34. Marbles

I can’t recommend The House of Marbles highly enough. It is a shop near to where we live (actually it’s on Dartmoor) which has mutated from shop to strange hybrid of shop, tourist attraction, art gallery and museum.

The best thing about this shop is the giant marble run on one wall that stretches from the ground to 30 feet up. This features an incredibly eccentric interweaving series of metal tubes, traps and mechanical moving parts, each tipped by the weight of a giant marble. The marbles run several at a time, all day and every day, and the engineering in the giant run is truly a wonder to behold.

The second best thing about the House of Marbles is the range of glass marbles that are sold in the gift shop (if you wanted to hear the worst thing then it’s the plastic imitation marble runs that are sold in the same shop but let’s forget about these for expediency’s sake). It’s the beautiful glass marbles in the gift shop that we use when we play marbles as a family. It’s not a great game, but can be a good game and we are probably blessed in that we have a big wooden floor on which to play it.

Marbles has been played since 400 BC apparently. Here is the version we play-it is pretty standard.

First, you need a flat playing surface. Make a circle roughly and surround your playing surface, be it a floor or table, with soft edges that will stop any stray marbles. Tea towels, string and the like are suitable for this job. Hard boundaries can also work and indeed bouncing can add to the fun. The marbles, we have about 60, are divided equally amongst the players. Then a distinctive marble (the shooter or jack) is rolled into the centre of the pitch.

The players must flick their marbles by holding them in the crook of their fingers and flicking them out with the thumb. This is called knucklig, but may be too hard for small players. However they manage to flick it, each player rolls a marble in turn and attempts to roll it slowly so it settles next to the jack, the shooter, or if they are playing to dislodge another player’s marble, hits the other player’s marble out of the way. The winner is the player with the marble closest to the jack after all the marbles have been rolled.

Marbles is best when you flick the marbles, and has a similar character to Subbuteo when performed this way.