by Max Brantley
The New York Times wanders in a story about the return of a Chinatown Fair in New York to the absence of the fair's tick-tack-toe-playing chicken.
From there, the amazing chicken turns up in a New York casino.
And before the story is over, we meet Bunky Boger, 82, of Lowell, a trainer of tick-tack-toe chickens.
The attraction to this game?
“Don’t you think you’re smarter than a chicken?” Mr. Boger, 82, said by telephone from his farm in Arkansas. “Most people think they’ll just head him off, and the chicken will come around and beat them, and they just can’t believe it.”
Boger, a former rodeo clown, says he can make $4,000 a week leasing chickens to casinos.
From Boger, the reporter soon traveled, of course, to Hot Springs.
Mr. Boger got his start from Bob Bailey, an animal trainer and zoologist. Mr. Bailey and his wife, Marian, a psychologist, ran a company called Animal Behavior Enterprises, and something they called the IQ Zoo. They had a dancing chicken, a postcard-vending chicken, a piano-playing duck that performed “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and a drum-playing rabbit. After his wife died, Mr. Bailey gave some chickens and housing units to Mr. Boger. He also donated a mock-up to the Smithsonian, he said.
The tick-tack-toe chickens, Mr. Bailey said from his lakeside home in Hot Springs, Ark., are “not mental giants.”
“But they are certainly a lot brighter than most people will give them credit for,” he added.
Details show the chicken wrangling business is complicated and expensive. Boger is working on a chicken that deals blackjack.
NOTE TO COPY EDITORS: I know. Most people spell it "tic tac." The NY Times doesn't. I stuck with their spelling since it was their story.
UPDATE: Good background supplied late this afternoon by Art Gillaspy at UCA on the Arkansas originators of chicken training. Read on:
I was really happy to see your piece on the tick-tack-toe playing chicken on the Blog. Very cool!
"Bird Brain" as it was originally called, is not only an interesting bit of Arkansas history/novelty, but also important in the history of psychology. Dr. Elson Bihm and I at UCA have been doing research on the contribution of Bird Brain's creators to the development of applied operant psychology since 2001. We have an original Bird Brain unit in the Psychology Dept.
The folks behind Bird Brain and the IQ Zoo, Marian and Keller Breland, were a real Arkansas success story and one of those largely unknown stories of Arkansas. Briefly, the Brelands were students of BF Skinner, the famous behaviorist. Through their work with Skinner, they became convinced that they could make a living applying his new science of behavior. So like crazy, overly excited graduate students they quit school and started a company called Animal Behavior Enterprises in 1946. They settled in Hot Springs in 1951 and opened the IQ Zoo in 1955. Keller passed away in 1965 and Marian was re-married in 1976 to Bob Bailey. Bob and Marian ran ABE until 1989. They trained thousands of animals from hundreds of different species for advertisements, entertainment, and military/government. Marian died in 2001, but Bob is still very active in the animal training world.
Here is a website we put together that chronicles some of the Breland's work.
We also did the bios for the Brelands for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Attached is an article we published on the Brelands a few year ago that provides more background, too.
If you think AT readers would be interested, I'd be happy to provide more info on this unique story of Arkansas history and culture.