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Hole Marbles Games

From the The Great American Marble Book on hole games:


This was the earliest English hole game. A hole was dug into the ground and the competition was to see who could toss or roll his marble in first. Intricate hole games evolved from this, such as Holy Bang.

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Holy bang

Place a marble in a dug out hole as a target. The first player able to get his marble into the hole and so hit the target marble three times is the winner and collects all of the missed marbles tossed in the game. Holilakes also spawned Cob, a game in which several players bowl their marbles into a series of four holes in the ground (see Rolly-Polly).

The varieties of hole games are endless, with specific rules being laid down for games of one, two, three, four or more holes to be dug. An ideal hole slopes smoothly into the ground at an angle of 45 degrees, and curves gently to the opposite slope. There should be no lip.

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This is another simple one-hole English game for two players. A hole is dug and a shooting line is drawn from eight to 15 feet. The players attempt to get their marbles into the hole. A player getting his shooter of boss in the hole receives 10 points, and has the option of either going back to the line for another shot at the hole or shooting at his opponent. A hit also counts 10 points. A person hitting one hit also loses 10, thus achieving 100 points can be a difficult and lengthy venture.

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A hole in the ground is scooped out in the shape of a saucer, not deep but slightly concave, and marbles are shot at it from a shooting line about eight to 15 feet away. If more than one hole is used the game becomes Holy Bun-Hole. These basic one-hole games have traveled. Bun-Hole in England is Bunny-In-The-Hole in New England, and in Australia it is Basins, Bunny Hole, In The Hole, Holey and Goot.

In the American midwest it is called Bullseye, in Pennsylvania Puggy and up in New Hampshire it inspired a marbles game as a winter sport, Last Clams.

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This more intricate one-hole game had its heyday in the New York City borough of Queens because it required the kind of dirt driveway with which Queens once abounded. In time, the dirt driveway gave way to the alley. The hole or "potty" is dug seven or more feet from the shooting line. Players throw their marbles toward the potty, the closest throw winning the first shot. The object of the game is to get into the potty but not to get too close if you fail. Being in the potty entitles the advantaged to "spannies," that is, he can keep all the marbles that are a hand's span from the lip of the potty.

Potty is a double-edged game. Though it's desirable to get into the potty (as you can help yourself to any marble that comes too close), once in it, you are at the mercy of the next person who follows you in. That person has three chances to knock you out of the pot and thus take your marble. If he fails, you have three chances to hit him. You can make it hard for someone to shoot your marble out of the potty by substituting a tiny peewee in its place. On the other hand, the attacker can substitute an oversized scaboulder (see A Lexicon in Mibology) in an attempt at brute force. A thinking man's game. It is good/bad to be the first into the potty. It is good/bad to quite close to the potty. Strategies and measurements tax the mind in this "ruthless" game.

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In this New Jersey variation of Potty, players put up stakes of marbles in a circle around the pot. Once a player gets his shooter into the pot, he can put it on the lip and shoot at the stake, keeping any marble he shoots off the circular ring. A game for only the best shooters. Another New Jersey variation, also called Pot, specifies that once having gotten into the pot, a shooter take his marble out to the lip of the pot and try to shoot an opponent from there. This requires some elementary knowledge of pool hall "English" and strong, propelling knuckles. Only for the strong.

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Like Potty, this is a hole game, but there the resemblance ends. First, the hole has to be dug with the heel of a shoe and to a depth of that heel. Then the players stand upright about six inches from the hole and, at random, drop whatever stake of marbles is decided upon, usually three. The players then shoot from a shooting line about ten feet away and attempt to propel these target marbles into the hole or "puggy." A player continues shooting until he misses; an expert shooter could conceivably -- like a good pool player -- run all the marbles. This rarely happened in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Puggy was regarded as a "girls only" game, and it was common knowledge that girls weren't good shooters.

In Yonkers, in New York's Weschester County, the players gathered in a circle around the hole or pot. They shot for the hole and if successful became "killers," eligible to go after the marbles of others. A stake of several marbles was agreed upon for each hit.

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In Brooklyn, Puggy was simply called Killer. Players, after shooting at the hole from a line a dozen feet away, shot at their opponent's marbles. The extra added attraction here was that one played "for keeps" for aggies, the favored shooters. This was a tense business. Only the best shooters played Killer.

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Newark killer

Another "strictly for shooters" game is native to Newark. In this one the players begin by tossing their shooters into a hole about eight feet away. After successfully entering the hole, the player can then shoot at an opponent's marble. If if is hit, that player is not only eliminated from the game but also loses his shooter and pays a bounty of one or more marbles.

The successful shooter has the option, after hitting one player, to aim at another by either placing his shooter on the lip of the hole and shooting from there or by shooting from where his marble lays. This is the toughest of the one-on-one shooting games, and those who played it were the neighborhood's top guns. The best thought so highly of themselves that they refused to recognize the annual winner of the National Marbles Tournament because the competition didn't involve a pot.

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Last clams

Marbles as a winter sport; a New Hampshire game, as one might expect. Dig a hole at the base of a snow bank, taking great care to see that the hole, the depth of a galosh heel, is packed tightly. Make an icy rim by tampering with warm hands. The marbles are here considered "clams," and the first person to shout "Last Clams!" goes last and has an obvious advantage, soon to be seen. A point is marked off about 12 feet from the hole. From here, the first person tosses his clam toward the hole, drops it in the snow wherever he likes, or with his finger etches an arm's length trench in the snow in the general direction of the hole and rolls his marble toward it. He could, if daring or confident, dig a trench all the way to the hole and toss his marble down it. The danger of using the trench is that once the marble comes to rest it is at the mercy of the last shooter, who can shoot for the hole or at any other marble. A marble in a trench is easy prey. If he hits a marble he receives a one-shot bonus and can conceivably work his way to the hole on the backs of the other players. On the other hand he too can elect to weave his way to the hole via trench.

A mass of trenches criss-cross their way toward the hole, each player inching forward but being careful not to be belted out of contention. Hitting an opponent entitles the aggressor to a free shot with which to further his trench.

The game was generally played with mittens, hands cupped, palm upward, using the knuckle of the index finger to propel the shooter. Crucial shots were, of course, taken barehanded, regardless of the cold. Cold hands is a small price to pay for being the winning clam. Last Clams appears to be the only instance on record of marbles as a winter sport. It is generally regarded as a spring pastime, beginning with the soft ground that comes after winter. However, games have been known to be played in mud or slush.

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There seem to be no two-hole marbles games, but there are a few three-holers. One of these, an Australian game, calls for three saucer-shaped and -sized holes, each a yard apart. Players begin from a shooting line about ten feet away from the first hole, and shoot for the first, second and then third. A player can keep shooting as long as he's landing his marble in the saucers. When he misses, the next player gets his turn. The second has the option of shooting for a saucer or "kissing" his opponent off the track, for which he wins an extra shot. The first player to traverse the three holes three times is the winner.

Sir Joseph Verco in Early Memories wrote, "It had to be played necessarily kneeling down, and not otherwise, and so tended to produce a definite bagging of the trousers at the knees, and the wearing of holes there, as well as an accumulation of dirt and even of abrasion at the knuckles of the hands."

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This is a Long Island version of Nucks. In it, the holes are shaped like pots instead of saucers. As with Nucks, a player has the option of either shooting for a pot or shooting at an opponent's marble. If he hits the latter, he receives an extra shot. Once in a hole, a player can span out from its lip (by stretching his hand from thumb to forefinger) and shoot from there. The first player through the three holes can shoot at his opponent's with the power to eliminate those he hits. A player who is eliminated has to pay a stake of marbles -- usually five or six, or a number agreed upon before the game.

The shooting line in this game -- from which all players start -- is at least 20 feet from the first hole, a sizable distance that makes this difficult game more difficult. Instead of a yard between the saucers, as in the Australian version, there are 10 feet. For good shooters.

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There are several four-hole games that generally involve moving from hole to hole in order. These appear to be played in England, Scotland, Ireland and in Australia, and include Castles, Pot Holes, Holes, Poison and Basins. But in one of these, Poison, there is an interesting variation. Four holes are dug, three in a line and a fourth about five feet to the side of the third. Players must go from the first to the second to the third; back to the first; and again, from the first through the third, and then into the fourth or Poison hole. he then becomes "Poison" and may shoot at the marble of any other player, and claim it, or an agreed upon stake, if he hits it.

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This five-hole marbles game was popular in the Philadelphia-Central New jersey area. Five holes, up to four inches deep, are dug in a line, three feet apart. The players shoot from a starting line about 10 feet from the first hole and make their way through the five holes. Once through they become "Killer" or "Poison" and can shoot their fellow players out of the game.

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Da bawh ji

A southern Chinese six-hole game for which five holes are arranged pentagonally, with sixth in the middle. The winner is he who gets his marble through the five outer holes (counter-clockwise) and into the center hole. Landing in a hole entitles the advantaged to another turn. The marble is removed from the hole and shot from the lip. A player may shoot his opponents' marbles away from the holes as he goes along, receiving an extra shot for a hit.

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Black Snake

This is an American seven-hole game. The holes are dug at irregular and unmeasured intervals. Players must progress through all seven holes, then return back through the holes to become "Black Snakes." Attaining that distinction, a player is entitled to shoot at other players' marbles. Once hit, a player is eliminated from the game. However a "Black Snake" must be careful too; if he shoots into any of the seven holes he is eliminated.

Generally no marbles are at stake. The game is played only with shooters and is looked upon as a kind of championship scrimmage, an excellent opportunity to develop aim and backspin. This game was popular in Ohio and Kansas and throughout the midwest, and was only, obviously, for the best of shooters.

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Nine holes

An English game, a derivative of golf. Nine holes are dug into the ground, either in a squared or rounded S-shape, and the players shoot into them in turn, one at a time. The players do not shoot at each and the winner is he who, according to Strutt, "completes in the fewest bowls" the nine-hole course. According to Strutt this was a most popular game in nineteenth century London. {Joseph Strutt, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (London, 1898).}

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Poison hole

Poison Hole is similar to Nine Holes but is played on a course of 11. Though its name connotes a "Killer" or "Poison" type game, it is essentially a form of golf.

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Song: "Duck Tales"