Jacks has existed for over 2000 years. Early jacks were made of small sheep knuckle bones. The game was actually called knuckle bones many years ago.
The American colonists called it “jackstonesis.” You can buy a set, which includes six 6-pointed metal jacks. Or you can be like colonial children and use six small stones, pumpkin seeds or any other small objects that are all the same size. A set will include a small, bouncy ball, but any small ball with a good bounce will do. Or, like colonial children, use a round, smooth stone. (If you use a stone, toss it into the air rather than try to bounce it.) Here are three of the most popular games.
Ball or round, smooth stone
6 jacks or other small objects of the same size
2 or more players
GENERAL RULES for Jacks
There are more than 100 different jacks games, but most follow these basic rules.
1. Two or more people can play, indoors or out.
2. To start: a player tosses the ball in the air, scatters the jacks, and catches the ball on one bounce.
The player wants the jacks to land pretty close together, but not so close that they’re hard to pick up one at a time. Even if he doesn’t like the way they landed, he must play the jacks as they lie.
3. During play, the player must pick up the jacks and catch the ball on one bounce with the same hand.
4. When picking up jacks, the player can touch only the ones he is picking up. If he moves or touches others, his turn is over.
5. On any play, each player has only one try. If he makes a mistake, it’s the next player’s turn.
6. If a player makes a mistake and loses his turn, on the next turn he goes back to the beginning of the play in which he made the mistake.
GAME 1: Ones-Through Sixes (also called Onesies, Twosies)
Note: Remember that to start, the first player tosses the ball, scatters the jacks, and catches the ball on one bounce. The ball can bounce only once; if a stone is used, the stone is tossed in the air and must be caught before it lands.
1. To play:
a. For ones (onesies): Player 1 tosses the bali again, picks up one jack, then catches the ball on one bounce with the same hand. Player 1 then puts the jack in the other hand and repeats the play, again picking up one jack. Player 1 continues until all six jacks have been picked up, one at a time.
b. For twos (twosies): Player 1 bounces the ball, picks up two jacks, catches the ball on one bounce in the same hand, then puts the jacks in the other hand. Player 1 continues until he/she has picked up all six jacks, two at a time.
c. For threes (threesies): Player 1 bounces the ball, picks up three jacks, catches the ball on one bounce in the same hand. He/she then puts the jacks in the other hand and repeats the play to pick up the remaining three jacks.
d. For fours (foursies): Player 1 picks up four jacks on one toss, then two on the next toss.
e. For fives (fivesies): Player 1 picks up five jacks at once, then one jack on the next toss.
f. For sixes (sixies): Player 1 picks up all six jacks at once and catches the ball on one bounce with the same hand.
2. To win: A player who goes from ones through sixes without an error is a winner, but this player can be tied if another player also has a perfect round. Remember, when a player loses a turn, he/she starts the next turn at the beginning of the mistake. If the error was made on threes, for example, the player starts over at the beginning of threesies.
GAME 2: Crack the Egg
1. To play: Same as Ones-Through-Sizes, but after picking up each jack or jacks, the player must tap them on the playing surface before catching the ball.
2. To win: Same as Ones-Through Sixes.
GAME 3: Sheep Over the Fence
1. To play:
a. The player stretches one arm on the playing surface, with the arm flat on the surface from the elbow to the hand. This is the fence. Right-handed players use their left arms for the fence; left-handed players use their right arms.
b. During play, the player uses the free hand to play and cannot move the fence. The player must pick up each jack or jacks, place (not toss) them over the fence, then catch the ball. After catching the ball, the player transfers the jacks to the hand on the “fence” arm. Play proceeds as in Ones- Through-Sixes.
2. To win: Same as Ones-through-Sixes.
Bibliography and suggested reading:
1. Adler, Jeanne Winston, Editor. In the Path of War: Children of the American Revolution Tell Their Stories. Peterborough, New Hampshire: Cobblestone Publishing Company, 1998.
2. Barrett, Tracy. Growing Up in Colonial America. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Millbrook Press, 1995.
3. Brenner, Barbara. If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
4. Carson, Jane. Colonial Virginians at Play. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1989.
5. Dean, Ruth. Life in the American Colonies. San Diego: Lucent, 1999.
6. Egger-Bovet, Howard and Marlene Smith-Barazini. Brown Paper School, US Kids History: Book of the American Colonies. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1994.
7. McGovern, Ann. If You Lived In Colonial Times. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1964.
8. Newberry, John. A Little Pretty Pocket-book. London, 1744. Reprint edition with an introduction by M. F. Thwaite. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967.
9. Thomas, Mark. Fun and Games in Colonial America. Scholastic Library Pub, 2002.