Knucklebones Game in New Zealand is not quite the same as the US Jacks game

While at the Kerikeri Stone Store, Andrew bought the game Knucklebones.  He had told me a couple times about this game, and it sounded rather like the game Jacks that kids used to (maybe still do) play in the US.  Sure enough, Knucklebones is similar to Jacks.  In fact, Wikipedia seems to think that Knucklebones and Jacks are one and the same game.  But believe me when I write that Knucklebones is MUCH more complicated and difficult than Jacks.

Knucklebones consists of five pieces which are roughly shaped like the bones of sheep knuckles, hence the name.  Originally, the game was played with real, actual knucklebones.  Nowadays, however, it is more common to play with pieces made of either plastic or metal.  The knucklebones which Andrew bought for $5 (about $4 US) was made from metal, very hard and very heavy.

The object of the game is, like Jacks, to pick up the pieces from the ground while one knucklebone is still in the air.  With the US game Jacks, however, the object tossed into the air is a small, soft rubber ball, and for much of the game, it is allowed for the ball to bounce one time (at least in some rounds).  With Knucklebones, the object tossed into the air is one of the five game pieces, and it is not allowed to touch the ground before catching it.  Like Jacks, you pick up a different number of pieces during each round, first picking up one piece at a time, and then doing two, then three, and finally four.  Another difference is that for part of the Knucklebones game, you actually have to try to catch the bones on the BACK of your hand, and sometimes you even have to then toss them from the back of your hand and catch them again in the palm of your hand.

In each of the different rounds you do different things.  For instance, for the first round, you simply pick up one piece at a time, then two, and so on, while tossing up one knucklebone.  For the next round, you toss up TWO knucklebones and try to pick up the pieces and still catch both tossed knucklebones before either touches the ground.  Other rounds consist of picking up the pieces without moving them other than to pick them up, picking up the knucklebones and then circle the tossed knucklebone and then catch it before it touches the ground, pushing the knuckebones into an arch created by your other hand, and so on.  (You can read about more rounds at the websites I quoted above.)

When Andrew and I played the first time, the tossed knucklebone hit my ring finger when I caught it.  This finger is one which has long caused me pain at times, like arthritis or something, and when the heavy metal knucklebone hit the bad spot, it hurt for an hour or so.  Needless to say, I am more careful now when we play, and I’m always afraid of hitting that spot again.

Knucklebones is a fun game (provided you don’t have painful spots on your catching hand), and it was wonderful to experience a small portion of Andrew’s childhood.


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