This post is about the children’s game played with traditional Korean candy in Squid Game. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention this as the huge popularity of the drama has already made the game an Internet phenomenon!
First I’ll give a brief recap of the episode and then share what I’ve learned about the game!
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a review of Squid Game
So in this episode of the survival game, the competitors have a very delicate challenge as they compete to stay alive. Each player is given a dalgona, honeycomb traditional Korean candy. But who knew this innocent, old fashioned street snack could become such a lethal weapon?
Dalgona is an actual Korean snack that’s still made today. I’ve seen it sold on the streets of Seoul. But I didn’t grow up in Korea and didn’t know about the game that school children can play when they buy the snack!
So what really happens to the winners and losers! Thankfully, the losers don’t actually get shot and killed in real life…
related posts on more Netflix dramas:
Kingdom: a historical zombie drama
Ashin of the North
The Man With the Umbrella
But first, a quick recap of what happens in the lead up in this episode:
Most of the contestants who survived the first survival game have come back to the competition despite having had the chance to leave. The only difference now is that they have returned with their eyes open.
For the first game, they didn’t know what a deadly activity they were about to take part in. They had simply been enticed to this mysterious and dangerous facility, tempted by the chance to win lots of money which would get them out of debt.
But now they know what will happen to the losers of the next game. So tensions are high.
The clue to the Korean candy in Squid Game
The day before the game, the young North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok (number 067) climbs into the air vent in the ceiling to have a snoop around. Nobody is allowed to leave the facility voluntarily, so perhaps she wants to know where they are and if there’s a way out!
But as she crawls around in the ceiling, all she sees below are workers in a large kitchen stirring huge pots of a brown liquid on the cooking hobs. Meanwhile, as they keep stirring, other workers pour huge bags of white powder into the pans. And there’s a smell of sugar.
That is all she can report. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.
However, the next day when it’s time for the second game, all becomes clear to Seoul National University graduate Cho Sang-woo.
First, the players have to choose a shape: a circle, a triangle, a star, or an umbrella. It seems that these are fairly random shapes which offer no clue about the game.
However, Sang-woo uses his critical thinking skills to work out the connection between the smell of sugar and the shapes.
Smartly, he chooses the triangle.
If this game is what he thinks it is, the triangle will be the easiest shape to use to win the game. And he’s right.
Meanwhile, the protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, chooses the umbrella for whimsical reasons. Sang-woo clearly knows that this will be the hardest shape to use in the game.
But tellingly, he doesn’t try to persuade his childhood friend to choose something else.
Later Gi-hun realises this too. It’s brutal, but they all came back with their eyes open. And there can only be one winner in this game.
The Korean Candy in Squid Game
What’s the game?
Each player is given a round honeycomb candy with their chosen shape imprinted in the middle.
As soon as they see the candy they know what they have to do as they will be familiar with the candy from childhood.
The aim of the game is to break the outside of the candy away leaving only the shape in the middle.
They know that the shape must be perfect. Gi-hun immediately recognises that his umbrella with its long thin handle is going to be a challenge!
With a time limit creating tension, the players desperately, but still carefully, try to break away the outside of the brittle candy. Some of them use the needle to prod through the outline of the shape. A lighter turns out to be handy in melting the candy. Eventually, Gi-hun realises that licking his candy as much as he can will soften it and help him to break it cleanly around the umbrella outline.
With their various techniques, the main players make it through to the next round. Losers are shot and killed.
Ppopgi, 뽑기 dalgona (달고나) Korean sugar candy
Dalgona (also known as ppopgi) is candy made from sugar and baking soda. It’s a kind of honeycomb or cinder toffee. So it’s brittle at first and then chewy as it melts in your mouth.
That’s what the workers were making in the kitchens. The white powder was baking soda. And the brownish liquid was sugar and water.
Dalgona sellers used to be a common site outside local schools, but they are not as popular today. However, you can still sometimes see elderly sellers sitting on the street on a low stool heating sugar and soda in a small pot over a flame. They make dalgona one by one to sell to children as they come out of school.
Each candy is round and flat with a shape in the middle – a triangle, circle, or perhaps an aeroplane.
What can you win?
As in the drama, children would buy a dalgona and then carefully try to remove the outside of the candy away leaving only the shape inside. They often used a tool like the pin from their name badge on their school uniforms to do the job.
So what was the prize?
If the children managed to make the shape cleanly, the stall holder would give them another dalgona for free.
That was the incentive. And who doesn’t like a freebie!
Losers would leave with nothing!