Punch Pattern
a.k.a. The Scarf Game
a.k.a. ScarfBarf TM      (a painful scarf game by Gina Mai Denn)

A picture of a big ugly scarf, stolen from a department store. (Well, OK, stolen from their web page.)I "invented" this game while visiting Japan in February of 1995, but it evolved from events earlier than that. My boss had this scarf. It was a kind of plaid; tan with black and white and red stripes. It was ugly. It was so ugly, to me anyway, that one day I said to him, "What is with that ugly scarf? I know you have others that aren't as bad (the plaid one that was more or less blue, for instance)." He was amused, I believe, and I did see less of that scarf after that (THANK YOU).

Then, John and I went to Japan. As we walked around, I began to notice this same ugly scarf was very popular there. How could so many people actually like this abomination? (I tend to think that they must have been more guided by the pressures of fashion rather than their own personal taste, which is a sad thing.) It offended my senses so, that to relieve the tension I began to punch John in the arm (playfully, I would never want to hurt my loved one) every time I saw one. Then it became a game, like punchbuggy. I began to watch for it carefully, but it wasn't hard to spot. It seemed that every 20th citizen of Japan owned one of these hideous things, or some other item of clothing bearing the same pattern. It was easy for me to get the upper hand in this game, I could really pick them out, and John has more trouble noticing things like that. The worst thing I saw someone wearing was a full-length skirt. The awfulness culminated when we found an entire display case in a department store window filled with hats, coats, luggage, umbrellas, and the like, all bearing this apparently popular puke. It was nauseating.

We still get to play occasionally. Apparently the pattern is also popular in Europe, and it's turning up more and more here. The game quickly turned what was once an eyesore into something fun, so now I rejoice in seeing it instead of recoiling, but I'm still incredulous that it actually exists. Once, John told this man who was wearing a coat with the lining of the correct pattern, "I just got punched because of you!" We then explained the game doing our best not to offend him. For well over a year John rode the metro to work every day and had no one to punch when he saw the pattern, which was apparently almost daily.

We went to see the movie "The Man Who Knew Too Little". Cute movie, but our favorite part was a scene in which someone who is acting crazy gets into an elevator that already contains a Japanese couple. As the crazy person rants, the couple looks on in fright. And the audience looks on the couple in fright, for from the neck up they are completely decked out in the pattern. Hats and scarves, with the woman's scarf especially frightful in the way it blends the ugly plaid with an ugly paisley pattern of the same colors. John and I feel we must not be alone.

The other day, in the background of a picture in a magazine, I saw the end of a couch with the pattern. A whole couch. In America. I punched the unsuspecting friend next to me, and then explained myself.

A while back, John had to go back to Japan for work. He had a great time playing the game some more with his brother Eric (who lives there), because this time John was the better player. John was punching Eric pretty hard, trying to make up for all the times that I got him, perhaps, but when Eric saw one first, he would hit John only ever so slightly and point innocently to the offending article (as only a most polite Japanese person would do). One day in a mall they came upon a whole colossal pile of them. John chased Eric wildly through the store.

I was a bit afraid that this might happen, when John said he got me a present while in Japan. He brought back a tote bag for me. I feel a little funny being seen with it, I wouldn't want anyone to think that I like the thing. But it's a good tote bag, strong and roomy. I use it for grocery shopping.

This game is deadly when played in Paris.  Ginohn lasted only three days before bruises and nausea overcame us.  The pattern is so prevalent that it is impossible to actually see anything else, which really bites if you're trying to be a tourist and, say, admire the Eiffel Tower.  Seriously, we were seeing an average of one pattern every five minutes.  We eventually agreed to a truce, and stopped mentioning the horror.  A mutant strain of the pattern was observed on the subway -- the usual baby-poop yellow background was replaced with puke-green.  Please, please, if you want to enjoy your stay in Paris, do not even think of playing this game.  It will cause very bad dreams, due to the imprint of the pattern on your retina.

Here are some informative comments from Kerin Schiesser:


It's a funny game. It's a perpective on life. It's a time-honored question:
Why does the herd move in one direction against the influence of logic and

If you are wondering where this somewhat pukey patterned scarf comes from,
and why it is so widespread, I have (at least a  partial) answer for you.

The scarf you are noticing is an official tartan. You can find it registered
on the official register of tartans site as a "Burberry  Check." This is its

Burberry Check Corporate Tartan

Certified as having no confusion with any other tartan on the Register in
1985 and noted on in 1995.  Designed in the 1920 for Burberry Limited which
has acquired an undeniable association with the  company. This 'Tan' form is
standard although it is produced in a number of colours.

(I'm guessing the boss's blue version was simply one of the alternate colors
of the garment).

The site, incidentally, is an interesting one, where you can see swatches
from tartans of all types and descriptions.

We tend to think of tartans as that "traditional" red and green plaid, but
in fact, that is just one of the many tartans that have been  developed
through time. Tartans are a complex "language" somewhat like the old
Victorian language of flowers. In a tartan, the number of  colors you were
entitled to depended on your "rank." In addition, there were variations
based on season (fall, or "hunting" colors, as kind of scottish camo),
occasion (such as fancy dress or mourning), etc.

Originally, the Scottish Tartan was a distinction of rank or position. It
was not identified by weave but by the number of colors in  the weave. If
only one color was used it depicted a servant, two, a farmer rank, three, an
officer rank, five, a chieftain, six for a poet,  and seven for a Chief.
Eventually, clans or families adopted their own tartan, using a range of
animal and earth colors, which were  frequently secret, only known to the
weavers of the islands. They included yellows, blues, whites, greens,
browns, reds, black and  purple.

The pattern you have been seeing everywhere is Burberry Check.

The short answer to your question as to "how something so ugly could be so
widespread" is that it is the house plaid of a popular fashion house.  If
they ever finish it, their site will be here: http://www.burberry.com/
(go to the vestigial site link given above to see a woman attempting to look
sexy in nothing but a burberry trench coat with that plaid lining, and even
shoes in that plaid pattern).

Burberry Check is a "corporate" tartan, which means it belongs to the
Burberry company. You've probably even heard of a "burberry" which  is a
kind of coat. As a leading manufacturer of high quality clothing, I guess
possessing something with the traditional,  characteristic tartan is a kind
of subtle class thing; classier than wearing something with a "logo" on it,
but still recognizable to  people "in the know."

Example ad: http://www.cityspin.com/boston/shopping/edits/burb_ed.htm

>From a fashion site:
"The British company's famous house check is said to have been introduced as
a lining for rainwear in 1924. Burberry's trademark trenchcoat was the
height of fashion in the 1940s and 1950s, and was worn by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid
Bergman in Casablanca and Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. It later fell
out of favour. However, it has staged a spectacular comeback over the past
twelve months, and is now one of London's hottest labels, worn by celebrities such
as Kate Moss and Jarvis Cocker."

Apparently, many Europeans and Asians find the pattern attractive (less
"garish" than the traditional reddish green tartans) and  there are even
legal battles over it:
http://www.widemedia.com/fashionuk/news/2000/10/20/news0000992.html (As a
new  "sighting" even if only photograhically, you may now punch somebody :)
Who would have imagined a Burberry Check  SWIMSUIT? Ick.

But anyway, there you are.  The whys and wherefores of the inexplicable
persistence of the putrid, the heft of the ineffable, and the unscrewing of
the inscrutable.

Kerin Schiesser

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last updated 12/31/2