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Last updated: 12/14/08
Read most recent stories and your own
Dumb Patron Questions Patron Comments
What's under your Kilt? "Ultimate dumb patron comback story"

Dumb Questions

I do a living history program c. 1846 at Sutter's Fort in California. My favoprite dumb question came from a visitor who asked me while I was breast feeding my daughter if she was a REAL baby. I almost told him she was a wind up doll and I attached her to my breast on a regular basis - but I restrained myself!

First prize for Idiot of the Year must go tho this woman: A woman had just walked by a group of re-enactors in full plate, all well-armed. She saw a woman sewing and was heard to say "Did they have metal back then?"
Alan, UK
I'm doing dishes at a Civil War encampment. A little girl and her mother watch me take boiling water from the fire, pour it over my dishes, shave soap, add cold water til it's cool enough to use and begin to wash. "What are you doing" the child enquires. "Washing dishes," I answer gently. Wide-eyed with wonder she asks, "Is that the way people used to do dishes?" Now I't my turn to be amazed. "That's the way many people all over the world still do dishes today." I answer. The child is just astonished. "Can I try?" she asks eagerly. I turn to her mother and, sotto voice, I, the reenactor, ask the spectator's usual question: "Is she for real?" "Oh yes," the mother assures me, proudly asserting,"She's never done a dish in her life!" This is my lucky day! "Come her, honey," I tell the child as I remove my apron, "I'll show you how it's done. You can do the whole basin if you like!"
Lynette, MI
A New member expressed that he was worried that he could hurt someone was told by his group leader to hit him as hard as he liked because it would not hurt because he was waring mail and a gamberson. This was to try and get him unafraid of using a weapon's, unfortunately the group leader wasn't wearing a helm and the new member smacked him in the head with a broadsword.
MN Ren fair: I often trade fibers with other spinners. I had traded some black wool for some beautiful silver wool. It was very long and crinkled. As I was happily spinning away, a man walked up and asked me if it was cutting my hands. Confused, I stared at him then finally handed him some. I told him it was very soft. He looked confused at that point, handed the wool back to me and told me he thought I was spinning steel wool. Ouch, that would hurt. We both laughed at that.
Rilla, MN
"Temporary" Tattoo?
Everyone gets the "Is that real" question. I've done reenactments but I most enjoy playing at the Ren Fests. I have a downward pointing triangular celtic knot tattooed on my chest. As you can imagine people often ask if it's real. Generally I say yes and go about my business, but one day a young guy about my age walks up and asks and I gave my usual reply. He looked kind of perplexed and proceeded to lick his thumb and try to rub my tattoo off my chest. (imagine a mother trying to rub dirt off her child's face) All I could do was stand there and laugh and remind him that it wasn't going to come off.
Chantal, MD
This one's actually a SMART patron story.

I was spending a weekend in Jamestown Settlement, doing the musketeer thing. Since I tend to do a lot of the shooting demos on weekends when I'm down there, I just stay loaded up with musket, bandoleer, etcetera.
As I'm standing around in the Court of Guard, about to go out and do a shoot, a rather countrified looking patron walks in. He stops, stares at my bandoleer and chargers for a few seconds, and his eyes widen.
"Wow", he says, "Are them things SPEEDloaders?".
He was, of course, exactly right.
Dexter G., VA

At an SCA event, I was wearing a white cotehardie and had just finished putting my hair up into two side buns when a lady and her small son walked into the bathroom. The child took one look at me and asked, "Are you Princess Leia?"

At an SCA event held in February just north of New Orleans, my friend and I left the site to partake of the delicious local food for lunch. We were decked out in elaborate 16th century costume, complete with corsets, farthingales, etc. Not being the type who likes to freak the mundanes, we were cringingly anticipating the "Are you in a play?" questions. Instead we were aked "What Krewe are you with and what is the theme of your float?"
Ariella d'Aille, TX

It was at Siouxland Renaissance Festival where I heard perhaps the stupidest patron question ever. I have a largeish wall tent with a VERY comfortable four-poster bed, which I generally keep on display for the public when anyone is in camp. My bed is usually against the back wall of my tent, but the rest of camp had been set up facing the opposite direction, so the bed was right up front (doors at both ends are so handy!). My friend Shauna was napping on my bed on Saturday afternoon, and I was out front dealing with John Q., when someone asked, "Is that a real person in that bed?"

I thought I had heard all the "Is that a real..." questions, but this one almost had me on the ground! I calmly replied that, yes, that was a real person and that everything in our camp was real including the branding iron heating on the fire (all the while mentally biting my tongue to keep from saying, "No, it's a blowup doll" or something equally obnoxious).
Jas., MN

Yes, we also have re-enactments in the Netherlands and I had a lot of fun readings all your stories. So, here's one from Holland.
-At a anually medieval fair at the tiny old village of Westeremden last year some Dutch traders and reenactors set up their displays and workshops. Behind one of the tables, there was a very big woman preparing the soup for the reenactors. A small kid pointed out to her asking his mum "Mum, were they always fat like her in the middelages?"
-During a medieval "hands-on" project on a school we were demonstrating the effects of the warhammer on an old piece of cuirass. One of us was explaining how the blood would splash out of the square hole left by the weapon when one of the kids fainted.
Duco de Klonia
We were coming home from an SCA event in NJ and went through an Arby's drive through. I was still in garb (skirt & black chemise). It was dark and all the clerk could see was my chemise sleeve and my face, but he peered into the car and asked, "Are you Satanists?"
Dulcibella, MO
About 20 years ago, I was doing an SCA demo when a grown man asked me, "The Middle Ages? That was when George Washington lived, right?" I started to explain the difference between Medieval Europe an Colonial America, but after about 30 seconds, the man's eyes began to glaze over so I cut it short and said, "Try 500 years earlier. Try Robin Hood."
Dulcibella, MO
Recently we did a combat display at a wedding in Dalhousie Castle Hotel near Edinburgh. As we were struggling into the castle with baskets full of plate-armour,mail and weapons, an ageing gent who was a member of the Hotel management team comes up and asks if we are the dancers?
Lindsay -Scotland
I am in the SCA, and have been for almost 20 years. This story happened about my third year in the group. It was one of the two big events for the Barony of the Steppes(Dallas,Tx.) I had already paid for the event, Twelfth Night, the month before, and so I was committed to going. The ONLY problem I had for the one-day event, was that my usual mode of conveyance (my car) was broken and unable to be repaired before the festivities started. I asked my mom if she would take me over to the site. She did, and told me to call when we were done. The event was great, the food delicious, and the fellowship was something else. So, when it was nearly over, I called her to come after me. When she got there, some of the men were outside in their costumes (Norman/Anglo-Saxon). I finally came outside and got in the car, to her totally mundane question of "Why are all those men wearing their bathrobes?" I tried to explain the intricate details of the dress of the period, but to this day, anytime I plan on going to an event, she wants to know if they will be wearing their bathrobes.
Lady Ariella Langsbury, TX
I've got a real scottish claymore I bring out for the demo's (SCAer) and was working the crowd when 3 teenagers came up & asked me if it was real. I told them it was & then they asked if it could really kill somebody & wanted to see how it'd work.
I do handspinning in various period costumes, (Renfaire to Prairie West) and I raise black (not colored, but JET black) sheep. After a few years of being asked if the black wool I was spinning was dyed, I decided I'd haul a black lamb or two with me to the demos. Invariably, I am asked if I have dyed the lambs. I have also had people argue with me in front of their children that these animals are NOT sheep, but goats, because all sheep are white. I have also had people explain to their children, without letting me get a word in edgewise, how I am "looming" the wool on my wheel.
I also sell pelts, sheep skins with the wool on. A woman wanted to buy one, but wanted to know the process whereby we put the wool onto the backing material. I repeated several times that this was the skin of the sheep, that the sheep was killed, skinned and the wooly hide tanned, and when she finally comprehended, she dropped it and backed away, totally repulsed. S. McDonald, Midden Meadows, OR
This more a newbie story rather than dumb question story, but if you consider my stepdaughter's decision to not wear a head covering as a French and Indian war participant, she is the uneducated newbie asking why she had to cover up her hair... And the result is much the same!
We had been toying with the idea of joining a reeacting group for a couple of years. We knew people is several different timelines and part of our dilemna was deciding which era to choose. After imagining my husband in a breech clout and me in a leather dress, we threw out the native American choice with tears of laughter stinging our eyes: you know how some men should never wear a Speedo and some women should never wear a bikini-well, we are them, so we saved the reenacting world a grossout by steering clear of what even we decided would be distasteful to the general public. At long last we opted to go with the French and Indian War era, and made our first attire purchase, not even knowing the difference between French or British attire. We were lucky in that we did choose the style; Someone was looking out for us that day!
My step-daughter and I decided to wear our purchases, and found out that they were surprisingly cooler than the flatlander duds we'd worn to the event. I had completed my outfit with a mob cap, knowing that it was immodest not to be wearing one during that time. But my step-daughter refused, saying that she didn't want to mess up her hair (at that time she was into long tresses as her crowning glory phase and incessantly messed with her hair for hours on end, like a typical teenager.) She didn't buy the immodest aspect because it came from her step-mom, not someone who really knew anything... Rather than fight, I decided to let nature take its course and let her learn her lesson the hard way-and I knew that the lesson was just minutes away!
We found our friends in the British camp to check out how we looked. I passed muster, especially for a first purchase, but poor Becky was about to be blown out of the water. Dave noted the lack of head covering and made a mildly suggestive comment to her. Taken aback, she confronted him, and he went on to explain somewhat graphically about women with uncovered heads... Dave had no more than stopped talking when Becky grabbed me by and arm and told me to come with her "back to that place" where we'd just purchased our outfits. She nearly flew there, her feet barely touching the ground in her hurry to make herself a "decent" young woman. I was laughing so hard that I couldn't keep up, and we could hear the guffaws of Dave and my husband over Becky's flight until we were out of sight into the sutler's area-which served to speed up her retreat even more.
I was out of breath and still laughing at the sutler's tent when Becky made her purchase. Becky was finally able to say something without stammering, and was soon laughing as hard as I had been. She was not mad at Dave, her dad, or even me because she knew she'd set herself up for the fall by not taking my advice about 15 minutes earlier. With Becky now properly attired, we went back to the camp, where Dave put his arm around her and gave her a big hug and proceeded to provide more enlightenment about campfollowers during the F&I time in a more genteel manner. Good ol' Dave; I'd know that he'd turn her obstinance into a lesson she'd never forget, a far better experience than I could have taught as her step-mother. And as an added bonus, she decided that maybe her step-mother did actually know a thing or two about hitoric attire, especially as I began to do research into a personna and expanded my own horizons.
It was about 2 years later when we formally joined that F&I group; my deteriorating health made me reprioritize activities in my life, and I really did want to do reenacting. And so we made the big jump and have been happily and actively pursuing our hobby ever since. Becky and her best friend have even joined us, investing in their own tent and taking our castoffs as we upgrade our own things. What a change from that first day when she and I first purchased and wore our period attire!
Kyle, IN
August 1999, I was up at Deer River for the White Oak Rendezvous. This woman comes in and talks to us for about an hour about all the stuff we make in the blacksmith shop. She talked to us as she watched us pumping the huge great bellows, shoveled around the coal, heated things up and banged on them with our hammers. Then she said "you've got a nice buisiness going here, and you make such nice stuff. Aren't you worried about Y2K hurting your business?" I made the mistake of thinking she was an intelligent person and gave her the benefit of the doubt and quietly slipped out of cahracter and replied, "Ah, no mamm, we don't have a web site or anything (I didn't have my web site yet then), so we're not too worried." Then she replied with the classic, "No I mean your equipment. Aren't you worried that your equipment will fail?"
I answered somewhat puzzled, "What do you mean, my anvil? my hammers, my coal, my bellows?"
"Yes, aren't you worried about Y2K causing it to fail?"
I just shook my head slowly as I looked at the bellows I was pumping and said, "No mamm. This bellows is completely Y2K compatable."
"Well good, because I wouldn't want it to hurt your business. I had to leave the shop, so I could go off and laugh hysterically. That's when Larry Herbison and Sandy told me about the guy who had just stuck his hands in our water buckets to see if we had real water. It was a great day for idiots.
D. Chesney (Dun Gowan Iron), MN "What's a potato masher"
In my 32 years of reinacting this senario stands out: I demonstarate French cabinet making and wood turning at the Fort de Chartres Rendezvous. A young high school aged girl picked up one of the dozen potato mashers I had turned on my spring pole lathe and ask me what it was used for. I replied, "It is used to make mashed potatoes." She responded, "Isn't it a little heavy to stir mashed potatoes?" I was perplexed by her answer at first. Then she followed with the statement that she pours the ingredients into the bowl and stirs the mash potatoes with a spoon. It then dawned on me that she pours potatoes from a box and had never made mashed potatoes with a REAL potato. I have wondered from that day on if she had ever seen a real potato.
Jacques Pierre Agne, IL
I was working at the Tux petting zoo and was talking about the 'miniature pot bellied pigs from the orient' with some of the patrons. One asked 'how do you get them that size? Do you cross a pig and a dog?'

And let's not forget the numerous people who want to see the cow be milked. (They are both young calves, and both male.) "Sir, it be a _bull_ calf. Thee wouldst *not* care to drink the result with thine cookies!")

Around 1995, my husband made a suit of ring mail for a cabbage patch doll, just as an exercise, to see if it could be done. It turned out fairly well, and so I have used it as a prop at the Minnesota Renaisseance Festival in Shakopee for the past six years.
I long ago lost count of the people who say "Oh, I thought that was a real baby!" or "That should be against the law to do that to a poor defenseless baby" or "How does the poor child stand it!"
Then, there are the smart-arses who want to know if the chainmail made the birth especially painful!
Angharad, MN
A Park Ranger in California told me this. A visitor to an Indian site in that state asked him, "Why did they build the ruins so far from the road?"

Civil War reenactors and Park Rangers have heard them all -- such as, at the Gettysburg visitors center, "the bombardment before Pickett's Charge couldn't have been _that_ bad?"
Why not? "Because there was clearly no damage to this building!"

"Why did they always fight battles around monuments?"

"Didn't the monuments get damaged?"

"Are you supposed to be from the Titanic?" Asked of seven reenactors visiting Baltimore's Inner Harbor one night, in uniform.

"You can't fool me! I know they didn't have Pop-Tarts during the Civil War!" Said upon unencountering hardtack for the first time. The questioner, a very angry woman who was sure she was being made fun of, then proceeded to rifle the reeanctors' tent, looking for the Pop-Tart wrappers.

"Who were you fighting?"

"What did we attack the British (in the Civil War)? What did they do to us?"

Etc., etc., and yes, "Is that a real fire?" may very well the the most often-asked question, right after, "Aren't you hot in those uniforms?" and "Why don't you use real bullets at your reenactments?" B.C. Milligan

Several from the GA Renaissance Festival:

Overheard at the front gate: Patron to other Patron- "It's pretty far to the Joust. Should we walk or drive?"

Teacher to Scot on Student Days: "I think it's terrible how you scots kill all those sheep to get that wool."

Child to King Henry VIII during Q&A session with Queen Katherine Howard: "Why does the Queen talk so much?"

Religious patron to Ik the Troll: "Have you found Jesus?"
The Troll: "Lovely fellow. Shorter than you'd think."

Child at Sizzler restaurant, upon encountering the costumed Friar and Ik the Troll at the salad bar: "Mommy, Mommy! The Devil is here and Jesus is with him!"

Child (reading from school issued questionnaire)on Student days to Henry VIII: "What is your name?"
H8: "King Henry the Eighth.
Child: "What is your occupation?"
H8: "Well, I'm the King."
Child: "Does your name have anything to do with your occupation?"

Child (reading questionnaire)to rose wench:
Child: "What do you find strange or interesting about the 20th century visitors?"
Rose wench: "The way you write down everything I say without listening to it."
Child: "Can you say that again?"
RebelliousRose, GA

Working at PA Renfaire, as I enjoyed a baked potato dripping in butter and mushrooms; "Are you eating that because you want to or because they make you?
Are you gonna eat that food? (says enough)
Is that a REAL skunk skin?
Angie H., TN
A friend of mine (you in the SCA may know him as Mustpha) dresses in Middle Eastern garb and has a long beard. He related that a child once asked him "Are you Jesus"?
-Rabiyah, MD
Is that hot?
At a Rondy/pow-wow in Iowa, my husband was doing some blacksmithing to show how it was done and a flatlander came up and as he was reaching towards the forge, which at that time was glowing red, he asked, "Is that hot?" He was quickly told not to touch the forge unless he wanted to get badly burned. His reply was, "I didn't think it was really hot."
Suzy, MN
As we deal in furs and leathers, we occasionally get a flatlander who's also a tree-hugger and wants to know how each critter met it's end...
One wanted to know "were the poor creatures killed to get their hides?" My partner, furiously chewing cigar and hat pulled down over his eyes, replied, "no, lady, we just take their skin off."
Her reply? "Well, it's about time."
Submitted by C., NY
Are there many Viking reservations in Denmark?
(From Viking Heritage magazine, produced by the Gotland University College (CramÈrgatan 3, S-621 57 Visby, Sweden BRIMIR Experimental Arcaheology Group from Denmark is a group devoted to rediscovering and practicing Viking crafts. They travel in the summer and show their crafts and skills at various fairs. I was amused to read that "We often meet people who think we are some kind of aboriginal Danes or a group that has spurned the blessings of modern society to live out our life in prehistoric seclusion. Such people even ask 'Are there many Viking reservations in Denmark?' 'Don't you think it is wrong to deprive your children of a modern education?' Such concerned people are always somewhat baffled or disappointed when we reveal that we all have ordinary occupations as well."
- Gunnora Hallakarva
Is that a real sword?
I was at northern (novato) playing the executioner. A customer comes up and ask if its a real sword? I pulled out about a foot and said what do you think? He then ran his finger down the edge and cut himself almost to the bone. moral of the story: It just doesn't pay to be too realistic...
Who are you?
I participate with the SCA. A few years ago I was at the Higgin's Armoury helping with a demo as part of their annual Faire. I was dressed in my best Elizabethan outfit - over a farthingale I had a red velveteen gown with a train and 35 yards of gold metallic trim, ruffs, cap and appropriate jewelry. Due to the fact that my knee was acting up (old injury) I was using a wooden cane. I was very surprised when one gentleman came up to me and asked "Are you Little Bo-Peep?"
He couldn't figure out why I almost fell over laughing.
- Cheryl Young
"Normal food" at Ren Faires
While working at Penssylvania Renaissance Faire a few years ago, I encountered a woman standing in front of the food booths with an indignant expression. Her problem? "Don't they serve any NORMAL food here?" The lady was standing directly in front of a booth which sold barbecued chicken, sauteed mushrooms, and fish and chips. Other nearby shops sold fruit salads, chinese food, pizza, and hamburgers. I wonder what she considers "normal food"???
- Barb Thompson
1. Are those real knives, or did you make them yourself?
2. (customer leaning on a table FULL of Damascus blades) You got any of them Damascus knives?
I am a member of the SCA and I happen to live in Lancaster County, PA, home to both the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and a large number of Amish, Mennonites, and other Plain Peoples. I am never surprised when people ask if we are from the Renaissance Faire; they automatically assume we are because they are so used to it. They get a little puzzled when we show up in the middle of winter, since Faire runs from August to October...
However, I have been asked if I am Amish! (At the time I was wearing typical SCA "T-tunic" and a cloak, as I recall.) Anyone who has ever seen an Amish woman knows that her dress bears no resemblance to a tunic. And you cannot be in Lancaster County very long without seeing at least one Amish person. I guess they figure that anyone in Lancaster county who dresses funny is either Amish or from the Ren Faire...
B. Thompson
Is it real
As part of my Jester character, I carry around Podster, who will "grow up into a Jester -This is where little Jesters come from you know." I have pictures of podster, if anyone wants to see them, but I can describe Podster as a big green Peapod thing. Had someone (an adult) walk up to me, look at Podster and say, "Is that a real baby?"
I was in the juggling show at NJRK last year, and as we were getting ready for it, someone asked me, "Are those real jugglers?"
Or the comment someone made about my Jester costume (which has a whole bunch of bells on it), "Are those real bells?" "No, they just look real, I have a tape player under my hat to make the noises."
Costume confusion I'm in the SCA. For reasons that don't really matter now, I was flying to California in a full Elisabethan outfit. While waiting for my flight, I decided to see if there was anything worth reading in the bookstore. I walked in, the clerk looked me up and down two or three times and finally managed to stammer "Isn't that the kind of clothes they wore back in the 1920s?"
Strike the Sheriff?
The SCA used to run a Shoot the Sheriff booth at the TN Ren Faire. The patrons get to shoot three SCA-legal arrows at a fighter in helm & armor who is standing behind a wall. A drunken patron came up and tried to give us $1 to *hit* the sheriff with his fist. We told him that he would hurt himself doing that because the helm was made of steel and thus we couldn't allow it. He upped the bid to $10. We were sorely tempted but finally convinced him that no price would persuade us to allow him to hit a 16 gauge piece of steel.
- Kat the Raven Maven
Colonial Forts
Awhile ago I was a guide at Ft. Wm. Henry (of last of the mohiagns fame) in Lake George NY. I had just taken a tour around the fort and had stressed the importance of these outposts to the security of the frontier settlements. A girl (of college age) asked me with all seriousness if there were still many of these forts left in operating condition. I told her that the advent of air power had made them undefendable. She accepted it (also with complete seriousness). Ya never really know what to believe.
costume recognition
In my first year with a Scottish reenactment group I was decked out in my first great-kilt and blue bonnet, a "wee bit o' a burr to me speech" and I was amazed how many patrons asked me if I was German?!?
-Your host
Being Amish Revisited I've been a member of the SCA for about 9 years now, but the one thing that stands out the most in my mind occured my second year in. First, I should point out that I live in Northwest Ohio and the chances of anyone Amish appearing in my town are not very good. Anyway, my friend Robin and I had just left my house to attend a large event one August in Pennsylvania. We decided we needed a snack for the road, so we stopped at a local Denny's for apple pie and coffee. We both have Gypsy personas and we were both in garb (I had on a tight-fitting bodice, chemise and patchwork skirt with about a ton of jewelry and he was wearing a bright red tunic with gold trim, black trousers and moccasins). As we were on our way out, a group of teenaged patrons stopped us and asked "Hey, are you Amish?" Without missing a beat, I replied "Actually, no, we're Gypsies." One of the young women in the group got very wide-eyed and said "Really? Like in a caravan and everything?", to which Robin quipped back "No, actually, we're in a Honda." We then proceeded to explain to them what it is we do and went on our merry way!
- Rowena
Do you take the castle with you?
The TNRen festival has a two tower castle built on site that the owners of the festival live in year-round. Several years ago during a faire day, I had a patron approach me and ask "Do you folks have to take that thing down when this is over?" Later, the same day, someone another patron came up to me and asked if we took the castle with us to every festival.
I am a volunteer member of a state-sponsored French & Indian War era (ca 1755) French Marine Compagnie at a fully re-created French Colonial Frontier Fort in the state of Alabama. We take great pride in our efforts to achieve the maximum level of historical accuracy, but the general public has little knowledge of the French Colonial period of our state...Or from this story, any other period in history. One of our women was delivering a lecture and demonstration on the daily life of a colonial woman & family of they day to a hoarde of mundane high school students, when she was posed the question: "Why are there crosses on the wall of every room in this fort?"
"Because this was primarily a Cathoic garrison and..."
"You mean they had Catholics back then?"
-Jean B., AL
Historic Games on-line catalog Man-powered wood lathes through history
Contemporary quotes on Scottish AttireTongue-in-cheek reenactors' glossary