42, in a Texan dialect

According to Wikipedia, Texans have long considered the dominoes game called 42 their very own statewide pastime. Texas State Rep. Erwin Cain has successfully led an effort to make this official, introducing his bill on the State House floor with an original bit of charming doggerel recapitulating the game’s traditionally accepted history:

Using double six dominoes in 1887
They created this holy game
Or rather it fell straight from heaven
Our blessed 42 with now such wide acclaim

No game of chance is this
As in cards, roulette or dice
For skill it takes in this game of bliss
Not so for those games of vice

(The full text is up at Purple Pawn.)

I get a kick out of this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I like stories about the ingenious compromises people make when they wish to adhere to strict religious traditions while also satisfying their earthly desire to play a good game with friends and family. Rep. Cain seems to subscribe to the notion of dominoes as wholesome alternatives to the cards and dice that certain stripes of Christian culture proscribe as devilish — regardless of their functional similiarity! It reminds me also of observant Jews’ use of bookmarks to keep score during the Sabbath (the day of rest that forbids activities resembling labor, including writing). This creative tiptoeing through the sacred rulebooks in order to get some good games in strikes me not at all as shallow, but rather a beautifully human way of approaching the ineffable.

On a more material level, I always enjoy learning about the folk tabletop games associated with different parts of the United States. It seems that every nameable geographic/cultural region across the country has at least one game that it calls its own. The relationship between 42 and Texas is news to me — as is 42 itself, since domino games, so prevalent in the American south, remain alien to this Yankee. The child of Downeast Mainers, the table games I grew up with all involved one of those sinful card decks, with Cribbage chief among them. My friends of a more Midwestern bent, on the other hand, tend to be veteran Euchre players.

Do any studies exist on these sorts of regionally fastened games across America? One imagines this to be a subject as trackable as spoken dialect — and at least as interesting, as far as I’m concerned.

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2 Responses to 42, in a Texan dialect

  1. Doodpants says:

    Over a decade ago, I spotted a beautiful dominoes set in a game store, and realizing that not owning one constituted a serious gap in my collection of gaming equipment, I purchased it. I then scoured the web for rules to various dominoes games to print out. One site had rules for 42, but they were so badly written that I couldn't make heads nor tails of the game, so I never even attempted to play it. Instead, I stuck with games like Muggins/Five-up/All Fives, in which the goal is to make the open ends of the layout add up to multiples of 5. One neat thing about this family of games is that they can be conveniently scored using a Cribbage board. More recently, I got to play Mexican train (which requires at least a double-9 set) with my family.

    I'd be interested in trying 42 at some point in the future. I don't know about its religious significance, but recall that Deep Thought did declare it to be the Answer.

  2. Cathy Brock says:

    42 is an amazing trump/trick game involving a lot of strategy in bidding and playing for just 7 tricks. I play poker and bridge, but my current favorite game we play every day at lunch in my office is Texas A&M 42 (we keep score by spelling out the word B-O-N-F-I-R-E, one letter for each hand won). Most young people I know who play learned at the Chicken in College Station. Most people my age learned around the dinette set, probably from their in-laws or a grand parent. It is fast, fun and challenging.

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