Playing Marbles

Playing Marbles

The clicking sounds of marbles striking each other are not as common as they used to be, because most flat, dirt playing areas in the cities have now been paved over with asphalt or concrete or gobbled up by new buildings that seem to spring up overnight. So if you are looking for that rare piece of open ground in the city, your search will be a longer one than that of children who live in the country; but it’s worth the effort.

Playing marbles is a lot of fun, and with practice, you can become the champion of your neighborhood. In areas where marbles tournaments are held, players hone their skills to a fine edge weeks before the competition.

A popular game of marbles called ringer is played in a ring ten feet (three meters) in diameter, which is drawn in the dirt with a stick after the ground has been cleared of debris and made smooth. Players then stand on one side of the ring and toss, or lag, their taws, or shooters, toward the opposite side of the ring. The player whose marble comes closest to the ring line, or lag line, shoots first, and the other players follow in the order of the nearness of their tossed marble to the lag line.

The players decide before every game how many target marbles each of them will put into the ring for that game. Target marbles are smaller than taws, and they are arranged two to three inches (five to seven centimeters) apart in the center of the ring. (Tournament play requires that thirteen target marbles be placed in the shape of a cross in the center of the ring.) Sometimes if the ground inside the ring is bumpy, the target marbles are set on top of tiny pedestals of scraped-up dirt.

A player can shoot at the target marbles from any position outside the ring, but until his taw leaves his hand, at least one knuckle of his shooting hand must touch the ground. The taw, held between the curled forefinger and the bent, first knuckle of the thumb, is flipped, or propelled, forward when the thumb is straightened. If a player knocks a marble out of the ring, he continues shooting—from where his taw rests—until he misses. A player who fails to knock a marble out of the ring on any shot picks up his taw, and the next player takes his turn.

When a taw follows a target marble out of the ring, a player can take any position outside the ring for his next shot. Players keep all the marbles that they knock out of the ring. If “funsies” is declared before the game starts, players reclaim their own marbles when the game is over.

  • Snudging—illegally moving hand forward while shooting

  • Slips—declared by player when his taw (about to be shot) falls from his hand, rolls less then ten inches (twenty-five centimeters), and is shot again

  • Knucks down—called by another player when player, shooting, lifts hand from ground to shoot

  • Knee pads and knuckle pads—small pieces of fur to protect trousers and knuckles from wear

  • Flint—chip-resistant taw, often marked with bull’s-eye

  • Vents—declared by player to prevent another player (who is shooting) from illegal action, such as changing taw in middle of game