NATIONAL DICE DAY
National Dice Day is celebrated annually on the 4 December. Dice are popular throughout the world and The oldest known set of Dice originate as a part of the Royal Game of Ur, which is the oldest existing board game and is approximately 4,400 years old. Ancient dice were not terribly different from modern forms and the concept of a six-faced cube with dots has been the world’s most popular pastime and gambling tool.
In the Mahabharata, the character of Yudhisthira gambles away his kingdom, his brothers, and his wife. The epic Kurukshetra war that follows a simple game of dice makes up the rest of the narrative.. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the date that Mahabharata was written, the most commonly held belief in India is that the events described in it happened about 5,000 years ago. Judging from the fact that Sanskrit epics mention them and that they’ve shown up on various archaeological sites, they’ve been around practically as long as civilisation itself.
Tetrahedral dice and other shapes have also been around for quite awhile. Materials like ceramic, various metals, wood, and stone were used to create die. Brass dice have been around forever in Tamil Nadu and soldiers during the American War of Independence used to hammer them out of lead musket balls.
Dice were also made from the talus (ankle bone) of hoofed animals. The ancient Roman’s played a game called knucklebones which used the talus of a hooofed animal as a Dice. Ivory, wood and plastics are other materials used in making dice and they also come in many shapes and colors. Regardless of what shape they come in, the most popular up until the 20th century was bone. These days, most dice are cast from plastic or synthetic resin. Particularly, the ones used in casinos are designed to ensure that they are truly random. However dice are not just used in gambling, they’re also an essential part of many board games such as backgammon and Monopoly.
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The origin of knucklebones is closely connected with that of dice, of which knucklebones is probably a more primitive form. Sophocles, in a written fragment of one of his works, ascribed the invention of knucklebones to the mythical figure Palamedes, who taught it to his Greek countrymen during the Trojan War. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey contain allusions to games similar in character to knucklebones. Pausanius in his Description of Greece (2.20.3) tells of a temple of Fortune in Corinth in which Palamedes made an offering of his newly invented game. Children’s games were a common temple offering at some temples.
When the Greek God Zeus, saw that Ganymede longed for his playmates upon Mount Ida, he gave him Eros for a companion and golden dibs with which to play. He even joined in the game (Apollonius). It is significant, however, that both Herodotus and Plato ascribe a foreign origin to the game. Plato, in Phaedrus, names the Egyptian god Thoth as its inventor, while Herodotus relates that the Lydians, during a period of famine in the days of King Atys, originated this game and indeed almost all other games, except draughts.
There were two methods of playing in ancient times. The first, and probably the primitive method, consisted in tossing up and catching the bones on the back of the hand, very much as the game is played today. In ancient Rome, it was called tali (knucklebones): a painting excavated from Pompeii, currently housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, depicts the goddesses Latona, Niobe, Phoebe, Aglaia and Hileaera, with the last two being engaged in playing a game of knucklebones. According to an epigram of Asclepiodotus, astragali were given as prizes to schoolchildren. This simple form of the game was generally only played by women and children, and was called penta litha or five-stones. There were several varieties of this game besides the usual toss and catch; one being called tropa, or hole-game, the object of which was to toss the bones into a hole in the earth. Another was the simple game of odd or even. The second, probably derivative, form of the game was one of pure chance, the stones being thrown upon a table, either from the hand or from a cup, and the values of the sides upon which they fell were counted. The shape of the pastern bones used for astragaloi as well as for the tali of the Romans, with whom knucklebones was also popular, determined the manner of counting.
The pastern bone of a sheep, goat, or calf has two rounded ends upon which it cannot stand and two broad and two narrow sides, one of each pair being concave and one convex. The convex narrow side, called chios or “the dog”, was counted as 1, the convex broad side as 3, the concave broad side as 4, and the concave narrow side as 6. Four astragali were used and 35 different scores were possible in a single throw. Many of these throws received distinctive names such as: Aphrodite, Midas, Solon, and Alexander. Among the Romans, some of the names were: Venus, King, and Vulture. The highest throw in Greece counted 40, and was called the Euripides. It was probably a combination throw, since more than four sixes could not be thrown at a single time. The lowest throw, both in Greece and Rome, was the Dog.
The modern game may use a rubber ball, and the knucklebones (jacks), typically a set of ten, are made of metal or plastic. There are variants of how the players decide who goes first: it is usually through “flipping,” (the set of jacks is placed in cupped hands, flipped to the back of the hands, and then back to cupped hands again; the player who keeps the most from falling goes first), To set up the game, the jacks are scattered loosely into the play area. The players in turn bounce the ball off the ground, pick up jacks, and then catch the ball before it bounces for a second time.
The number of jacks to be picked up is pre-ordained and sequential; at first you must pick up one, next two and so on, depending on the total number of jacks included. The number may not divide evenly, and there may be jacks left over. If the player chooses to pick up the leftover jacks first, one variation is to announce this by saying “horse before carriage” or “queens before kings.” The playing area should be decided between the players since there is no official game rule regarding that. The winning player is the one to pick up the largest number of jacks, and the game can be made more challenging by playing with fifteen or twenty jacks (two sets). Regardless of the total number of jacks in play, the player who gets to the highest game wins. Game one is usually single bounce and game two is chosen by whoever progresses from game one first, and so on.