Why Do You Need A Pool To Play Marco Polo? (SPOILER: You Don’t)

I love summer. But if I’m being honest, summertime always makes me miss childhood. Not in a sad way. More like in a sweet “wandering down Memory Lane wearing cut-off jeans and a Keep on Truckin’ halter top” way.

Yeah, the ‘70s were weird.

One thing I miss most about summer is spending whole days in a swimming pool. I’m not exaggerating here. When I was a kid, my friends and I would spend the entire day in my grandmother’s swimming pool. How is that possible, you ask? A blissfully unaware lack of concern for skin cancer, I answer. And Marco Polo.

You remember playing the game Marco Polo, right? My grandmother sure does. She once told me summer used to be her favorite time of the year, until she listened to us scream “Marco!” and “Polo!” all day for three straight months in 1979. But don’t feel bad for my Gram. She discovered gin that summer. Our screaming didn’t bother her too much after that.

I always thought the game Marco Polo was named after the explorer Marco Polo because he had a habit of getting lost. And that’s partly true. Marco travelled with his family to China to meet Genghis Khan. As they traversed the Taklamakan Desert, aptly nicknamed “The Sea of Death,” he fell asleep on his horse. Marco dropped back from his caravan, and when he woke up, he realized he was lost. 

Legend has it he yelled “Marco” so his fam could hear him. They yelled “Polo!” in reply until they found him in the darkness. In reality, they never called out “Polo!” He was just hallucinating from dehydration. (That’s soooo Marco.)

Marco Polo originally started as a land-based game called Blind Man’s Bluff, which was played by well-to-do ladies in their sitting parlors in the 1700s. Which I think might have also been the plot to a Victorian porno I once saw, called Blind Man’s Muff.


The current game is simple. One person is picked to be Marco. Everyone else is a Polo. If you’re Marco, close your eyes and count to ten. This is when the Polos swim to their “hiding places.” Now yell “Marco!” When the Polos answer “Polo!,” you swim toward the sound and try to tag that person. Polos can temporarily hop out of the pool. But if you think a Polo may have gone land-bound, yell “Fish out of water!” and that Polo is instantly “it.” Now they’re Marco and you’re a Polo, and the game begins again.

Summer really makes me miss the simple joys of playing Marco Polo all day. But who says we have to stop playing just because we’re not kids anymore? And who says it has to be played in a pool? Explorer Marco Polo thought outside the boat, so why can’t we? 

Annoyed you have to spend the afternoon in the dentist’s chair? Call out a garbled “Marco!” and see what other hapless dental explorers answer back with a gleeful “Polo!”

Strike out on an adventure the next time you’re grocery shopping and start a rousing game of Marco Polo in the produce section!

Maybe you’re feeling bummed about that 6-hour cross-country flight. Well, wait until you’re airborne and then scream “Marco!” Odds are you’ll get at least a few playful “Polos!” before the Air Marshal takes you into custody. 

And then, when you inevitably spend the night in jail, you should definitely initiate a game of cell block Marco Polo. The inmates who respond to your “Marco!” with an enthusiastic “Polo!” are the ones who’ll have your back in a prison riot. And you’re gonna wanna know who those kindred spirits are as soon as possible.

So get out there and make the world your swimming pool. 


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