof-taking; and in Japan, Aya ito tori = Woof pattern String-taking. In Germany it has various names: Abheben = Taking-off, Faden-abheben = Taking-off strings, Fadenspiel = String game, Hexenspiel = Witch's game, and Auf- und Abnehmen = Picking-up and taking-off. In Holland it is known as Afpakken : Dradenspel = Taking-off : String game; in France and Algeria as la scie.
Two persons and one loop of string are required for the game of "Real Cat's-Cradle," which is played by the persons alternately taking the string off each other's hands to produce eight definite figures which have been given distinctive names, as follows: 1, Cradle; 2, Soldier's Bed; 3, Candles; 4, Manger; 5, Diamonds; 6, Cat's Eye; 7, Fish in a Dish; 8, Clock. For convenience in describing the game the players will be called "A" and "B." The terms "near," "far," "right," and "left" describe the position of the strings as seen by the person from whose hands the figure is being taken.
The "Real Cat's-cradle" is capable of some variation: The Philippine Linao Moros at the St. Louis Exposition always passed from the (6) "Cat's Eye" back to the (4) "Manger" without any intervening steps, as follows: The "Cat's Eye" is on "A's" hands. "B" picks up in the bend of his right little finger the string which passes between "A's" left thumb and index, and lifts that string off "A's" left index only; in like manner he picks up in the bend of his left little finger the string which passes between "A's" right thumb and index, and lifts that string off "A's" right thumb only; then, still holding each string in the bend of the little finger, "B" puts his right thumb and index (held close together) down into the figure, near "A's" left hand, and then up into the central lozenge, and thus picks up from below on these fingers the crossed strings of that side; in the same way "B" puts his left thumb and index down near "A's" right hand and then up into the central lozenge, and thus picks up from below on these fingers the crossed strings of that side. The figure is now taken off "A's" hands and extended as the "Manger." This may be the way that the Koreans, according to Dr. Weir, pass from the (6) "Cat's Eye" to the (3) "Candles." Apparently the Japanese and Koreans pass from the (3) "Candles" to the (6) "Cat’s Eye" (see Culin, 2, p. 30), but I do not know how it can be done without an intervening figure. It is possible to jump from the (1) "Cradle" to the (3) "Candles" by picking up the crossed strings as if for the "Soldier's Bed," but putting the fingers down into the figure, and separating the hands; then the "Candles" are held of course with the fingers pointing downward. We can pass directly from the (2) "Soldier's Bed" to the (6) "Cat's Eye" by picking up the crossed strings from below, bringing them around the side strings and down into the centre of the figure, and then separating the hands.