I was searching for a lost piece of paper the other day when I stumbled upon my jar of jacks that must have fallen off the bookshelf without my noticing. I have been gazing at that jar of jacks for the past day, longing for a flat linoleum floor like the kitchens of the 1960s. The ceramic tile I have in my kitchen and bathrooms would make for impossible bounces of the ball, and my husband would (rightfully) have a fit if I played on the hardwood floors, scratching them with every sweep of the jacks. But I long for the simplicity of that game.
My best friend and I sat for hours working through the levels, from onesies up to tensies and back down again. We challenged each other with new tricks. Do it will one-hand, do it blindfolded, do it continuously for as long as you can….the original level builder. Why was it so addictive? The simplicity of the game mechanics, the mixture of luck (where the jacks landed on your throw) and skill to deal with every new situation, the mixture of unpredictability and predictability – isn’t that balance what we all want in life?
Also known as knucklebones (now that is a visceral image, isn’t it?), the game of jacks dates back at least to Greek mythology. It started with cave folks sitting around and throwing little pieces of bones and catching them on their hands. There are now dozens of variants of the modern game listed on Wikipedia with names like “This is the house that Jack built” and “Flush the Toilet”.
Not me, I think I’ll just clear a space on my desk and break out my ol’ 10 jacks and a superball. The hardwood floors are safe, I don’t think sitting on floors is good for my back these days anyway.