Myfanwy Jones & Spiri Tsintziras have published a book that will probably be simply known by the delightfully old-fashioned title of Parlour Games. But its full title Parlour Games for Modern Families puts it firmly into the present day.
And what a joy it is: to read, to search for favorite games, or for those you’ve often wondered about.
I’ve always wanted to know how to play the card game Strip Jack Naked, and was somewhat disappointed that it doesn’t involved being stripped of your clothes (like the legendary Strip Poker) but rather being stripped of your cards to pay a tax on picture cards (Jack, Queen etc) when turned up by your partner.
Card games are only one of the many categories of games discussed in Parlour Games, and one of the few that require any equipment.
Most of the one 140 items listed in the index require nothing more than household items such as paper, pencils, foodstuffs and your brains.
You might also need a watch with a second hand, for games that involve timing, such as the Memory Tray, also known as ‘Kim’s Game’ whose name comes from Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, where the central character Kim played it during his training as a spy?
The book has a lot of interesting historical anecdotes of this type. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland was ‘fascinated by puns, acrostics, anagrams, riddles, and all sorts of mathematical games and puzzles.’
He invented a number of games such as Word-Links or Doublets. How quickly can you change MORE into LESS, or MICE into RATS, or SLEEP into DREAM? You might know this favourite by another name, but what wonderful names they are! Fan Tan, Whist, Gin Rummy and Pig Dice.
Apropos of which, I think my only complaint with Parlour Games is the insistence that the singular of ‘dice’ is ‘die’. Pedantry!
Can you imagine little Jimmy complaining that ‘Julie’s pinched the die!’ during a game of Snakes and Ladders? As the kids would say, ‘get over it!’
I particularly liked Jones and Tsintziras’s assurance that ‘we have played every single game in this book.’
TV addicts might be intrigued to find how many television game shows are based on ancient traditions, such as Twenty Questions and Celebrity Heads.
I really liked the inclusion of a reminiscence from 91-year-old George Perry, about growing up in the Depression years, playing football with a rolled-up newspaper and knucklebones from the legs of mutton.
You can play knucklebones, or Jacks, with commercially produced items, but there’s nothing like the real thing, so congratulations to the authors of Parlour Games, and to their marvellous butchers Ross and Damian at the Macelleria Salumeria Italiana in North Carlton, for their valiant efforts.
Parlour Games has sections dealing with many different types of games such as; Writing and Drawing, Games of Motion, Mystery and Make-believe, Games of Cards, Dice, Marbles, and Knucklebones, and Games Spoken Aloud.
Some of my favourites are the games without any equipment at all, such as Wink Murder, and Dead Fish. What a fascinating book it is, there’s history, literature, cooking, lots of humour, and some droll one-liners.
I especially liked their comment that ‘some of the games are unruly, but all fit comfortably indoors’.
Parlour Games for Modern Families will be an invaluable resource book for rainy days, heat-wave days, impossibly windy days, and all Melbourne’s usual weather surprises. It’s a book that every family should own.
Dr Gwenda Beed Davey is a Research Fellow at Deakin University Melbourne and is co-founder of the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection at Museum Victoria.