I used to play a pretty mean game of Ring Taw back in the third grade. In fact I placed second in my age group at the one and only marble tournament in which I competed. Now that I think about it, it’s the one and only marble tournament I ever remember them having at Linden Elementary. Maybe I just lost interest in the game after being beat so easily in the final match by Alan Case. Alan, if you’re out there, I still remember your name and I have mental scars. Alan got the trophy, I got a bag of marbles. It was a big bag of marbles though.
We played marbles on the playground every day during recess and before and after school. We were always carrying around our marble bags and showing off a new acquisition or two. I can’t remember how I got into the tournament thing that Saturday, but I remember I had to miss catechism in the morning so I could play, and that didn’t go over well with my mother. She sent my sister over to the school grounds, twice, to tell me I had to go, right in the middle of tournament play. When I finally sent word back that I was going to be playing for all the marbles, that I had made it through the brackets to the final game, she amazingly let me stay.
The most common method of shooting a marble is called “fulking”. We kids would have had fun with that term, but I don’t think any of us called it that. You place the knuckle of your forefinger on the ground forming a “V” and place a marble in the bent forefinger. Behind the marble you put your bent thumb. You release the thumb forward with as much force as needed for the shot. There is another more accurate way of shooting the marble by rolling the hand over to the first knuckle, but in third grade everybody was pretty much “fulking” whether we knew it or not.
The game is played by drawing a one foot circle inside a 10 foot circle. Then drawing a cross in the middle of the smaller circle. You put one marble in the middle of the cross and three along each arm for a total of 13. The idea of the game is to accurately knock the marbles out of the big circle. If you were playing “keepsie” as opposed to “funsie” you got to keep whatever marbles you knocked out whether you won the game or not. Each marble knocked out of the circle gains one point. If you hit the other player’s shooter while its inside the big circle you get a point, and if you hit a marble, a shooter, or knock one out, you continue to play until you miss.
Your “shooter” was a marble slightly bigger than the game marbles. You had aggies, and cat eyes, and steelys, spinners, blackies, whities, puries, rainbow reds, marine crystals, just to name a few. Some of these names were given by the marble manufacturers and some were passed down. The game marbles are about 1/2″ in size.
The game goes back to our Paleolithic ancestors. They played the game in Rome too. Adults played the game well into the 19th century. In fact, John Tyler found out he was president while playing marbles. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia one month into his term on April 6, 1841. John was found deep into a game of aggies (marbles) when he was given the news that he was now president. Anyway, adults probably played it because they figured out a way to bet money on it.
President John Tyler must have lost a lot of “keepsie” over the years. By 1861 he appeared to have lost all his marbles, renouncing his citizenship and joining the confederacy. WTF
I never see kids playing marbles anymore. I’m sure its been replaced by something else.
Top photo by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons.