Fun Through the Ages 

A timeline of fun, from gladiator fights to disco mania.

Way Back When

The Greeks:Early Olympians competed in the nude while throwing the javelin. No wardrobe malfunctions to worry about back then.

The Romans: To entertain the idle masses, Roman leaders held fights between gladiators, typically criminals, war prisoners, or disobedient slaves. Two armed combatants fought to the death.

Middle Ages

Chess: Conceived in India in the 6th century. Passed to other cultures through trade.

Playing cards: Believed to have originated in China, cards appeared in Europe in the 14th century.

Buzkashi: It's thought that the Mongols invented the current national sport of Afghanistan in the 13th century. Teams of horsemen fight viciously for control of a headless goat or calf and bring it to the scoring area.

Bear Baiting: European game whose players paid for the privilege of dashing in and hitting or teasing a chained bear. Despite the chains, there was a real risk of being mauled. That's what made it so fun.

Jousting: Two riders try to unhorse each other at high speed with long poles.


Cock-throwing: A rooster was tied to a stake and people threw objects at the bird trying to kill it.

Tennis: Started in France in the 17th century; the upper classes found it more genteel than, say, cock-throwing.

Public executions: Historian Michel Foucault described a 1757 execution in which a criminal had the flesh torn from his live body before being drawn and quartered. After his limbs were torn off, a witness recalled seeing the body's jaw move "as if he were talking." Then the torso and limbs were incinerated.

Industrial Revolution

Boozing has always been a favorite peasant pastime, but in the late 1820s, American men were drinking, on average, a half-pint of hard liquor every day, says leisure historian Gary Cross.

Hiking and camping became popular in the 1870s.

America's first roller coaster opened at Coney Island in 1885.

James Naismith invented basketball in 1891, one of many "ball sports" that would gain in popularity.

Twentieth Century

First talkie, The Jazz Singer, premiered (1927).

Disneyland opened (1955).

Recreational drugs acid and marijuana fueled SF's Summer of Love (1967).

Frank Nasworthy invented Cadillacs, the first urethane skateboard wheels, which led to a national, seemingly permanent, skateboarding boom.

Also, first video game, Pong, appeared in pinball arcades (1972).

Studio 54 opened. Saturday Night Fever hit cinemas. Disco Mania! (1977).

Karl Rove outed as a confirmed sleazebag, if not a criminal (2005).


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