Buck buck (also known as ‘Johnny-on-the-Pony’) is a children’s game with several variants. A very physical version of the game involves one group of players that huddles together. An opposing team of players climbs on their backs and attempts to make the pile collapse.
A less violent version has a player climbing on an opponent’s back and guessing the number of certain objects that are out of sight. As early as the 16th century, children in Europe and the Near East played Buck, Buck, which had been called ‘Bucca Bucca quot sunt hic?’ Pieter Bruegel’s painting “Children’s Games” (1560) depicts children playing a variant of the game.
In the UK, the game is sometimes called ‘High Cockalorum,’ but has a large number of different names in various local dialects. These include: ‘Polly on the Mopstick’ in Birmingham, ‘Strong Horses, Weak Donkeys’ in Monmouthshire, ‘Hunch, Cuddy, Hunch’ in west Scotland, ‘Mont-a-Kitty’ in Middlesbrough, ‘Husky Fusky Finger or Thumb’ in Nottinghamshire, ‘High Jimmy Knacker’ in east London, ‘Jump the Knacker 1-2-3’ in Watford, ‘Wall-e-Acker’ or ‘Warny Echo’ in north west London, ‘Stagger Loney’ in Cardiff and ‘Trust’ in Lancashire. The game is sometimes played in the sergeants’ or officers’ messes of the British Armed Forces.
A similar game called ‘malttukbakgi’ is played in South Korea Korean girls and boys play it until high school. In malttukbakgi, there are two teams. Team A has one person stand up against the wall and the rest of the team have all their heads up in someone else’s butt/crotch area to form what looks like a big horse. Team B then jumps up onto the human horse one by one, each jumping with as much force as possible. If anyone from any team falls to the floor, that team loses. If everyone stays up, then the person against the wall and the person in front will play a game of ‘gawibawibo’ (rock, scissor, paper) to determine the winner.
In the Turkish game ‘Uzun Essek’ (‘Long Donkey’), the person standing up is called the ‘Pillow,’ or the ‘referee.’ One team bends over, then one by one, the other team jumps on the ‘Donkey.’ If the Donkey can stand the pressure, the first person to go in the jumping team puts up one or two with his fingers. If the donkey can guess the number right, they get to jump. If the jumpers fall to the ground, donkeys turn to jump. If the donkey falls, jumpers jump again.
Bill Cosby’s 1967 album ‘Revenge’ includes a track ‘Buck, Buck’ in which he describes playing the game as a child. He mentions that in his hometown of Philadelphia it was called ‘Buck Buck,’ while in New York City it was known as ‘Johnny on the Pony.’ This track introduces the character of ‘Fat Albert,’ ‘the baddest Buck Buck breaker in the world,’ who ‘weighed 2,000 pounds’ and could cause earthquakes when he ran down the street. The character would later become the basis for the cartoon series ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’ which includes a buck buck episode.