Skip to main content

43-Man Squamish: An Innovation in Athletics

For some people, one of the most tantalizing challenges is being told, explicitly or implicitly, that you can’t do something.  In 1965, MAD magazine writer Tom Koch laid down one such challenge.  He wrote an article laying out the rules of a sport he invented called 43-man squamish.  The article was illustrated by artist George Woodbridge, and judging by the mail MAD received from its readers, it was a huge hit.  Of course, Koch didn’t really intend the article to be a challenge.  His idea was to invent a sport that was complex, convoluted, absurd, and ultimately unplayable.  It featured the kind of text readers of MAD, not athletes, would expect.  It’s an uncommon sport that has instructions like, “The offensive team, upon receiving the Pritz, receives five Snivels in which to advance to the enemy goal.  If they do it on the ground, it’s a Woomik and counts as 17 points.  If they hit it across with their Frullips it’s a Dermish which only counts points.  Only the offensive Niblings and Overblats are allowed to score in the first six Ogres.”  Obviously they’re not trying to make this easy.

So: challenge accepted.  While Koch never explicitly challenged readers to attempt the sport,  the challenge was implicit.  Much to Koch’s surprise, loyal readers of the magazine started to form 43-man squamish teams, particularly at universities.  No university actually funded a 43-Man Squamish team, but the athletic council at Marquette University saw fit to write to MAD to let them know that three of their 43-Man Squamish players had been suspended for “sportsmanlike conduct”.

squamish team 2_ smaller.jpg
The 43 players of a 43-Man Squamish team, in no particular order: Left & Right Inside Grouches, Left & Right Outside Grouches, four Deep Brooders, four Shallow Brooders, five Wicket Men, three Offensive Niblings, four Quarter-Frummerts, two Half-Frummerts, one Full-Frummert, two Overblats, two Underblats, nine Back-Up Finks, two Leapers and a Dummy.  Ready to play?

The offices of MAD magazine were flooded with mail about the new sport, and in a later issue, they published “team photos” from 43-Man Squamish teams from around the world, submitted by inspired readers. The sport was no short-lived fad, either. There are still 43-Man Squamish teams active today. In 1968, one was formed at Rutgers University, but was soon relocated to the Florida Institute of Technology. The team evolved to something more like a social club, which now goes by the name “Squamish”, and accepts both male and female students. Squamish is more of a parody of the rituals of fraternities and sororities, and is now an established part of the fabric of FIT life. The joke was recycled in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in the 1980s and 90s, where his title characters would play an incomprehensible sport called Calvinball, where the rules changed frequently during gameplay, usually for the convenience of the player making the change.

Image result for 43-man squamish team photo
A scene from a game of Calvinball, circa 1990.
Watterson’s Calvinball was a fresh take on unplayable sports. A not-so-fresh take came from Cracked magazine in 1973, a full eight years after MAD introduced 43-Man Squamish. Cracked brought us 65-Man Klonkball, another unplayable sport, in a piece that is hard to see as anything but derivative of the earlier MAD article.

Cracked magazine’s 65-Man Klonkball, 1973.  What, me derivative?

MAD magazine, which tended to see itself as the last word in parody humor magazines, did not react to the Cracked piece.  They might well have been annoyed, but due to an editorial policy of never acknowledging the existence of humor magazines they viewed as “copies”, 65-Man Klonkball was published without comment.  (MAD did one article taking a poke at “copies” of MAD back in 1954, but after that, not a word. Cracked still exists today, both in print and in a successful online media presence.  While Cracked has from time to time taken a poke or two at MAD, MAD never saw fit to feed the rivalry.)

In 2015, Tom Koch died.  Koch had been a contributor to MAD over a span of nearly forty years, and he was also a successful television writer.  As successful as his career was, the opening three paragraphs of his New York Times obituary spoke mostly about 43-Man Squamish.  It’s doubtful that when he wrote the article Koch ever thought his “sport” would be remembered fifty years after he created it, much less that the totally unplayable sport would form the introduction to his obituary.

A pro athlete who is just part of Tom Koch’s legacy.


Popular posts from this blog

Alcock and Brown: The First Transatlantic Flight

Since his celebrated landing in Paris 90 years ago, we often hear of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  He flew solo, taking off from Roosevelt Field in Brooklyn and landing in Le Bourget field in Paris after a flight of 33½ hours in his cramped, lightweight plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis.  Lindbergh was one of several individuals or teams who were competing for the Orteig Prize: a $25,000 purse offered to the first to fly from New York to Paris, offered by wealthy New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.  Lindbergh took off and landed perfectly, and managed to navigate the whole way without getting lost.  This was quite a feat in the days before computers to aid navigation, or the elaborate system of air traffic control that would come into being, once commercial airlines started to develop.  What Lindbergh did immediately made him an international hero and a household name for years after, with streets and buildings and yes, airports, named after him.  To this day, Charles …

The Halley's Comet Panic of 1910

If you were around in 1986, you might remember the excitement surrounding the return of Halley’s Comet.  Halley’s Comet hadn’t been seen since 1910, and 76 years later, it was getting ready to make another pass by Earth.  Many who were excited probably wound up feeling a little disappointed. I’ll admit I was. I was sixteen, and was eager to see a bright ball in the sky with a burning tail lighting up the night.  All we got to see was a small, faint, comet-shaped light in the sky. It turned out that in 1986, the comet passed when the Earth was on the other side of the sun, so there wasn’t much to look at. We knew it was coming, though.  We’ve known this since 1705, when Edmond Halley predicted the comet would return on Christmas night, 1758.  Halley died in 1742, so he never got to see that he was correct—but he was correct. Halley’s calculations show that the comet will pass by Earth every 74 to 79 years, and these passes are predictable. When Halley’s Comet isn’t near Earth, …