Over the Christmas season I was delighted to see that one young woman at Ultima Hora is still giving her children (aged six and four) the classic board games as gifts. They will grow up knowing how to play dominoes and ludo — and enjoying both games.
Most youngsters these days are interested only in video games. There’s a locutorio I use for making cheap phone calls to England which also has two rows of computers for the public’s use. Every time I’m there all 20 computer chairs are occupied — with schoolkids playing video games.
That’s every afternoon and evening and all day long on Saturdays and Sundays. In the old days these youngsters would have been at home playing dominoes and ludo and some of the other board games.
About 50 years ago bars all over Palma and in the villages were full of men playing cards, dominoes and ludo. But in today’s Palma neighbourhood bars only a few elderly men still play cards (islanders are great innate gamblers). It’s been a long long time since I’ve seen a game of dominoes or ludo in progress.
Nowadays I seldom go to inland bars but I would think all three games are still played there — especially among the elderly and in the smaller towns and villages. In Palma you are more likely to see men (and the occasional woman) trying their luck on electronic slot machines.
It’s the same story in British pubs: the new electronic games took over and the old ones became a rarity, with only a few old-timers playing them regularly.
Sometimes modern gadgetry made it possible for an old game to be revived in virtual form. Skittles, once a popular pub game all over England, was reintroduced as a virtual game played on a flat TV screen. The game of dominoes also went through renaissance, but in this case it was for real, not virtual. The Latin word ‘domino’ means I win, which is what a player calls out when he places his last tile on the table. The term ‘make the domino’ meant to go out first in a game of dominoes, but in colloquial language it came to mean the end of something. In Victorian and Royal Navy slang, ‘domino!’ was an exclamation used when a term of punishment came to an end.
The ‘domino theory’ had nothing to do with the pub game but was a term used frequently in political writing before and during the Vietnam war. The theory, which was used to justify the anti-Communist war in Vietnam, claimed that when one country in South-East Asia came under Communist rule, the situation would be repeated in neighbouring countries.
Another term at that time was the ‘domino effect’, used when one event triggers another of a similar nature, like a falling domino at the start of a line of up-ended tiles.
In late 19th century boxing circles, a ‘domino’ was a knockout punch. But when an early 20th century bus conductor shouted “Domino!” he meant the bus was full and no more passengers would be allowed on.
The ‘dominoes box’ was an early 19th century term for the mouth. The ‘dominoes’ (always plural, never singular) were the teeth, especially if they were discoloured. By the early 20th century these terms were considered inelegant and they became obsolete.
In 19th century musical circles, however, ‘dominoes’ were the keys of the piano, and a ‘box of dominoes’ was the piano itself. A ‘domino thumper’ was a late 19th century term for a pianist, although by the 1930s ‘domino walloper’ was more common. In theatrical slang a ‘domino’ was a false note played by a musician in an orchestra. A popular pub quiz question is: “Which board game gets its name from the Latin for ‘I play’? The answer is ludo, which most British people think of as a children’s game. But in Majorca and other parts of Spain it is also extremely popular with adults and used to be a common bar game.
The Spanish name for ludo is ‘parchis’ which exists in English as ‘parcheesi’ and ‘pachisi’. It comes from the Hindustani ‘pacisi’ — a throw of 25, the highest score in a five-handed Indian board game played with dice.
Some 50 years ago I had a Majorcan friend who was a compulsive gambler. In those days there were no casinos in Majorca or even bingo halls. Gambling was strictly prohibited although there were three places where it was tolerated. And all three were most popular with those who could afford to have the gambling habit.
This friend didn’t earn enough to support a lifestyle that took in roulette wheels and games of blackjack. But he still lived at home where he had a bedroom and three meals a day, so he could spend every peseta of his monthly salary on this money-guzzling vice.
His summer holiday routine never varied. On June 30 he collected his salary for June and July and headed straight to one of the gambling centres and lost four weeks’ pay before lunch. The other month’s pay was raked in by the croupier that night at another gambling club. And his next pay day wasn’t until the end of August.
He solved that problem by spending July at the family home near the sea. He read during the day (he was a highly educated compulsive gambler) and at night he went to a bar where he played ‘parchis’ with an elderly village woman.
He was such a compulsive gambler that there had to be some money involved, but all he could afford for one peseta per game. The moral is: don’t be a compulsive gambler on a monthly salary even when you don’t have to pay for bed and board.
Those who play darts, do crossword puzzles or participate in pub quizzes will know what an ‘oche’ is. But not so many are aware of the origin of this word for the line from which players throw their darts. There are three principal theories on its origin.
As darts are played in pubs, the throwing distance was originally measured with empty crates of beer. At first, three three-foot crates were placed in a row to mark the distance, making it nine feet from the board. But four two-foot crates were later used, making the throwing distance eight feet. The players were one foot nearer their target.
As the crates were from a brewery called Hockey & Sons, players used the term ‘toeing the hockey’ to indicate they were standing at the correct distance. When you look up ‘oche’ in the two-volume Shorter Oxford Dictionary, it says ‘also hockey’.
Another theory claims that ‘oche’ comes from the Old French ‘ocher’, which meant to cut a deep notch in a piece of wood. So the ‘oche’ was a notch on the pub’s wooden floor that indicated the player’s throwing position.
The third theory resorts to the Old English word ‘hocken’, meaning to spit. In the not so salubrious days of yore, it is said, one player would stand with his back against the dartboard and spit as far as he could. The spot where the spittle fell was the ‘hock’ and marked the point from which the darts were thrown.
As so often happens with theories of this kind, none of the three scores a direct bull’s eye, but I think the first one has the louder ring of truth about it — especially with the Shorter Oxford giving ‘hockey’ as an alternative.
During the past 25 years the game of darts has become more popular than ever before. Towards the end of December last year, Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to beat a man in the world darts championship. She was one of only two women among the 96 players competing for the title.
Sherrock’s first historic victory was against Ted Evetts in the first round at Alexandra Palace in London when she beat him 3-2. In the next round she won against Mensur Suljovic who was 11th in the world championships ranking. It was quite a feat for a woman of only 25 who didn’t start playing darts until she was 17.