When was this game invented? I'd like to make the claim that unless anyone has evidence otherwise, Tanya Bocking invented it at Broadstone Warren, the UK Scout Association campsite in Sussex in July 1977.
I was working as a leader at a camp run by a play scheme for children living in Latimer Road and Trellick Tower during the summer holiday. The camp leader was a Canadian named Chris (a beefy former bouncer at the El Mocambo club in Toronto, including for the Rolling Stones' gigs) and his sidekick was his friend Andre. I forget their last names but they had been travelling in Europe and found this easy gig taking inner-city kids, some troubled, some wonderful, out into the wilds of Sussex for a week under canvas. They then recruited a bunch of 16-20 year olds, including me, a couple of hippies, an AWOL soldier and a Hell's Angel (whose dad was a bishop!) as camp counsellors. Of course we bonded and we formed a gang modeled on the Merry Pranksters we called the The Praisers and got up to all sorts of hi-jinks. Oh yes, we were on the bus. One night we snuck into the grounds of Saint Hill Manor nearby just to see what all that weirdness was all about but that's another story.
Towards the end of the camp we had got loads of milk crates piled around the site. We'd buy a crate of milk in cartons everyday but nobody could be arsed to take the crates back. We had made tables and chairs and swings out of them but hadn't thought of a stacking game. I didn't see any scouts there playing this game then. Then Tanya came to visit the camp and one evening she challenged all the kids to see how high they could climb on a SINGLE stack of milk crates. A video of what can happen is here.
The kids from the other groups camping near us watched in awe and soon joined in and then we had regular competitions. The record by the end of the camp was 22 single crates. Those scouts watching us and joining in could have spread this idea around pretty quickly.
Now outdoor centres everywhere play this game. Some make wussy towers three across and use safety ropes. When our towers toppled, you fell into mud and risked spraining an ankle landing on a crate. If you'd like to play an online variation of this game, try it here.
I know a video crew came to the camp with a bigwig from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to see what we did with their money. We showed them the crate game and a contraption I had built where a old hand cart we had 'borrowed' ran down a slope on wooden rails to be arrested by some innertube elastic, whereupon it catapulted the riders into a muddy bog.
It was our ultimate sanction. Anybody not pulling their weight or giving staff some lip was threatened with ride in the 'Iron Maiden'. For the sake of the video, a couple of kids were 'encouraged' to ride it and when they landed quite spectacularly; they picked up handfuls of mud and threw them at their laughing cohorts. A mud-fight between the leaders and campers ensued.
We didn't half cop it the following week when the video was shown to the council in their chamber. If this video hasn't been buried since because of the embarrassment to our funders, then it would be evidence.
UK milk crates are a bit easier to stack as they have bigger teeth that latch together. US milk crates are much lighter and will tip easily.
Chris, Andre, Smokey The Preacher, Squaddie, Mandy, Debs, Stretch, Akapod, 'Travolta' John, where are they now?
I gave an interview to Adam Molner who has written a story on crate stacking for Climbing magazine in the USA. Well, that shows somebody's reading this blog. His article is now in the September 2009 issue.
My thesis is I don't claim Tanya Bocking was the first person to play the game but we have no evidence yet she wasn't. Also, as it happened at a Scout camp, it could explain its rapid propagation. I don't know how it got to the USA but it's probably case of parallel invention. If you have any evidence of the crate stacking game being played before 1977, please get in touch.