Come Out and Play | Pickup Sticks

What’s the first game you remember learning how to play? Is it UNO, Connect Four or tic tac toe? Well, grown-ups may not think of it often, but games are a part of our culture, and in China, pick-up sticks is very much so a part of their cultural history.

The game begins with 20 to 50 sticks, traditionally made of wood.  A player holds the sticks in his or her hand. When they drop the sticks onto a clear, flat surface, the sticks scatter about randomly. Then the real fun begins. Each player takes a turn picking up a stick without moving any others, much like Jenga blocks. If any other sticks move during the mission, the player loses his or her turn. If successful, the player earns another turn. And, of course, whoever has the most sticks at the end wins!

The original pick-up sticks players are presumed to have been from 12th-century China. Even though it is a simple game that can be replicated by using straws or toothpicks, it has lasted the ages and traveled from China throughout Japan, Great Britain and the world. Our name for the stick game is quite English, as the game grew in popularity thanks to the nursery rhyme that included the line, “five, six, pick up sticks.” In other cultures, the same game goes by the names “jackstraws” or “spillikins.”

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