I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
While I wish I held a secret life as a street-savvy pool shark, the honest truth is that I haven’t felt that sweet thud of cushiony cue-tip against a gleaming, polished white cue ball in about four years. I used to love pool, and played it almost every day when I was a teenager. I played 8-ball, 9-ball, and when the opportunity presented itself, I spent some time at the king-size snooker tables, stretching to put a little English on a shot that seemed a mile away (and for all my efforts, may as well have been).
But life has successfully intervened and allowed rust to ooze across what little skill I had. The friends I used to play with I hardly see anymore; I no longer work at that place which featured a rec-room with a well-worn slab of green felt on a creaky old table; it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even know where the pool halls in this town are anymore.
But I can still write about it. In fact, I bet I’ll find there’s a lot about billiards that I didn’t know.
Before there was the cue, there was the mace. Because billiards began as a table-top version of golf or croquet, early players (we’re talking roughly 16th century here) would use these little mini-putters, striking the cue ball with the front end of the club part of the mace. When the cue ball would be tucked up against the cushion, they’d make use of the tail-end of the mace instead. ‘Tail’ in French is ‘queue’, which led to the term ‘cue’ once they’d discarded the idiotic idea of miniature golf clubs in favor of the more accurate stick.
The mace was used to push the ball, not to strike it. It wasn’t until 1800 when the modern cue became the game’s standard that people could know that satisfying sploosh of adrenaline that comes from a particularly effective break. Read more…