Jacks is a popular and inexpensive children’s playground game, played by many in their childhood. But, if you are one of the few who have never played it, fret not, and learn how to play this fun game by following the steps given in this article.
In earlier times, jacks was called knucklebones, as it was played using the astragalus bones (knuckle bones) of sheep.
Jacks is a commonly played game, whose origins can be traced back to ancient Greece. Evidence of this, is found in the Greek texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey. These texts contain passages describing a similar game. In Greece, this game was mostly played by women and children, and was known by the name of “pent alit ha” or “five-stones”.
This game is played by tossing an object in the air, and picking up ‘jacks’ before the object touches the ground. Many variations of this game have developed over the years. For example:- “Tropa”, where the object of the game was to throw the knuckle bones in such a way that they landed in a hole, dug up for the purpose of the game. Another variant of this game included the throwing of astragaloi onto a flat surface, and then counting the values of the sides on which the bones fell. The different faces of the bones, fetched different points. The convex side scored 1 for the narrow part, and 3 for the broad part. Similarly, the concave side scored 6 for the narrow side, and 4 for the broad side. Later, more variations for the throwing of bones were developed, and given specific names such as Midas, Alexander, Venus, King, Vulture, etc.
It is played using a rubber ball and 6-12 small six-pronged, metal or plastic jacks. Alternatively, seeds and small stones can also be used.
Ideally, it should be played on a uniformly flat and smooth, hard surface like a table top. Alternatively, a hardwood or linoleum covered floor may also be used.
Number of players is not defined. The game can be played solo, as well as in small or large groups.
Step 1: To decide who starts the game, all players take equal number of jacks in their hand and toss them in the air, with the objective of catching as many as possible on the back of their hand. The player with the maximum jacks on his hand is the first to begin the game. Thereafter the game proceeds clockwise. This can also be decided by a coin toss or by playing a round of rock-paper-scissors.
Step 2: The first player scatters the jacks uniformly on the playing surface, takes the rubber ball in his hands, and lightly throws it upwards. This action is called a “jockey”. As soon as the player does this, he must pick up one jack and while managing to catch the ball before it bounces back.
Step 3: The jacks must be in hand while catching the ball. After the ball has been caught, the player transfers the picked up jacks to the other hand, leaving his hand free for playing the next turn.
Step 4: If the player is successful in the first turn, he throws the ball again, but this time he must pick up two jacks before the ball bounces. For each turn the number of jacks to be picked up, increases by one, till the turn is reached where the number of jacks being picked up totals 10.
Step 5: Each turn has its own term depending on the number of jacks being picked up. The first round, where you pick up 1, is called “onesies”. When 2 jacks are picked up, that round is called “twosies”. In this manner the rounds that follow are “threesies”,”foursies”, and so on till the last round of “tensies”.
Step 6: A player commits a foul, if he fails to catch the ball before it bounces, or if he is unable to collect the exact required number of jacks before the ball hits the surface.
Step 7: It is also considered a foul when the player collects more jacks than required, drops one that he has picked up, or if he accidentally moves any jack from its original place.
Step 8: The occurrence of a foul causes that players turn to end, and passes the turn on to the next player. When the turn comes back to a player, he must resume playing from the same level that his previous turn ended on.
Step 9: The player who reaches the highest round, wins the game. Alternatively, each jack may carry points and at the end of the game, the player with the most points, wins.
Step 10: The game can also be played using small stones or seeds.
Bouncies – Letting the ball bounce once before grabbing it.
Double Bouncies – Allowing the ball to bounce twice, before it is caught.
Black Widow – Player goes from “onesies” to “tensies” in one turn. If the player fouls and ends his turn, he must start from “onesies” again, when his turn arrives.
Around The World – The player makes a circle in the air around the ball, after it is thrown, and then picks up the jacks.
Dump – Player puts 5 jacks in a heap, and picks one up without disturbing the other four. He tosses it in the air, scoops up the other four, and then catches the tossed jack in the same hand.
Clicks – This is an addition to the other variations, where, while collecting the jacks, they must make a clicking sound.
No Clicks – No noise should be made when collecting and catching the jacks.
Punishments – These can be any actions such as clapping, that have to be performed while the ball is still in the air, before collecting the jacks. The players collectively decide the action before the game begins.
❥ The people of Cork, Ireland play a version of this game, called “gobs”, using the small quartz pebbles, that are easily found on the beach.
❥ Native Africans play a version of this game, using pebbles and without the use of a ball.
❥ “Kugelach” or “Hamesh Avanim” is played by Israeli children. They play using 5 metal, dice-shaped cubes.
❥ This game is called “chucks” in England, and in Korea, it is called “gonggi”.
The materials that are used to play this game can be changed according to the players preference. Also, the rules and variations can be molded according to the player’s imagination. Its versatile nature makes it an easy game to play, whenever, wherever.