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Circle Marbles Games

From the The Great American Marble Book on circle games:


The circular game of Ringer, played in the national championships, is the most complicated of the circle games. A circle of 10 feet in diameter is marked off (in Wildwood where the tournament is held permanent circles are painted on concrete blocks, buried beneath the sandy beach most of the year and uncovered only at tournament time in June). Thirteen marbles are placed in the center of this circle in the shape of a cross. The winner is the player who is the first to shoot seven marbles out of the ring. The eliminations are held over a week with players competing against each other on a round-robin basis. The finalists are, of course, those who win the most games in the round robin.

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Ringer is merely a sophisticated derivative of Lag in which, according to Addy's Sheffield Diary, "A number of boys put marbles in a ring, and then they all bowl at the ring. The one who gets nearest has the first shot at the marbles. He has the option of either 'knuckling doon' and shooting at the ring from the prescribed mark, or 'ligging up' [lying up] -- that is, putting his taw [marble] so near the ring that if the others miss his taw, or miss the marbles in the ring, has the game all to himself next time. If, however, he is hit by the others, he is said to be 'killed.'" Much of the strategy lay in positioning the marbles.

Circle games abound. In England they are Taw as well as Lag and Ring Taw. In Australia they are called The Ring, Big Ring, Little Ring, Big Circle, Little Circle, as well as Jumbo, Poison Ring and Eye Drop. In the United States they are known as Ringer and Ring, as Potsies and Dubs, and in Italy as Pallina di Vetro. All of the games involve putting marbles in a ring and then shooting them out.

There are even half-circle games known as Half Moon, Townsey and Mooney Ted First.

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This is probably the most universal of circle games. It is also called Dubs or 25-A-Dub or 100-A-Dub. Each player contributes a given number of marbles to the "pot," which is a large ring drawn on the ground. These are arranged in cross-fashion or in the form of a circle. The player who bowls closest to the ring goes first.

The object is to know marbles out of the ring while keeping one's own shooter inside. If the shooter goes outside the next player plays. The first player to obtain enough marbles necessary for a majority (13 in a 25-A-Dub, 51 in 100-A-Dub) wins and is entitled to take all the rest of the marbles in the ring. A big game for big stakes, and always played "for keeps."

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Big ring

A circle from three to six feet in diameter is drawn in the dirt. Then one player collects from all of the others the agreed-upon stake (usually three to five marbles each), puts them all in one cupped hand, and then quickly drops his hand awat, letting the marbles fall helter-skelter into the circle. Players shoot from the edge of the ring, the aim being to hit the target marbles out of the ring while their shooter remains inside the ring. In this game shooters are permitted to raise their shooting hands one hand-length off the ground when they knuckle-shoot. This creates "English" and helps shooters "stick" in the ring. "Roundsters" is permitted, that is, players under this procedure may move about the perimeter of the ring -- as long as their distance to the edge remains the same -- to get a better shooting position.

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In this game one player constructs a small pyramid -- actually a triangle flat on the ground -- out of his own marbles, then draws a circle about it. His opponent (this is a two-man game) shoots at the pyramid from a designated shooting line in much the same manner as a pool player "Breaks." He keeps any marble that rolls out of the ring and continues to shoot until he either misses or fails to shoot a marble from the ring.

His opponent then builds a pyramid with his marbles and the first builder becomes the shooter. This is billiards pure and simple.

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Poison ring

In this Australian game, a concave hole is dug into the ground with a twist of the heel. This becomes the "Poison" and into it, each player puts his agreed-upon ante. Around this hole a circle is drawn which is called the "Ring."

Players bowl to see who comes closest to the ring and goes first. After this the emphasis is on shooting ability. A player must shoot a marble out of the ring, and his shooter must also leave the ring, or he has to give all of his winnings back to the "poison" pot. If he has no winnings he must pay a penalty of one or marbles. If he succeeds in both knocking a marble out and getting his shooter out, he becomes "poison" and can shoot at, and eliminate, other players. Only for the finest shooters.

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Pot II

This is an adaptation of Potsies, and not nearly as involved. A circular "pot: is drawn in the dirt, and stake marbles are placed in it. Another ring is drawn around it and this becomes the shooting border. Players, using scaboulders or steelies, simply blast out the target marbles and keep blasting until they miss, keeping all the marbles they win. This was a Bronx game, and because it was usually played on concrete, and not dirt, it made for fast rolls and fast games.

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Little Ring

One of those rare games that involves both a bowler and a shooter; blasting power and shooting skill. A small ring, about the size of a large diameter plate, is drawn in the dirt. Players put "two up" or "three up" or more into the circle, then bowl large-size marbles or steelies at the circle. There's a double objective: to knock out marbles (which one then keeps), to end up close to the ring, but not in it, so you can be the first shooter.

Once the bowling is finished, players switch to their shooters, usually aggies, and begin to go after marbles in the ring. In this game the skill lies in the glancing shot, for if your shooter remains in the ring, you are forced to return the marbles you shot out, are penalized two or more marbles (which are placed in the ring) and have to start from scratch by bowling again. A most frustrating game.

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A circle about five feet in diameter is drawn in the dirt, creating a "pot." Players put in a designated number of marbles in the pot, choose by finger who goes first, then mark off a shooting area either by spanning with the hand a distance from the circle or, more commonly, by measuring two or three shoe lengths away.

In this game the object is to keep your shooter inside the circle and shoot the target marbles out. If a target marble is hit and comes within six inches of the perimeter, the shooter is given another try. Shooting in this game is "knuckles down."

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In this marbles game, known as Fats in Australia, a football shape is drawn in the dirt, with a line connecting the two ends. Each player puts a marble on that line. Players attempt to knock the marbles off the line and out of the football. The game ends when all of the marbles are knocked out. The winner in this "for keeps" game is the one with the most marbles. The player who shoots closest to the football goes first. If his marble enters the football, he shoots again from the starting line. A Massachusetts variation uses the same figure without the center line and decrees that one's shooter is lost if it lands inside the enclosure.

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Old Bowler

Squares are almost as popular as circle in surface marbles games, and are known by names equally as colorful -- Square Ring, Liney, Old Bolwer and Skelley. One of the oldest of these, Old Bowler, was reportedly a favorite of Abraham Lincoln's.

Draw a square in the dust with diagonal lines connecting the corners. Place a marble in each corner and another where the diagonals intersect. Bowl from a starting line to see who comes closest to the square. The one closest shoots first, and plays until he misses one of the targets. The four corner marbles must be disposed of first. Then the "old bowler." Inadvertently hit the "old bowler" before the others are eliminated, and you too are eliminated!

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Similar to Old Bowler, but wihtout the drawn diagonals; in addition, players can shoot from elevated positions and can shoot at any of the marbles. For a marble to be counted and kept it has to go out of the square on the fly, without rolling. This calls for only the best aggie shooters. A West Bronx game for those with the most powerful shooting thumbs.

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Square ring

A Long Island variation in which nine marbles are placed in a drawn square {tick-tac-toe style}. Players bowl for "firsties," then shoot "knuckles down tight" on the ground, aiming either to shoot marbles from the square or against each other to keep opponents away from the square. A game of strategy and defense, rare in "for keeps" marbles.

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Corner the market

A "for keeps game. Each player puts a designated number of marbles in a square or a hexagon, drawn in the dirt. Often played with shooters, in which case skill is essential, but just as often played with oversized steelies or scaboulders with which the shooter simply bowls, attempting to wham the target marbles out of the drawn figure. With a good eye and a hot streak one could, in the words of the game, "corner the market" in immies in one's neighborhood. The steelies version has been favored by poorer shooters because of their blasting power.

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Knuckle Box

This Brooklyn variation calls for a square with 18-inch sides. Players place a specified number of marbles inside, and finger-choose to determine who goes first. The winner spans from any side of the square (tip of the thumb to tip of middle finger) to establish his shooting spot. Shooting form here, he can keep all of the marbles he hits from the square; his shooter must leave the square too. He continues to shoot until he misses or until his shooter fails to rool out of the square. It then become a target marble and belong to whoever shoots it out. Depending upon neighborhood rules, the shooting line might be one, two or three spans away from the square.

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This inversion of the general run of square game has been played on the east coast. A square is drawn and a white marble, a milkie of smoked glass, placed in its center. Each of the four players places his shooter outside the square, at a corner, and attempts, in turn, to shoot the milkie form the center of the square to any corner, without the milkie leaving the confies of the square.

If the milkie is hit to a corner, the player in that corner is eliminated. The danger is that you can come within a hair of your opponent's marble and be liable to be blasted yards away, and have to edge your way back in stages.

This is tournament stuff, with identical squares set up all over the lot, and eliminations held until there are four finalists around one square. Definitely a controlled shooter's game.

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There are just a few triangle games; two of them Killy and Three-Corner Killy, are from Australia, a third, Three-And-Your-Own, is from Toronto, Canada. The first two are simple shoot-marbles-out-of-a-shape games, but the third is rather interesting. Three marbles are set down at the corners of a triangle, and a shooter attempts to hit them off the corner and out of the triangle. If he succeeds, he wins them from the player who put up the marbles stake. If he misses he loses his shooter to the triangle-maker. The triangle-maker usually wins.

It is not uncommon for a boy to come to school several hours early to stake out a particularly rough and uneven piece of concrete on which to set up his triangle. Often locations would be sold for a certain number of marbles. For the more adventuresome, Four-And-Your-Own and even Five-And-Your-Own games were set up, though this was rare.

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An indoor game. On rainy days marbles players would congregate in homes (mothers willing) which had living-room Persian rugs and enough space for some decent shooting. White thread was used to outline a portion of the rug pattern. Four players were considered ideal and the one who shouted "last!" first had the advantage of being the last to place his marbles and the first to shoot. He could set up things pretty much to his liking. This was played "for keeps"; you kept any marble you shot out of the Persian outline. A shooter's game.

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Song: "Dueling Banjos"