History and Theory.

A staple of young childrens' birthday parties for many years, the bouncy castle first became popular in the yuppie heydays of the later 1980s. Before this point, extravagant parties for young children were a rarity, but they became more common as parents insisted on spoiling their little darlings.

The premise is a simple one. A large and sturdy construction of some tough polymer, normally PVC, is inflated by a large air pump. This, when inflated, forms the basic "castle" shape, comprising a floor, three walls, and an open front. To this can be added many accessories on more ornate versions, including lavish turrets and a roof, or in some cases an inflatable slide. Another variant on the castle design is the box design, which has a slightly less open front, with a small entry "door" half way up the front wall. This lets the castle be turned into a ball pond. There are even more complex designs, some of which involve obstacles, either to be avoided, in some cases crawled through, or to be treated as punchbags. However, without question, the most disturbing one I have ever seen was painted to look like a large, leering clown, which you entered through his mouth.

Bouncy castles are surprisingly durable. Although a typical hire agreement requires you not to wear shoes or items of jewellery on the castle, it is very rare to see a puncture even when these are not followed. Small punctures tend be easily fixable with a patch and a few stitches; larger ones often need an entire panel to be replaced. However, such repairs are easy and relatively cheap.

Structure and Use.

The bouncy castle can simply be used like a trampoline. However, after a while, bouncing begins to pall, and you look for new uses. Competition is common, with children trying to reach the roof or scale the walls. But wait! As you look around, you notice the slight similarity of the castle to a wrestling ring. You have a mat, you have ropes on three sides. What's more, the floor is bouncy, and so you really can't get very hurt. So, how can you use this arena to best effect?

The floor is the most important section of the castle. Despite the appearance of being a multi-panel affair, air flows freely throughout the floor, with the result that the fat kid landing on one side will catapult those on the other side into the air. This effect also allows for teams of well-organised children to counter-bounce with a lighter child in an attempt to reach the ceiling.

The walls tend to be less sturdily constructed than the floor. They can, with some effort, be climbed, and jumped from, like a turnbuckle. However, the best use for them is the same use to which the ropes are put in wrestling - you throw yourself at them at high speed to bounce off in the other direction like a human pool ball.

Any extremities, such as the punchbag obstacles in the castles equipped with them, tend to be less rigid than the main structure, and so can pulled back and released and used as weapons by resourceful children. However, this tactic is looked down on almost as much as camping is by older kids.

So you want to hire a bouncy castle?

Typical prices range from £40 to £100 per day for hire, as well as a couple of pounds for the electricty used for the generator. However, for most people, the greater issue is space. With the very smallest castles at around 9' x 9', and the largest I have seen at 21' x 11', many people will find their lawn rather full rather quickly.

Sources:

  1. www.bounce-a-lot.co.uk
  2. Many many birthday parties and school fêtes.

Things to do on a bouncy castle

You know what it's like. You jump on the bouncy castle with about seven or eight other little (or big) kids, you bounce up and down a bit, ricochet off some walls, maybe do a somersault if people move out of the way... and that's it, you're done. Well, you've got it all wrong. This is the WRONG way to enjoy a bouncy castle. The RIGHT way is to get five people you know, arrange to have half an hour completely free of irritating kids, and devote some time to the question of "what can you really do with one of these things?"...

  • (Sumo) Wrestling. Two combatants stand in the centre and aim to hurl each other against the walls of the "ring", or possibly off the castle entirely. Winner stays on. If you have a greater interest in wrestling than I, the potential for imitating death-defying high-flying moves as you've seen on the WWE is great in such a soft, forgiving environment.
  • Long jump. Starting outside the castle, run and hurl yourself as far into it as possible. Aim to touch the back wall with your outstretched hand before you land.
  • Handstands. Done against the soft castle walls. Simplistic, but entertaining.
  • Grabbing the walls and holding on for as long as possible before slipping off. Like those little sticky lizard things you can get and flick at windows.
  • Massively deforming the castle. Works with walls, but particularly good when you can reach and grab an overhead "beam" of some sort, then wrap your legs around it and drag it down to the ground before releasing it.
  • Snake race. All participants sit with their backs to the same interior castle wall. With their arms folded, they have to wriggle themselves over to touch the opposite wall.
  • Hand grenade. Lob an imaginary grenade into the castle. Count to three, and then your friends must hurl themselves against the walls as if blown up. Mark your friends on the artistic and technical merit of their explosive dismemberings.
  • Bodyguards. Either get someone to play the VIP or have an imaginary one, standing at the back of the castle, facing the entrance. An assassin, standing at the entrance to the castle, shoots the VIP. Everyone else plays the part of bodyguards. They must hurl themselves into the path of the bullet with as much dramatic flair as possible. Bonus points for a convincing "NOOOOOOOOOO!" and a contorted final resting place.
  • Firing range. A variation on the theme. Participants bounce up and down, then mime being shot to pieces by the man with the imaginary Uzi, who stands on the mats outside to castle.
  • Imitating scenes from The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded. Probably the most entertaining one we came up with. Contains several subspecies:
    • Running around the walls like Carrie-Ann Moss does at the start of The Matrix. This is pretty easy to do if the walls aren't totally sheer, but made of big fat tubes stacked on top of each other, and if you can get plenty of grip with your feet on the canvas. With a smaller bouncy castle, see if you can kick off all three walls without touching the ground.
    • Government Lobby one-handed cartwheels. Very tricky unless you have lots of space.
    • "Dodge this" sequence. A simple yet satisfying backward pancake splat. Major bonus points for emulating the appalling continuity error that was in the movie.
    • Crazy uber- slow-motion- dive- through- skyscraper- window- followed- by- mid-air- twist- and- shoulder- forward- crash- into- mat- while- firing- back- up- at- agent. From the start of Reloaded. Do your best. This was my personal favourite.

Imagination is important here; the possibilities are endless and here we have only scratched the surface. But imagination is not as important as making sure that all users of the castle are working together. Anarchic messing about does not work here, but a coordinated effort can be immensely enjoyable!

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