Why We Like ‘cat pile’

by Patricia Taylor

First of all, none of us had ever heard of “cat pile.”  Then, our son Ian went out to Seattle to visit U-Dub (University of Washington) to check out the Sociology PhD program (where he is going next Fall) and the guy he stayed with had it.  So, they played.

“Cat pile” is a stacking game where you try to balance little cat shaped blocks on top of each other.

They had fun.

Ian came home and ordered a set for himself and another for his friend Angelina who really likes cats.

Each “cat pile” costs $20 and when it arrives no one can believe how small the brown paper envelope is that holds just six cats (3” x 6 ½”) – and then, that each cat silhouette measures only 1 ½” wide by 1 ½” tall and less than ¼” thick.  Amazon customers write comments like:  “They are way smaller than it appears in the advertising but they are still really cool.”

One set of cat pile cats. The pen is for scale.

“Cat pile” is made by a Taiwanese company called Comma.  There are six different sets of cats in all different positions – stretching, walking, pawing, rolling, sleeping and jumping – so a total of 36 different shapes.  You can tell which set you have by the color of the string on the brown paper envelope.  Ian chose pink.

Playing with “cat pile” is a mild sort of fun, but it feels challenging and quite satisfying when you eventually get all six cats to balance in a funny or silly way.  It’s like making your own little sculpture.  Which you’re proud of and which you inevitably like so much that you have to take a picture (because that’s what people do these days in our world, we take pictures of the things we like).  And maybe, if you’re one of my sons, or anyone in the twenty to thirty-something age-range, you’ll send the picture out to other people who know or understand why you like “cat pile” so much; and others will appreciate your creation too.

An impressively vertical cat pile.

Last weekend, Ian wanted to show “cat pile” to our friends on the Cape – because their birthdays were coming up and it is the perfect birthday present!  He asked his brother James to bring the set he’d given him for his birthday, down from Somerville, and there we all were — sitting around a coffee table taking turns and encouraging each other.

Suddenly Allen, my husband, remembered a silly song his father had taught him and, of course, Allen started singing it – “Cats on the rooftops, Cats on the tiles, Cats with syphilis, Cats with piles, Cats with their assholes wreathed in smiles, As……they revel in the joys of copulation.” Yes, it’s a crude song, but it matched the game very well and pretty soon we were all singing along, as each person tried to make their own variation of a pile of balancing cats.  And we swelled with pride over our “cat pile” towers and Allen’s hilarious song.

Allen and one of his piles.

So, why do we all like “cat pile” so much?

We like “cat pile” because we are people who like handcrafted teak or maple cat shapes which have been precision carved so they can balance really well if you pile them just right.

Because, honestly, you feel artistically challenged (in a good way) when you’re playing with “cat pile.” It wakes up a creative, delighted part of your brain when you turn the cat shapes this way and that.  And because nobody is bad at “cat pile.”  What you make always looks both funny and beautiful.   And, because “cat pile” is so, so far removed from the idea of the melting Antarctic ice shelf or that troublesome project on your to-do list – and, thankfully, it has nothing, NOTHING to do with Washington, D.C.

And because watching a new favorite “cat pile” sculpture crash to the ground teaches a person a little something about the impermanence of life.  Really.  You make something wonderful.  It gets unbalanced and then it all falls down.  That’s life in a parlor game.  And then it’s someone else’s turn.


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