Including "The Circle Hand Game"


Part One - Setting the mood

Part Two - The Circle-Hand Game

Part Three - Believe it or not

Part Four - Investigation

Part Five - Responses




Describing "how submariners behave at sea" is very complicated. It requires excellent narrative skills - to create the time and place fully. Certainly you can appreciate how all value is lost through a casual presentation. Instead, the true portrayal needs many pieces to be understood. Long weeks of separation, near hopelessness, and loneliness. You must feel all of these before I can begin to describe how "time at sea" causes men to react.


 The simple version is this - it is a submarine underway. Begin with a 300 foot steel tube, enclosed, underwater, with 120 guys on board. Some asleep, some awake on watch in various spaces throughout the ship. At this point, the easy description ends.

 Picture yourself in the scene, on watch, with 3 other people, in an equipment space. You slept briefly before this watch, and were awake 10 hours before that. You left Homeport 1 week ago, and have 2 more weeks remaining before you return home. There is no mail, no news, no television, no phone. Your life consists of only watchstanding, bitching about the food and equipment maintenance, showers and sleep. Your rotating sleep is interrupted regularly to include ship's casualty drills, 3 hour cleanup periods, and training. Your supervisor doesn't stand a watch. He isn't quite as exhausted as you, but knows you are tired, and can't ease your burden one bit.

 Your pockets are empty, except for 4 Jolly Rancher candies. You don't carry a wallet, or car keys, or money. You are tired, slumped against an electrical panel box. You are glad your buddies are around. Helps pass time on watch. A guy here is describing his nephew, newborn, and already in day care. Spontaneously, a group discussion starts over the effect of day care on early child development. It may shift to discuss the effect on day care as a result of single parenting, as a result of divorce. Each guy, in turn, tells his version of childhood influences, good and bad, growing up with one or 2 parents. There's plenty of time, no need to interrupt. We still have 4 hours on watch. The equipment cooling fans, steam pipes and rotating equipment hum in the background. There's coffee, but no chairs. Sit on the floor, against the equipment. The floor is hard, so you shift around a lot, but it's not bad.

 The watch and the day seem unending. The week ahead an eternity. It's not because the hours don't pass. They do, finally. But no sunlight to see day or night, no Tuesday or Wednesday (not really) when you're awake 4 hours at a time, the 6, then down for 5, then up again. Is it day? That part doesn't matter much. Time passes in a relative weirdness.

 Your 3 buddies here seem to be the only people for miles. The world they think about, talk about, and draw strength from is far away. Each underway period feels like a prison sentence you serve - An overwhelming, total disconnection from your home and family life, restricted to the enclosed world of the small ship. Then you are released - when we return and you are suddenly back in public and eating at Taco Bell again. Then the term is served again during the subsequent deployment.

 Anyway, you're here, in this room, and not going anywhere else.

 Don't call it boredom. You're not bored. The day is boring, your mind is drifting, but the conversation is good. Even when nobody is talking. As a matter of fact, sit near someone for an hour or two without saying anything because you are both engulfed in your own thoughts. But - quiet not because you are depressed - just not talking. Try hard to imagine this! For this is the mysterious part of submarining. I suppose it is the same in any ship or deployed unit, but the eternal weirdness of submarine TIME makes the silent conversation precious. You are actually accompanying each other on a journey not through the sea, but through your thoughts and time. Back at home, it seems easy to strike up a conversation with someone you can barely tolerate, trying only to find common ground to relieve tension. But sit here, next to your buddies for 3 hours in tired silence, and get up from that BETTER friends. Or talk if you want to.

 It is true, these people are your friends and there are no finer on Earth, period, anywhere. Out of desperation to fill hours and soul searching, you ask questions, offer opinions, and sometimes just sit. Sitting apart would be just too lonely. Please tell me you understand this bond. Folks just don't have the slack hours in the everyday, real, civilian world to do all this visiting. And to truly know other men this well! You don't have to always agree with them, but you learn when to back off, when to apologize, how to sarcastically attack when needed. You learn what makes them tick, what scares them, and to gracefully allow somebody space they need to stay "ok". These guys know things about you, and your thoughts, that your spouse never will.

 And your minds wander, and eventually you develop the kind of working and personal "commitments" that shape a unit. As a watchsection and as a department, you share a single objective. To perform honorably on watch in a Naval Nuclear power plant, with integrity and competency. You each have personal responsibility of a complicated and dangerous work area, onboard a high-tech, combatant warship of the most powerful Navy on Earth. Suddenly, a man runs past you. He is naked, except for a sock rolled down over his penis. He stoops quickly through the hatch and disappears into the adjoining workspace.

 It's a fact of submarining that almost nothing is funny anymore after the first day underway. We've repeated the same jokes to each other, all civilian arrests and delinquent behavior has been told and retold. However, what is it about men (boys!) - an eternal silliness about their private parts? Psychologically, I can't explain it. But it's true, it's funny, and you'd better get used to it. Submarine sailors are known throughout the Navy as among the most perverted.

 As a matter of fact, the true test of a submariner's nerves is measured by his calm reaction of disgust in close quarters of another giggling naked man. I know what the common response of civilians is: 


  1. Sounds like a bunch of fags.
  2. That's disgusting. 

Well, it's neither. In fact, ALL SUBMARINERS I KNOW ARE RELIGIOUSLY HOMOPHOBIC. You can't live in "that close quarters" in constant suspicion that the guy next to you ENJOYS the penis antics. No, no, no. That would ruin the joke. See, the joke is, "I am grosser than you are, and will prove it by ___" (fill in the blank). I have seen and heard some pretty bold demonstrations.

Through these type of antics, I could hope to elicit a laugh, and disgust the other watchstanders, which is funny to ME. I hope you follow this logic. To this day, my wife sees nothing funny about these stories. I can't actually describe most of them on this website, because they "start out" rated R, and only get worse. My point is - we spent a lot of time together - both working and trying to embarrass each other. Back in the civilian world, this silliness doesn't translate very effectively.



One submarine past-time can be explained here. It is not vulgar at all, and is also remarkably well known. I have never heard its "name", so I'll just call it "The Circle-Hand Game." Let's start out with the basic principle: It's a game of peripheral vision, trickery and motor skills.

 This game starts out when one person creates a circle "O" with their thumb and forefinger - as shown in the following photo:


 Let's refer to this person as the Offensive Player. His goal is to trick another person (we'll refer to this person as Victim) into looking at his hand. If the victim LOOKS at the hand, then he has lost the game, and is subsequently hit on the bicep with a closed fist, by the Offensive Player. That's the scope of the game. A few supporting rules: 


Rule #



Offensive player's hand must be below his waist.


Victim should attempt to SEE the hand effort without looking down. In other words, (read this very closely) By peripheral vision, the victim realizes there is a circle-hand event occurring. The victim has two possible methods to win the game, explained as follows:



Victim does not look down at the Circle-Hand. Instead, Victim stares Offensive Player in the eye and says, "I'm not going to look at that." (or words to that effect). This version is the most common outcome, and is honorable.


Or, b.

Victim does not look down at the Circle-Hand. Instead, Victim quickly pokes his index finger through the Offensive Player's circle-hand display. If he can poke inside and withdraw from the circle-hand, then he wins, and gets to hit the Offensive player in the bicep. This action requires excellent motor skills (to poke the circle without actually looking directly at it). As a matter of fact, I know only ONE person who can win this way consistently. (Mark Coulson)


If the Victim looks at the circle, he loses (and is hit).


If the Victim accurately says, "I'm not going to look at that", then nobody hits anybody, game is over.


If Victim attempts to poke the circle and misses, he loses (and is hit)

6 .

If Victim attempts to poke the circle and Offensive player closes the circle, trapping Victim's finger, then the Victim loses (and is hit)


 A few more details:

  1. Always playfully "wipe off the hit" after it is delivered. (Quick open hand brush on the bicep.)
  2. There is no need to hit hard.
  3. There is no limit on the type of distraction allowed by Offensive player to draw attention to the circle-hand. A good tactic is saying, "Hey, is this yours?" Or, "You oughta try one of these."
  4. There is no limit on the number of times a day you can try this out. You'll find some people are "easy to get" and some people have good alertness and peripheral vision, "tougher to get."
  5. You'll find that you habitually avoid looking at people below the waist.

----END OF GAME-----



All true facts:

  1. I have met dozens of sub sailors from many eras and different boats. Every one of them knows this game. For example, last December I met a guy at an Electrical Equipment Trade Show and he told me he was from a boat (early 1980's) and I said, "Guess it's been a while since you had one of these." He looked right at it, then he laughed and shook his head.
  2. Same trade show, I taught the game to a pretty girl in the booth across from mine. She got me twice.
  3. I have informally asked a few guys from other subs in Pearl Harbor about this game, and they all play it underway.
  4. Nobody knows the name of the game.
  5. Nobody knows its origin.
  6. I have shown this game to people at my civilian employer. There are about 15 guys that play it regularly. Some don't even speak English.




I want to know how many boats played this game, and how many did not. So I'm starting a poll.


If you are a former sub sailor (TUNNY or otherwise), please answer the following questions

  1. Did you guys play this game?
  2. What boat(s) were you on?
  3. What year (approximately) were you on the boat(s)?
  4. Any comment you want to add / corrections to the rules as I have described them (above?)



I have heard from several boat sailors. Here's a running tally;


Number YES

Number NO

Did you guys play this game?



What boat(s) were you on? (RANGE)

282, 480, 610b, SS303, SS524

What year were you on the boat(s)? (RANGE)

1959 - 1971, 1993, 1948, 1949, 1958

Any comment you want to add / corrections to the rules as I have described them (above?)

"Chinese Eye Magnet" was the name I used to hear before everything was PC.

As for rules there was one not so honorable rule that I remember some folk doing as a sort of "kamikazi" method when one's motor skills were not necessarily up to par. On occasion, accepting full well that you were in above your head, we would sometimes approach a master hole-poker and actually allow them to "break our ring. Here lies the crux of this position. We would have coated the inside of our hand with grease or some other unpleasant substance and coat the "victims" finger. Usually this was done entirely as an act of frustration but it was well worth the look on the victim's face.


RM3 (SS) Aaron Wolbach We all played this game, but noone played it as well as MM2(SS) Ribota. He could teach a few tricks to everyone. But don't tell him that or you'll never hear the end of it.


Thanks for your help. I'll post the responses here, when I receive some. 

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