Tag Archives: arabic game

Eyelash wishing game – Arabic Children’s Folk Game

Context:

She was in an all-girls elementary school in Jordan when she learned this game. She thought that it was silly, and did not pay much mind to it, saying that “girls, usually teenagers, like to make wishes.” There are two versions of this game that she remembers.

Game (Version 1):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately tells P2 to make a wish, and guess an eye (left or right). If P2 guesses the eye that the eyelash is near, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

Game (Version 2):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately grabs the eyelash and squeezes it between their thumb and index finger. P1 then tells P2 to make a wish, and guess which finger the eyelash will stick to. After the guess, P1 separates their fingers to see which finger the eyelash is stuck to. If P2 guesses the finger that the eyelash is stuck to, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

(I added the P1 and P2 distinctions to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember my informant playing this game with me when I was in elementary school, and it reminded me of how people at that time would also blow on the dandelion seed puffs and make a wish. At its core, when one makes a wish, they are hoping that something is accomplished that they themselves do not have the power to do. Jay Mechling, in Chapter 5 of Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, notes that a “theme [pervading children’s folklore] is power, something children generally do not have in their institutional settings. So they take power, or play at taking power, through their folklore.”* This aligns with the idea of making a wish when an eyelash comes loose and the child guesses the right eye or finger; they earned a wish (an instance of unlimited power) that they can use as they please.

*Jay Mechling. “Children’s Folklore.” Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by E. Oring, 91-120. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1986.

Easter egg game (Maseehh kom) – Arabic Folk Game

Context:

She learned this game from her family when she was around two years old, in Egypt. She said that the reason they commemorate Jesus’s resurrection with cracking eggs is because Jesus emerged from the tomb like a chick emerging from an egg.

Game:

This game requires two people (P1 and P2), each with a hard-boiled Easter egg.

P1 holds their egg above P2’s egg, and both of the tops are exposed and facing each other. P1 says “Maseehh kom” (“Messiah has risen”), and P2 says “Hakan kom” (“Indeed risen”). P1 then slams their egg’s top into P2’s egg’s top. Whoever’s egg is not broken is the winner of that round.

P2 then holds their egg above P1’s egg, and both of the bottoms are exposed and facing each other. P2 says “Maseehh kom,” and P1 says “Hakan kom.” P2 then slams their egg’s bottom into P1’s egg’s bottom. Whoever’s egg is not broken is the winner of that round.

If there is a tie at the end, they repeat the game with new eggs.

(I added the P1 and P2 distinctions, as well as the translations, to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember learning this game from my parents when I was a kid, and I think that it is a clever way to celebrate the Resurrection with the prominent tradition of Easter eggs. We would first play it in the household, then again when we would meet with the whole family later that Sunday (pre-COVID). Each time we played it, it was in a tournament style: each person would choose a colored egg from a container full of them, and would face off in brackets. Not only was it a way to remember that “Maseehh kom,” but it was a way to bring the family closer together (very important to Arabs).

For other games associated with Easter eggs, see the following excerpt: Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 80, no. 315, 1967, pp.27-28. https://doi.org/10.2307/538415.

How to play Seven and a Half (Sebah ou Nus) – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He learned this game when he was around 10 years old from older relatives in Jordan, trying to mimic the adults playing Blackjack 21.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without 8s, 9s, 10s, and Jokers.

In order to choose the dealer, each player draws a random card from the deck. Whoever has the highest number is the dealer. Picture cards–like Kings, Queens, and Jacks–are worth ½, and the Ace is worth 1. However, the Queen of Hearts can either be any whole number from 1-7, or ½, depending on the player’s choice.

The game is played similarly to Blackjack 21, so each player asks for cards until they feel like they will go over 7½, called “burn” here instead of “bust,” or until they get 7½, at which they must flip over all their cards. Each player places a bet on their card before taking another card from the dealer, called taking a “hit,” and the amount can’t be changed after they take a hit. When the player no longer wants cards from the dealer, they will say that they are “asleep.”

The dealer, after all the players are burnt or asleep, takes cards and “wakes” players (asks them to show their cards) as they please. If the dealer’s total is greater than the player’s who was woken up, the dealer gets the money placed on the card. If it’s the other way around, the dealer must pay the player the amount on the card. If the totals are equal, no money is exchanged. If the dealer burns while taking a hit, they must pay each player that is asleep the amount on their cards.

If a player gets 7½ in two cards, they become the dealer in the next round unless someone else gets it in two cards as well. In the latter case, they decide who becomes the dealer. The dealership can also be sold to another player by the current dealer even if they did not get 7½ in two cards.

(I added the parentheticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite card games; I learned it from my parents and grandparents when I was in middle school. Because the length of the game is not proportional to the size of the deck, but rather to the skills of the players, a single game can go for over an hour before somebody runs out of money. I remember we would play it whenever we knew that we could sit uninterrupted for a couple of hours, usually at night. Although it appears to be a child’s version of Blackjack 21, it can bring the whole family together, which leads me to believe that the reason this game has not been replaced by Blackjack 21 is because of how well it engages the whole family.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/banking/sette_e_mezzo.html

How to play Basra – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He grew up playing it in Jordan with his family, mainly on New Year’s Eve. At one point, he and his siblings were able to beat their parents.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without Kings, Queens, and Jokers. Aces are worth 1 in this game.

After the players decide who the dealer is, the dealer gives each person 4 cards. After that, the dealer puts 4 cards face-up in the middle of where they’re sitting. The person who got a card first goes first, and it goes in order of who got their cards until the dealer goes and the cycle repeats.

During a turn, the player puts down a card on the middle area. If there is another card with the same number, they take it along with their card and put it in a pile near them. If there are multiple cards whose numbers add up to the number of the player’s card, they take those cards along with their card and put it in their pile. (If the middle has cards with numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6, and a player places down a 6, they can take their card back along with the 6, 4, and 2.)

If a player places down a Jack, they take everything in the middle and put it in their pile. If a player places down a number card that takes everything in the middle, they get a Basra; they have to stick the cards they took, along with their card, face-up and sideways in their pile. (An example of a triple Basra is if a player places down a 9 when the middle has numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9).

When the players run out of cards in their hand, the dealer passes out 4 more cards to each player in the same order as the first time. If there are not enough cards left in the deck, the group will decide what to do. When there are not enough cards left to deal, the player who last took from the middle gets the extra cards in the middle and dealing deck.

At the end of the game, each player counts the number of cards in their piles, and whoever has the most cards gets 3 points. Next, they count the number of Aces and Jacks, getting 1 point for each. If a player has the 2 of Clubs, they get 2 points. If a player has the 10 of Diamonds, they get 3 points. For any card that is part of a Basra (sideways in the pile and face-up), you add the card’s value to your points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.

(I added the parenteticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember playing this game many times with my family–my brother loves Basra. It’s a fun strategy game, since you have to be wary of which cards to leave in the middle (you do not want another player to get a Basra). Because the length of the game is proportional to the size of the card deck, and inversely proportional to the number of players, individual games of Basra can be very brief. Although the game does not bring the family together for long periods of time like Sebah ou Nus (Seven and a Half), it can do so during a lull in the day.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/fishing/basra.html

Wishbone game (Yadest) – Arabic Folk Game

Context:

She grew up playing it, learning it from her parents and grandparents.

Game:

The game requires two people (P1 and P2) and a wishbone. When two people break the wishbone, the one who ends up with the bulb on top (P1) is the default winner. However, the game is not over. The player who did not get the bulb (P2) has to try getting P1 to accept something from their hand. If P1 says “Fi balee” (“In my mind”) when taking the item from P2’s hand, nothing happens. If P1 forgets to say “Fi balee,” and P2 says “Yadest” (“You lose”), then P2 wins. If P2 fails to win by a certain time that they agreed on, P1 wins by default.

(I added the P1 and P2 distinctions, as well as the translations, to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

Having played this game before, I will say that it is very fun, since P2 has to devise ways to get P1 to accept something from their hand without thinking of the game. This is similar to riddles, in that not everything is what it seems. To someone unaware of the game, they will think that P2 is merely handing something to P1, but someone aware of the game knows that P2 has been devising schemes. Just as riddles occupy the space between the obvious and the hidden, so do any actions of giving during a game of Yadest.