Monday, September 01, 2008

Kugelach (aka Five Stones)

My first trip to Israel was in 1976 when I was 7 years old. That's when I learned one of the national games of Israel: Kugelach.

Kugelach, otherwise known as Five Stones, and by various other names in other cultures, has been played for over 4,000 years or so. Many other games, such as Jacks, and probably most forms of dice and sticks, derive from some early form of this game.

Kugelach is the name of the game and the name of the pieces to the game: five gold colored heavy metal cubes, each about a centimeter on each side. You can find the stones in any Israeli toy store, without the rules (everyone simply knows how to play). Or you could just pick up any five similarly sized stones and play.

First Player

Each player in turn takes all five stones in one hand, tosses them up in the air, and tries to catch them on the back of that hand. Then the player tosses them up from the back of that hand and catches them in the palm of the same hand. The player who catches the most stones starts. In case of a tie, continue doing this until the starting player is determined.

How to Play

Players take turns playing through four series' of steps. One player continues to play until he or she makes a mistake, and then then next player plays. And so on until someone has finished all the steps (or all players have finished).

In most steps, you throw the stones onto the floor or table, and then perform a series of tosses until all of the stones are back in your hand. Then you go on to the next step, which is slightly harder. And so on, until you've completed all the steps.

If you forget a step, you go back to the beginning of that step on your next turn. Every action: tossing, picking up, pushing, and so on must be done using a single hand. If you use your other hand in any way, your turn is over and you start again at the beginning of the step on your next turn. If you touch any stone that you're not supposed to, or do something in the wrong order, or drop any stones onto the table when you're not supposed to, or push one stone into another stone, your turn is over.

Tossing: holding all the stones in your hand, you toss the required number of stones up into the air, perform some action, and then catch the stones that you tossed. Some additional stones may be in your hand before you toss, and these must stay there (unless the step indicates otherwise).

The Steps

There are four series of steps: onesies, twosies, threesies, and foursies. Each series contains the following steps (explanations are for the first series, "onesies"):

Onesies (step "onesies" in the series "onesies": Toss all five stones onto the floor. Select one and pick it up. Toss it into the air and pick up one of the other stones with the same hand and catch the tossed stone. Repeat until you have picked up all stones.

Twosies: Toss all five stones onto the floor. Select one and pick it up. Toss it in the air and pick up two other stones. Repeat.

Threesies: Toss all five stones onto the floor. Select one and pick it up. Toss it in the air and pick up either one or three stones. Then pick up all the rest of the stones.

Foursies: Toss one stone in the air and place all four stones on the floor, catching the tossed stone. Now toss the stone in the air and pick up all four stones, and catch.

Onesies: As above.

Fivesies: Toss all the stones and catch on the back of the hand. You must catch at least two stones. If you caught all five stones on the back of your hand, toss them again and catch them in your palm. If you caught only four stones, pick up the fifth stone with your other hand and place on the back of your hand with the other four, and then toss and catch in your palm.

If you caught only two or three, you have to let all but one of them drop near one of the missed stones, toss the one on the back of your hand and pick up both (or all three) and catch. Toss again and place the ones in your hand near another stone and catch, toss and pick up all of those stones and catch. Repeat for the last stone, if necessary.

Onesies: As above.

Slapsies: As onesies, except you toss all the stones in your hand up into the air after each pickup. When all five stones are in your hand, toss all stones in the air, slap the floor, and catch.

Onesies: As above.

Switchsies: Toss all five stones onto the floor. Select one and pick it up. Toss it in the air and pick up a stone and catch. Toss one stone in the air, and pick up another stone while dropping the one that was in your hand and catch. Repeat until you have switched all stones. Then toss, pick up all stones, and catch.

Onesies: As above.

Putsies: Toss one stone in the air, drop one, and catch. Repeat until four stones are on the floor. Then toss, pick up all stones and catch.

Onesies: As above.

Bridgesies: Place the thumb and forefinger of one hand to form a bridge on the table. Holding your other hand with the five stones under the bridge, pull it away, letting the bridge knock all the stones off your hand, so that all five stones fall on one side of the bridge (the direction in which you were pulling your hand away). Select a stone and pick it up.

Toss the stone in the air and knock another stone so that it passes under and through the bridge, and catch. Repeat until all stones are through. Then remove the bridge, toss, pick up all stones, and catch.

That's onesies. Now you do the twosies series in the same way, with the following changes:

- Start from twosies

- Twosies between each step, instead of onesies.

- Must catch at least three on the back of your hand during fivesies.

- Two at a time in switchsies, putsies, and bridgesies.

Then threesies and foursies, making similar substitutions.

As with any other game from antiquity, there are many variations on the basic rules found in different areas.


Chris said...

Excuse me, did I read that correctly? You have to catch them *on the back of your hand*? I struggle to catch things in the palm of my hand, I just can't imagine having the skills to use the back of my hand to do anything other than swat away flies! :)

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Aw, Chris. Seven year olds can do it. Surely you can, too.


Chris said...

Way to make me feel special, Yehuda, and not in the good way. :)

Catching was never my strong suit... unless you count catching colds. ;)

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Sorry. Try it, though. It's not as hard as it looks.


Unknown said...

was born 1965, used to play it in Jerusalem as a child.
like so:

Unknown said...

how do we play cheleks in kugelach

Anonymous said...

Had a student from Korea bring in "Korean Jacks" today and it is played in exactly the same way. Brought me back to my Hebrew School days. Searched all over my apartment, but couldn't find my "Jewish Jacks" to show her. :(

Anonymous said...

all my friends play this in school and they dont know what slapsies switchsies are but they know everything else there is this kid in my class that is amazing at kugelach and there is other good kids and my name is yair aaron and im also pretty good i got up to bridgeies

Shalisha said...

I remember this game in Yeshiva. I played it every single day! WOW, talk about turning back the clock!

Chaya B said...

Yeah it is really fun and I also have this super fun game called kugelach.

Unknown said...

is this thread still live? anyway found this by accident and realized this game is similar to a version played by European Jewish refugee kids in Shanghai during WWII, except we used little cloth pillows filled with rice - perhaps one of us brought the game to Israel?