Knuckle down!
A surprising number of terms in the American lexicon come from marbles. Aside
from the obvious "all the marbles," there's "knuckle down," and "play for
keeps." Here's a rundown of more popular terms used by marbles players, and a
brief description of the many games people play with marbles.
Marble terms
Aggie either a marble made out of agate or a glass marble that looks
like it's agate. A glass or imitation aggie is also called an immie.
Alley A marble made of marble. Alley is short for alabaster.
Bombsies Dropping your shooter on the target marble.
Histing Lifting your knuckle from the ground while shooting.
Keepsies Playing for keeps. You get to keep all the marbles you win.
Knuckle down To put one knuckle of your shooting hand in contact with
the ground. Most players put the knuckle of their index finger on the ground.
You position your shooter in the crook of the index finger and flick it out
with your thumb.
Lagging A way of choosing who shoots first. Players roll their marbles
toward a line in the dirt (the lag line). Whoever gets closest without going
over gets to shoot first.
Mibs The target marbles in a game. Another name is Kimmies.
Playing for fair All marbles are returned to owner after the game.
Playing for keeps The winner keeps all the marbles after the game
("winner keeps, loser weeps").
Plunking Hitting the targets on the fly.
Taw Another name for a shooter. Shooters are often slightly larger than
target marbles. In some games you shoot from behind a taw line.
Marble games
Depending on how you look at it, there are either hundreds of marble games or
just three with a hundred different names. Most of the games played in the
United States are variations of games that originated in England.
Bear in mind that rules vary wildly from region to region and making up a game
on the spot isn't unusual. Players should also agree in advance whether they
are playing "for fair" or "for keeps."
Archboard
This is one of the oldest known marble games. Instead of shooting at target marbles, you
shoot for holes cut into a shoebox (the arches). Each hole in the box is given a pretty
arbitrary number. When your marble goes into a hole, you score that number of points.
Boss Out (a.k.a. Long Tawl)
First player shoots one marble. Second player trys to hit the first player's
marble. If he hits it, he collects both marbles. If the two marbles are
close enough, he can attempt to 'span' them. He places his thumb on his own
marble and his index finger on his opponent's marble. He then draws his hand
up while bringing his fingers together. If the two marbles hit, he collects
both marbles. If he misses, the first player may shoot at either marble on
the field. If a player collects the last marble on the field, he must shoot a
marble for the next player to shoot at.
At the National Marble Tournament, if your taw is in the ring at the end of
your turn, you must remove it. In informal games, if your taw is in the ring,
it becomes a legitimate target and any player who hits it out collects a
forfeit from you. Players should agree in advance whether to use this rule.
Play alternates until one player has knocked a majority of the marbles out of
the ring. The process of picking the best possible position for starting is
referred to as 'taking rounders'.
Bridgeboard
A board with nine cutouts along one edge is propped up on that edge to form
nine archways. The numbers 6, 2, 3, 1, 5, 8, 7, 9, 4 are painted over the
arches, one number over each arch. Players try to shoot through the holes and
win the number of marbles indicated by the number above the hole. Any marbles
which miss become the property of the board owner. The board may also be used
to play NINE HOLES.
Bunhole
A onefoot wide hole is dug in the center of the playing field. Players
attempt to get a marble as close as possible to the hole without going in.
Whoever's marble comes closest without going in wins a marble from each
player. Knocking in your opponent's marble is permitted.
Cherry Pit
This is the reverse of RING TAW. A onefoot wide hole is dug in the center of
a tenfoot circle. Each player places a number of marbles around the hole so
that there is about a dozen marbles surrounding the hole. Players take turns
trying to knock marbles into the hole. Like Ring Taw, as long as marbles are
knocked into the hole and the taw remains in the ring, players may continue to
shoot. If a taw goes into the hole, the owner must forfeit a number of
marbles and place them around the hole to 'buy back' his shooter.
Hundreds
Both players try to shoot their taws into a onefoot hole. If both taws go
in, players start over. If one player's marble goes in and the other player's
marble doesn't, the player whose marble went in scores ten points. If neither
player's marble goes in, the first player now tries to hit the second player's
marble. If he hits it, he earns ten points and another chance to shoot his
marble into the hole for ten points. If he misses either his opponent's
marble or the hole, the second player tries to hit the first player's marble
for ten points and another try at shooting his marble into the hole for ten
points. Whenever a marble goes into the hole, both players start over from
the starting line, otherwise all shots are made from wherever the marble
stopped rolling. First player to reach one hundred points wins.
Nine Holes
This name is given to two different marble games. The first game is Miniature
Golf played with marbles. Players construct a miniature golf course from
materials at hand and take turns shooting their marbles around, through, and
over the obstacles they've built. First player to complete nine holes wins.
The second version of the game is played with a bridgeboard. Players take
turns shooting their marbles through the arches in numerical order. Arches
that are shot through out of sequence don't count. A successful shoot through
the correct arch entitles the shooter to an additional turn. First player to
send his marble through all nine holes in the correct order wins.
Poison
In this game, the target is a shallow hole about six inches across and a
halfinch deep. Players shoot from behind a taw line 3 to 5 feet away. The
aim is to be the first player to get your shooter into the hole. If you do,
your shooter becomes "poison." After that, you can collect any marble to ends
up within a handspan of the hole. But if another player gets his into the
hole, then he gets one chance to knock you out. If he does, then he becomes
poison and gets to collect all the marbles you've won. The game ends when all
players have taken a shot and none have knocked out the poison.
Ringer (variations called Ringer, Ringo)
Ringer is the game played at the National Marbles Tournament, and is what most
people think of as "marbles" proper. It's a game for two players. Thirteen
mibs or target marbles are arranged in a cross inside a tenfoot circle (the
ring). To begin, you can shoot from anywhere outside the ring. The aim is to
knock a mib out of the circle while keeping your shooter inside. As long as
you knock out a mib and your shooter stays in the ring, you can keep shooting.
If you miss or your shooter goes outside the ring, you lose your turn. The
first player to knock out seven mibs wins the game.
You can get a stepbystep introduction to Ringer in our
Marbles 101 section.
Contributions by by Richie Chevat, author of The Marble
Book (published by Workman Publishing, New York) and
LandOfMarbles.com. Used with
permission.
