Sheep, Hoarders, and Helicopters: The Piñata Test

You can learn all you need to know about humans when you attend a child’s party featuring a piñata. The good news is that we can stop funding sociological and anthropological research and just start sending scientists to children’s birthday parties, which are known to be–wait, those are as expensive as a university grant. Possibly more expensive. Never mind.

How does this work? you might be asking. You see, the basic personality types all reveal themselves in the course of a good piñata beating. There are implications for humanity at large too. It’s like Lord of the Flies and socialism and capitalism and cuteness and weird phobias and a horrifying feeding frenzy all at once.

The basic personality types are as follows:

The Starving Man

This child is fueled by an incredible drive to get to the candy, regardless of the cost: injuries inflicted on self or others, younger children shoved aside, friendships destroyed. All that matters is the Starburst.

The Phobe

This child is afraid of the blindfold. He or she is torn between a desire for glory and candy and terror of being blindfolded. He or she may have sensory processing issues, have control issues, or just be a little wimpy. These are all subcategories of the Phobe.

"I don't want to."
“I don’t want to.”

The Fearful

This child is afraid of getting hit by the stick, and hides behind the other children, still hoping to get candy, but willing to be behind the pack. This child may turn into the Cowerer, or may overcome the fear of getting struck once the candy appears.

The Brash

This child rushes forward with every swing of the stick. He or she loses his or her head because the sugar has actually caused a spike in blood sugar before it has even been consumed. This child is the most likely to get hit in the face, but is also the first to get to the candy. This child may be the Starving Man, or he or she may just be impulsive. But once this child reaches the candy and starts grabbing, he or she goes one of three ways, becoming the Hoarder, the Sheep, or the Gentle Saint.

The Hoarder

As you may have guessed by the name, this child hoards candy. Immediately upon reaching the pile (or the still-falling stream, if the child started out as the Brash), the child flings his or her body onto the candy, protecting the pile under the torso while using all four limbs to sweep more candy into the pile. If this child does not relent and become the Gentle Saint, and if this child got there early on in the candy grabbing process, literally nobody else will get a single piece of candy except for that one candy with no wrapper that is somehow crushed far away in the grass during the piñata-beating process. This child is unable to help his or her actions regardless of how much the parents are trying to hold him or her back. It’s pure adrenaline that drives the Hoarder. There are hostile Hoarders who would rather die than relinquish the pile of candy, and there are kinder Hoarders who just can’t control themselves and who are willing to grudgingly dole out some of the stash when directed to do so.

The Sheep

This child has been waiting in the wings, affected less by the actual candy falling than the actions of the other children. Once the Brash or the Hoarder rushes forward, this child is next. Sometimes this may mean getting hit in the brains because the Brash jumped the gun and leaped in before the swinging was done. It often means getting a decent amount of candy, but not too much, since the sheep will generally not turn on the other children or shove babies. Unless the baby is taking too long to pick up a piece of candy. Your average kid is fairly likely to be the Sheep, perhaps with a touch of the Starving Man.


The Gentle Saint

This child may have started out a Hoarder, may have started out a Sheep, or–fairly unlikely–may always have been this way. Regardless, this child will help the Cowerer (below) and/or any younger or more unfortunate children. This child may already have (and probably does have) a substantial pile of candy already, but is willing to hand some of it out to the other children, or at least protect them from the Hoarder or help them find the squashed candy that lies five yards away from the heart of the candy windfall and that was stepped on by the Hoarder and the Sheep. Every parent falls in love with this child, especially if there was no parental prompting.

The Cowerer

This child stays outside of the circle during the swinging action, and then is dismayed by the aggression and speed of the other children once the piñata is broken. He or she is fairly likely to never engage, and simply stands there, wailing the whole time. This child may eventually start trying to forage for candy when it is too late, and begin the crying then, once he or she realizes that there is nothing left or that all that is left are Hot Tamales and hardened circles of bubble gum.

The Bully

This child is more intentional than the Hoarder, though he or she may garner the same amount of candy. He or she will shove all of the other children in a quest to get the most candy for winning’s sake. He or she has been known to literally take candy from a baby, when the baby does know to hold on with all of his or her might. This child is reasonably likely to end up in jail or in politics.


Several other individuals are less involved in the hoarding, shoving, and grabbing, but they are still important.

The Helpful Helicopter

This parent lets some children, either the Phobes or the younger children, go without the blindfold. This parent allows only one hit per child, even once it becomes clear that the piñata is not going to break without Barry Bonds showing up with his bat and some steroids. This parent may even institute a one-candy-per-child rule. If responsible for the piñata rope, this parent will lower it practically to the ground for the shorter children, and will otherwise hold it still. Children resent this parent, with the possible exception of the Cowerer, the Fearful, and the Phobe, who rely on this person to save them. If this is you, that’s OK. Don’t feel bad. You’re nice. You might not last long with these children in a Lord of the Flies scenario, however. They would swiftly overpower and kill you on the off chance that you had some candy.

The D*ck

This parent enjoys the competition a little bit too much. He or she will enjoy tormenting the children by spinning the tightly blindfolded child until he or she practically vomits, and then will laugh as the child wanders off in the wrong direction. The D*ck will pull the rope, swinging the pinata wildly so that every big swing of the stick results in horrible loss of equilibrium. The D*ck does nothing to regulate the children in the candy pile, unless you count yelling at his or her own child to stop being such a wimp. If you are this person, you should probably go sit in the corner and think about your actions. You would, however, fare better in that Lord of the Flies scenario.

The Disengaged

All of the parents at the party may take turns being the Disengaged, but there are often one or two who perform this role the entire time. This parent may be eating the candy that wouldn’t fit in the piñata, or may simply be hogging a swing while texting. Ideally this parent notices when the Hoarder has gone too far, or if the Bully is shoving the Cowerer, but sometimes talking to another parent and/or drinking takes precedence.


There is also an interesting dynamic in terms of the actual hitting of the piñata, which interestingly, seems unrelated to the desire for candy. Because the smartest thing to do would be to refuse to hit the piñata, and just to stand there instead, waiting to pounce. But this behavior is rare indeed. Because the children are also driven by the desire for glory–being that person who hits the piñata with a satisfying smack and causes the candy to rain down on all of the joyful crowd. This means that sometimes the person who made it rain is also unable to get very much candy.





"Is it broken? Hey guys, is it broken?"
“Is it broken? Hey guys, is it broken?”
"Oh, honey, you can take off the blindfold."
“Oh, honey, you can take off the blindfold.”

The exception is the Fearful, who may feel too nervous to approach, but this is not a ploy, it’s just self-preservation.


It would also be wise to wait a while to hit the piñata if one actually wanted to be the piñata breaker, but instead the children generally all jockey to go first, or next, or next. With the exception of the D*ck, parents usually let the youngest, weakest, and most fearful children go first (at least after the birthday child), and they are not really going to succeed in damaging the piñata.

First child up
First child up

Sometimes even the Brash understands that it’s not time to run in yet when the toddler has a turn taking a swing. Ideally, one would wait until several larger, older children had at least damaged the piñata, and then would volunteer for service.

Five candies fall out: "I'll go next!"
Five candies fall out: “I’ll go next!”

Not that I have overthought this, or am oddly excited about candy for someone who is not eight years old. Shut up and wait your turn. I’m going to go steal some of my kids’ Valentines candy until someone breaks this puppy open.


That's the fallen piñata I'm holding
That’s the fallen piñata I’m holding


Photos by Leon Wartinger


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