Ask your average kid to name a famous 13th century Venetian explorer and you are likely to be met with a blank stare. Instead, ask the same kid what their favorite swimming pool game is. More often than not, the answer will be Marco Polo. For generations, whenever a group of children (of all ages) gather for a swim, they inevitably end up playing this addictive little aquatic game of tag.
Actually, Marco Polo is a variation on another popular game, Blind Man’s Bluff, only played in the water. One player, designated “it,” closes their eyes and repeatedly calls out “Marco”. The other players (hopefully) respond with “Polo”, letting “it” hone in on their whereabouts. If “it” successfully tags one of these nautical ninjas, they become “it.” Sounds simple, right? Well, there is one other factor to consider: those sadistic souls who silently leave the pool without the poor blind person’s knowledge.
You know the type. You’ve called “Marco” repeatedly, but one response is suspiciously absent. A trained ear might detect faint giggling. Meanwhile, you are flailing miserably, grasping at nothing but air as you try to hunt your prey. Thankfully, a few variations to the rules have been introduced over the years to combat such trickery. The phrase “Fish out of Water” can be yelled when “it” suspects someone is out of the pool. If he is correct, they become “it”. Or, another variation allows a player to get out of the pool as long as a part of their body is touching the water. If “it” happens to yell “Mermaid on the Rocks,” the mermaid is now “it.”
As to why the game is called Marco Polo? Well, legend has it that the famed explorer didn’t really have a clue as to where he was going, much like our friend, “It.” That might be a bit unfair to the old guy, however, who certainly could have never imagined that his name would be chanted by children centuries after his death, playing a beloved summer game that never seems to lose popularity.
If you spent the summers playing Marco Polo, or made up some of your own unique variations, we’d love to hear your recollections in our comments section, as we remember this special activity from childhood, here at Retroland.