By Emma Simonoff

Hungry Hungry Hippos is a classic American board game. Although I don’t remember playing it myself, I remember the Tanners playing it on “Full House,” so it was a big part of my childhood.

Hungry Hungry Hippos strongly embodies the American hard-working spirit. The game brings families together to prepare children for the dog-eat-dog world. It’s everybody for themselves: If you want to eat, you’re going to have to fight until everyone else starves. The hippos are a symbol of ambition and grit. Not only are they hungry, but they’re hungry hungry. One question has been haunting me recently: what are the hippos hungry hungry for?

In the game, the hippos eat little red or white balls, which the rules refer to as “marbles.” I take issue with the balls’ identity as marbles, but that’s another conversation.

While the physical pieces in the game are “marbles,” the game creators surely don’t think that we, the players, are stupid enough to believe the Hungry Hungry Hippos are really eating plastic marbles. The marbles represent something, something the hippos truly crave, but what is it?

Non-plastic, live hippos tend to eat mostly grass and occasionally fruit. If we assume the marbles represent a specific type of food and at least resemble the general properties of the food they represent, we can rule out grass. Some fruit, however, is round and can even roll around like marbles — fruit is a definite possibility.

Hippos are sometimes cannibals in the wild — scientists have observed them eating dead hippos before. Therefore, we have to accept the possibility that the marbles could represent hippo meat. While it would be an intriguingly dark twist if the food in the children’s game Hungry Hungry Hippos is the flesh of other hippos, it’s probably safe to say that’s not the case … probably.

So I guess the hippos must be eating fruit. But why does the fruit cascade down on the hippos in such a way? Maybe it’s falling from a shaken tree. Maybe the hippos are a family and the mom comes home after a long day at work, dumps the fruit out on the floor and says “have at it.” 

Maybe the hippos are in captivity and a human pours the fruit in front of them to fight over in some sort of cruel game. It makes you think. What if a group of hippos somewhere in the wild are playing a game where they make little plastic humans fight over a Costco rotisserie chicken? How would you feel about that?