Once upon a time, I went on a two-hour drive through rural Iowa with some classmates, and the girl who was driving taught us all how to play Cows and Graveyards.
Here’s how you play:
- Divide the car into two teams: left side and right side. Note: It should be decided before the game begins which team gets the person sitting in the middle of the back seat. It is recommended that they be on the “left side” team, as the “left side” team includes the driver, who cannot really commit to playing since they are, you know, in charge of driving.
- Each team watches their side of the car.
- When you pass cows, count them. You must count them out loud, and you must stop counting when you can no longer see the cows. Cow totals are cumulative. For example, if you pass a herd of 15 cows and later pass a herd of 10 cows, you have a total of 25 cows.
- When you pass a graveyard, all your cows “die” and you have to start over.
- The winning team is the team with the most cows when you reach your destination.
It was a lot of fun! So naturally I taught my children how to play.
Good times, right? Wrong.
See, the problem I run into while driving through the Chicago suburbs is that there are no cows. There are plenty of graveyards, but no cows. So to make sure we had a playable game while driving to my parents’ house in Iowa, I made some … minor modifications.
If you can see it, you can count it. All animals count – cows, horses, dogs, squirrels, birds, and even musk oxen. However, the unit of measurement is still the cow. So, for example, if you count five horses, two dogs, and three birds, you have ten “cows.”
Different things you see while driving will either add to or subtract from your total cow count.
Fast food: Some of your cows are hungry and stop to eat. -15 cows.
Gas station: Your cows are more energized. +10 cows.
Hotel: Your cows feel better after a good night’s sleep. +10 cows.
Starbucks: Your cows are more energized. And Mommy is in a better mood. +2 cows.
Wal-Mart: Save money. Live better. +3 cows.
As a practical expedient while travelling on the highway, players may elect to use logos on blue highway signs (i.e. “Lodging next exit” or “Food next exit” signs) instead of looking for businesses from the road.
Secular medical center: +50% bonus cows. Because science is awesome.
Religious medical center: +100% bonus cows. Because science + God is even better.
Catholic medical center: +110% bonus cows. THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU … to have more cows.
Catholic church: +6 cows.
Any other church: +5 cows.
Note: Initially, passing a Protestant church required subtracting 2 cows for embarrassingly bad theology, but my 10-year-old protested, “Mommy, you’re not being very nice to people who believe differently than you.” Point taken.
Water tower: Some of your cows drown. -10 cows.
Community college or university annex: Yay for smart cows! +30% bonus cows.
Trains: +1 cow for every train car with graffiti.
Optional and proposed rules:
When passing a graveyard, instead of all of your cows dying, a number of cows equal to the number of gravestones in the graveyard die. Useful for those small country graveyards with maybe 20 stones.
“Mommy, what about auto parts stores?” asked my 12-year-old. I don’t know – it seems like we should do something with auto parts stores, but I’m not sure what.
When crossing the Mississippi River, all your cows fall into the river and drown.
Okay, fine: when crossing state lines, your cows are confused by the new surroundings and get lost. Lose 20% of your cows.
“Mommy, shouldn’t we get +10 cows for passing a barn because the cows are rested?” You currently have almost 200 cows – clearly you are doing fine. Why are you lobbying for more? “I don’t know. Just ‘cuz.”
The following rule is optional, but if adopted, it must be wholly adopted. Partial adoption is disallowed.
When approaching a barn, barn-like structure, or a cluster of barns or barn-like structures, if cows are visible from the road, players may elect to either: 1) count all the cows they can see (consistent with the rest of the rules); or 2) use the 10-cows-per-structure practical expedient. Before passing each newly-sighted barn, barn-like structure, or cluster of barns or barn-like structures, one option or the other must be verbally elected.
For each green highway sign (mile-markers and exit signs don’t count), one of your cows stops to read the sign. Lose that cow.
(And this is how you know your mother is a CPA.)
(P.S. The above proposed rule was NOT adopted in my car. I can’t imagine why.)
Obviously, you can do whatever you want with this. If you’re an atheist parent, for example, you may want to flip around the bonuses for the medical centers, or subtract 5 cows for ANY type of church you pass. Whatever makes it fun!