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Knucklebones also known as hucklebones, dibs, dibstones, jackstones, chuckstones or five-stones, is a game of very ancient origin, played with five small objects, originally the knucklebones of a sheep, which are thrown up and caught in various ways.

 Modern knucklebones consist of six points, or knobs, proceeding from a common base, and are usually made of metal or plastic. The winner is the first player to successfully complete a prescribed series of throws, which, while of the same general character, differ widely in detail. The simplest consists in tossing up one stone, the jack, and picking up one or more from the table while it is in the air; and so on until all five stones have been picked up. Another consists in tossing up first one stone, then two, then three and so on, and catching them on the back of the hand. Different throws have received distinctive names, such as riding the elephant, peas in the pod, and horses in the stable.

The origin of knucklebones is closely connected with that of dice, of which it is probably a primitive form, and is doubtless Asiatic.

 Sophocles, in a fragment, ascribed the invention of draughts and knucklebones (astragaloi) to Palamedes, who taught them to his Greek countrymen during the Trojan War. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey contain allusions to games similar in character to knucklebones, and the Palamedes tradition, as flattering to the national pride, was generally accepted throughout Greece, as is indicated by numerous literary and plastic evidences. Thus Pausanias mentions a temple of Fortune in which Palamedes made an offering of his newly invented game.

According to a still more ancient tradition, Zeus, perceiving that Ganymede longed for his playmates upon Mount Ida, gave him Eros for a companion and golden dibs with which to play, and even condescended sometimes to join in the game (Apollonius).

It is significant, however, that both Herodotus and Plato ascribe to the game a foreign origin. Plato (Phaedrus) names the Egyptian god Thoth as its inventor, while Herodotus relates that the Lydians, during a period of famine in the days of King Atys, originated this game and indeed almost all other games except chess. (Herodotus, History, Book I)

There were two methods of playing in ancient times. The first, and probably the primitive method, consisted in tossing up and catching the bones on the back of the hand, very much as the game is played today. In the Museum of Naples may be seen a painting excavated at Pompeii, which represents the goddesses Latona, Niobe, Phoebe, Aglaia and Hileaera, the last two being engaged in playing at Knucklebones. According to an epigram of Asclepiodotus, astragals were given as prizes to schoolchildren, and we are reminded of Plutarchs anecdote of the youthful Alcibiades, who, when a teamster threatened to drive over some of his knucklebones that had fallen into the wagonruts, boldly threw himself in front of the advancing team. This simple form of the game was generally played only by women and children, and was called pent alit ha or five-stones. There were several varieties of it besides the usual toss and catch, one being called tropa, or hole-game, the object having been to toss the bones into a hole in the earth. Another was the simple and primitive game of odd or even.


The second, probably derivative, form of the game was one of pure chance, the stones being thrown upon a table, either with the hand or from a cup, and the values of the sides upon which they fell counted. In this game the shape of the pastern-bones used for astralagoi, as well as for the tali of the Romans, with whom knucklebones was also popular, determined the manner of counting. The pastern-bone of a sheep, goat or calf has, besides two rounded ends upon which it cannot stand, two broad and two narrow sides, one of each pair being concave and one convex. The convex narrow side, called chios or the dog counted I; the convex broad side 3; the concave broad side 4; and the concave narrow side 6. Four astragals were used and 35 different scores were possible at a single throw, many receiving distinctive names such as Aphrodite, Midas, Solon, Alexander, and, among the Romans, Venus, King, Vulture, &c. The highest throw in Greece, counting 40, was the Euripides, and was probably a combination throw, since more than four sixes could not be thrown at one time. The lowest throw, both in Greece and Rome, was the Dog.

In modern play, the player attempts a series of challenges.


The official rules include

Over hand ones, twos, threes, fours - first "jockey" then eliminate all you have caught except one. Throw this one up and whilst it is in the air quickly pick one (two, three, or four) up off the ground, and then catch the one you threw up. Repeat with remaining knucklebones. You are able to sweep the knucklebones prior to picking them up.

Scatter ones, twos, threes, fours - Scatter all five, select and pick up one, throw it up and without "sweeping" proceed as above.

Dumps - hold five knucklebones in the palm, then dump them in a heap on the ground. Select one which you must take away without disturbing any others. Throw this one up, pick up other four, and catch the first one.

Over hand scatter ones, twos, threes, fours - first "jockey" then proceed to scatter remaining knucklebones.

Clicks - first "jockey" then proceeded as with over hand ones. When catching the one you threw up the knucklebones must click.

No click - same as above but knucklebones must not click

Little jingles - first "jockey", continue as over-hand ones, but keep all jacks caught in your hand at all times (including those caught while jockeying).

Big jingles - same as above but all jacks must be thrown up each time.


Horse in the stable

Through the arch

Over the line

Over the jump

Thread the needle

Catching flies

Other challenges include:

Down the chute

In the cave

Playing golf

This is the house that jack built


Picking Apples

Car Parks

Cut the cabbage

Sources: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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