Skelly, a popular children’s street game, is making a comeback as an app.
Sometimes referred to as skully, skelsy, or skellies, it is played by “shooting” or flicking a bottle cap across a numbered grid, usually marked in chalk on the sidewalk is the quintessential NYC street game of the second half of the 20th century.
Players typically fill their bottle caps with clay or wax and compete against each other based on where their bottle caps land within the grid. While it is unclear when and where the game originated, writer Isaac Asimov recalled playing it during the 1920s in his autobiography.
The game has been alluded to throughout pop culture, notably in the song “Things Done Changed” by Brooklyn’s own rapper Biggie Smalls. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), another Brooklynite, depicted the skelly board in a multitude of his urban paintings.
Mark Gilyard, a Brownsville native and an app developer, hopes to immortalize the game by recreating it on a digital platform in a free app called – no surprises here – Skelly! The game was released in October 2020.
Gilyard told us that, although he often played skelly as a child, and so did his grandparents, he’s noticed that “nobody is playing outside anymore” and that the game has been “almost forgotten”. He hopes that as an application, the street game, which holds memories for him as well as many older members of the community, will be recognized among newer generations.
The mobile game, like the street game, is a battle game, in which players can advance to higher levels. Players can play online with live players, offline with friends, or offline with an automated player.
Gilyard told us that through his work as a developer, he also hopes to inspire disadvantaged youth to pursue the industry. He has been speaking for education programs with BiVo, a Brownsville-based organization against gun violence, to encourage young adults to pursue their career ambitions.
“I want to promote these ideas to the community and younger people, that you can make something out of anything,” he said. Gilyard puts an emphasis on community outreach and urban culture.
His company, Urban Gaming Lab, is working on a similar recreation of a childhood game called Pitty Pat, and an application to serve as a platform for drill music.