“Manual Dexterity”

I confess that my fine motor skills left much to be desired. I never perfected penmanship, for instance, and continually received “needs improvement” on my report cards in that category. Three of the games we liked to play indoors, pictured above, were jacks, pick up sticks and tiddlywinks. I have written a little about the first two a while back, but include them again remembering the challenges they presented to my lack of manual dexterity.

Jacks seemed simple enough. We made a circle on the hardwood floor with a piece of string marking the boundary for the game. Then taking turns, we bounced the ball and took in sequence one jack, then two jacks, and so forth until we could scoop up all the jacks on one bounce. Simple, right? Well there were four of us siblings and we never missed an opportunity for mayhem. The ball would bounce into someone. That someone would start yelling or worse still crying. Jacks would go flying. One or more of us would stomp off, ending the game. I never completed a game of jacks at home, only with a friend at school.

Pick up sticks was also simple to play in theory. Players could remove sticks without any of the others moving. Their turn ended when a stick moved while moving the target stick. What could go wrong? Well, our father was an attorney, so we were well schooled in argument. Needless to say no one could agree whether a stick had moved or not. The player insisted she had removed a stick without a problem. Some other kid would insist “I saw that one move!!!” Also the sticks had pointed ends, supposedly to allow intricate maneuvers. Unfortunately, the sticks had pointed ends. Enough said.

Tiddlywinks required the player to use one large plastic disc to snap little ones into a cup. While some versions of this game had a box with various scores on it, we played with just the cup. If we had owned the fancier version, it must have been destroyed early on. All four of us were hopeless at this game. Our success matched that of rigged carnival games. Discs flew willy-nilly around the room. We dissolved in gales of laughter. Even today, saying the word “tiddlywinks,” I smile thinking of those rainy afternoons indoors.

23 thoughts on ““Manual Dexterity”

  1. What a great post, Elizabeth. I loved tiddlywinks as a young girl. I was good at it and always won. My sons both loved pick-up-sticks when they were younger. We used to all play this game together. Now we play Scrabble.


  2. History and origins
    The game of five stones is believed to have originated in Ancient Asia, during the Siege of Troy in 1184 BC. It is played by two or more players, using five small stones. The objective of the game is to complete a set of eight steps. The game helps to improve eye sight and memory, and builds concentration and aiming skills.1 It a good gauge of one’s dexterity and hand-eye coordination.2

    Five stones is also known by a variety of other names, including Jackstones, Chuckstones, Dibs, Dabs, Fivestones, Otadama, Tally and Knucklebones. Jacks is a variant of five stones that uses a ball.3 In the villages of Tamil Nadu in India, the game is called Kallangal and Anchangal.4 In Malaysia, it is known as Batu Seremban, Selambut and Batu Serembat.
    How to play:
    1. Players determine the order of play.
    2. Each takes turn to play the game.
    3. A player begins by throwing all five stones onto the ground. He throws a stone into the air, picks up a stone from the ground and then catches the first stone with the same hand. He continues picking up each stone in this manner until all five stones are in his hand.
    4. Repeat Step 3 but the player picks up two stones each time.
    5. Repeat Step 3 but the player picks up three stones the first time and one stone the second time or vice versa.
    6. Repeat Step 3 but the player sweeps up all four stones at one go.
    7. The player throws one stone into the air, places the other four on the ground and catches the falling stone before it lands. He throws the stone up again and sweeps up the others on the ground, and catches the stone.
    8. He throws all five stones onto the ground and picks up two. Then, he throws one stone into the air and exchanges the other with one on the ground (note that for this action, a player uses only one hand). He continues to do this to the remaining stones on the ground.
    9. After the exchange is completed, the two stones held in one hand are thrown up. The player picks up a stone with the same hand and catches the two falling stones separately in each hand. He continues to do this until there are three stones in one hand and two stones in the other. The remaining two stones are then thrown up and caught separately in each hand again. He throws the last stone up and catches it with the other hand.
    10. The player throws all five stones onto the ground. The opponent selects the stone to be thrown into the air. The player throws the selected stone and sweeps up the others on the ground and then catches the falling stone. When all these steps are completed, the player scores a point and starts from Step 3 again.
    11. The player stops playing when:
    a. The stone, which is thrown into the air, is not caught in time.
    b. He touches or moves stones apart from those he has picked up.
    12. When it comes to his turn again, the player begins from the step where the mistake was made.

    The winner is the one who completes the set of eight steps the most number of times.


  3. I was an only child, so rarely played such games. I did play ‘Jacks’ at school, which we called ‘Alleygobs’ in London. The pieces were ridged wooden squares, or we would use stones of a similar size. In the absence of the often-lost ball, we use one piece to throw in the air.
    ‘The 5 pieces were placed on the pavement. One piece would be tossed about 1 foot into the air and, before it could fall and touch the ground, you would snatch up another piece in the same hand. You would then proceed to toss another piece in the air and repeat the process until all five pieces were firmly in your hand.’
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. At least you don’t remember endless sibling squabbles! I love the variation of the game you played. Thanks for explaining it. Another response discusses a game in India with five stones. Wonder what it is about the number.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw her comment, Elizabeth. It made me wonder if the game came from India to the UK during our ’empire’ days, then made its way across to the US?
        (Though I suspect the origins lay in the casting of ‘Runes’. )
        Best wishes, Pete.


  4. Elizabeth, I am enjoying this series of posts about the games kids used to play – you’re bringing back great memories for me. And though we have some years between us, my siblings, cousins, and friends played many of the same games that you and your peers did. Jacks – oh boy! I really went through a craze with that; I spent so much time as a young girl trying to perfect the ability to sweep up my “onesies” through “elevensies” while keeping a steady rhythm with the bouncing ball! Pick up sticks is a game that three generations of my family would play together – my mother and her mother were pros at those intricate maneuvers you mentioned.


    1. “sweeping” is the right word. I don’t think I remembered that, just the gesture. I would get so excited I would bounce the ball too high. I am glad you are enjoying these posts. I am hoping to pull up memories without trying to be just nostalgic. As we know, many things back then were dreadful.

      Liked by 1 person

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