The game is wonderfully simple. Two to four players (ages 4 and up) choose one (or two) brightly colored plastic hippo(s) (colors have varied over the years) to control, the object being to slam down (or gently tap) the lever connected to the hippo and make it ingest as many of the white marbles as possible, which are released one (or all) at a time (this must be some sort of record for parenthesis use). The player whose hippo manages to eat the most marbles wins. That’s it.

Thus, one can imagine the directions are fairly short; in fact, they tend to concentrate less on game play and more on situations such as “If a head pops off,” and what’s not to like about that? The game is generally loved by kids and hated by parents for the same reason: it’s unbelievably noisy. I suppose parents are also skeptical of the game’s design and relative sturdiness, which are, respectively, janky plastic and very bad, and which probably have resulted in windfall profits for Hasbro over the past three decades since the game’s inception.

Enough on that, though. A game so utterly basic suggests a pressing need for further, deeper scrutiny—specifically, linguistic examination. Indeed, the game’s title is arguably its most complex attribute.

Obviously, the hippos are hungry—indeed, they are “hungry hungry,” famished enough to warrant repeated adjectives. This device is evident in select other cultural phenomena, such as wine that is so red it is “red red,” and Bosstones so mighty they are “mighty mighty.”

So it is no great shock when we hear that these hippos are “hungry hungry.” Seems entirely plausible. Still, it remains to be explored whether they are hippos that are hungry hungry or hungry hippos that are hungry. In either instance, the point comes across—these poor guys are fucking starving. But let us for a moment imagine the latter scenario, that these are already-hungry hippos that are even hungrier than their pre-existing hungriness would indicate.

What, if anything, may be inferred from this possibility? Most importantly, it suggests that their appetites are insatiable, since they are always “hungry hippos,” with or without the descriptor “hungry,” whereas hippos that are hungry hungry (i.e., extremely hungry) could theoretically eat enough marbles to satisfy their hunger hunger. Given the fact that both versions of the hippos are decidedly ready to get their grub on, this probably doesn’t matter much. But, if a Hungry Hungry Hippos marathon session breaks out one afternoon, and carries itself into the evening, then into the wee hours, it stands to reason that hungry hippos that are hungry would be more conducive to successful game play, since by definition they will never tire of eating. Were the other hippos (the hungry-hungry version) allotted hours upon hours of mealtime, the game would likely malfunction as their ravenousness became sated, and young, hopeful hearts would wither. Nobody wants that, particularly not Hasbro.

Therefore, I believe I have proved Hasbro intended that these be hungry hippos that are hungry, and not just ordinary boring hippos who haven’t eaten in a while (couple days?).