Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/246

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234
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

players were moved according to the throws of a number of marked beans. Without the board and pieces, the mere throwing hazards with the beans or lots, to bet on the winning throws, furnishes the North American tribes with their favorite means of gambling, the game of plum-stones, game of the bowl, etc.

It is a curious inquiry what led people to the by no means obvious idea of finding sport in placing stones or pieces on a diagram and moving them by rule. One hint as to how this may have come about is found in the men at backgammon acting as though they were "counters" counting up the throws. The word abax, or abacus, is used both for the reckoning-board with its counters and the play-board with its pieces, whence a plausible guess has been made that playing on the ruled board came from a sportive use of the serious counting instrument. The other hint is that board-games, from the rudest up to chess, are so generally of the nature of Kriegspiel, or war-game, the men marching on the field to unite their forces or capture their enemies, that this notion of mimic war may have been the very key to their invention. Still these guesses are far from sufficient, and the origin of board-games is still among the anthropologist's unanswered riddles. The simpler board-games of skill, that is, without lots or dice, and played by successive moves or draws of the pieces, may be classed accordingly as games of draughts, this term including a number of different games, ancient and modern.

The ancient Egyptians were eager draught-players; but though we have many pictures, and even the actual boards and men used, it is not clear exactly how any of their games were played. Ingenuity and good heavy erudition have been misspent by scholars in trying to reconstruct ancient games without the necessary data, and I shall not add here another guess as to the rules of the draughts with which Penelope's suitors delighted their souls as they sat at the palace gates on the hides of the oxen they had slaughtered; nor will I discuss the various theories as to what the "sacred line" was in the Greek game of the "five lines," mentioned by Sophocles. It will be more to the purpose to point out that games worth keeping up hardly die out, so that among existing sports are probably represented, with more or less variation, the best games of the ancients. On looking into the mentions of the famous Greek draught-game of plinthion, or polis, it appears that the numerous pieces, or "dogs," half of them of one color and half of the other, were moved on the squares of the board, the game being for two of the same color to get one of the other color between them, and so take him. The attempt to reason out from this the exact rules of the classic game has not answered. But on looking, instead of arguing, I find that a game just fitting the description still actually exists. The donkey-boys of Cairo play it in the dust with "dogs," which are bits of stone and red brick, and the guides have scratched its síga, or diagram, on the top of the great pyramid. If it