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Marbles: Section guide

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Knuckle down!

Getting Down at Grand Army Plaza
Click for bigger picture
Streetplay art director Alf Brand knuckles down at Grand Army Plaza during the 2000 Back to Brooklyn festival.
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."

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'.

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.

A one-foot 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 one-foot wide hole is dug in the center of a ten-foot 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.

Both players try to shoot their taws into a one-foot 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.

In this game, the target is a shallow hole about six inches across and a half-inch 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 ten-foot 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 step-by-step introduction to Ringer in our Marbles 101 section.

All the marbles stuff on Streetplay!

Marbles 101: Rules for the basic game
Glossary of terms and game variations
Rules for tournament play (circa 1931, very elaborate)
Marbles discussion board

Streetplay marbles home

Contributions by by Richie Chevat, author of The Marble Book (published by Workman Publishing, New York) and Used with permission.

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