Have you lost your marbles?


A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, plastic or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about 1/2 inch to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.54 cm) in diameter, but they may range from less than 1/30 inch (0.111 cm) to over 3 inches (7.75 cm), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 12 inches (30 cm) wide. Marbles can be used for a variety of games called marbles. They are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors. In the North of England the objects and the game are called “taws”, with larger taws being called bottle washers after the use of a marble in Codd-neck bottles.

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Did you play marbles as a kid?

I did.  In elementary school over in Germany at the army base in Heidelberg, we used play carnival type games where one kid would set up a target of a row of marbles and other kids would shoot from a line and try to hit the line of marbles.  If you hit it, you got the four marbles, if you missed, the other person got to keep your marble.

I used to go to school with eight marbles and come home with about 24 every day.

Sometimes a kid would put up a really big marble called a “Tanky” at the end of a really long alley.  Or a really tiny marble as the target for winning the Tanky.  Tankies were very popular and valuable so tons of kid would shoot their marbles at the target to try to win the Tanky.  Every once in a while you’d here “Tanky on the hill” and everyone would go running to try their luck.

Later in middle school the marble games got more sophisticated.  We played a game where a hole in the ground let you become poison.  If you hit the other player after being poison, they had to shoot their marble into the hole take a penalty.  After three penalties you lost.  Usually the games were played with boring game marbles but the overall game was played for some special marble that the opponents negotiated for ahead of time.  There were lost of “marble sharks” in that middle school where the older kids would lose the first round to show that maybe they weren’t so good but then when the stakes were higher they would win easily.

Marbles were ranked by their rarity, number of colors and uniqueness.  They would have all kinds of names like scorpion, cat’s eye, swirly and one called “Hitler” that had to have seven colors for some reason.  I never had many of the good marbles.  Most of mine came from the carnival type games from elementary school.    The ironic thing was when we moved back to the States my grandmother gave me a treasure trove of old marbles.  It was amazing – I said “do you know how much these would be worth back in Heidelberg?” – Unfortunately the kids at my next middle school in New Jersey didn’t play marbles so the marbles have just stayed in an old hollow glass lamp.

Kids total are probably more interested in their cell phones then digging a small hole at recess and tossing marbles into it.  If they even get recess these days.

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How to Play “Bunny Hole” with Marbles

Above I described a marble game from my youth that some might know as “Bunny Hole”.  Here is how to play”

The winner of this game was he who was first able to hit the other player’s marble four times, but this had to be achieved under certain constraints. A hole (called the “bunny hole”) was dug by pivoting the heel of the foot into the sand or dirt. A line was then marked out some 20 feet [6 metres] away, and each player in turn then pitched his/her marble from the line to see who could rest the marble nearest the bunny hole. The person whose marble came to rest nearest the hole would go first. This player would then attempt to ‘fire’ his marble in a manner so as to rest it in the hole. No ‘hits’ on other marbles were accounted to any player until (s)he had successfully played his/her own marble into the bunny hole.

“Firing” a marble meant that a player had to flick his/her marble from a stationary position of his hand. No part of the hand firing the marble was permitted to be in front of the position where the marble had been resting on the ground. Using that hand, (s)he would flick or fire the marble from his/her hand, usually with the knuckle on the back of his/her hand resting on the ground, and usually using the thumb of that hand to do so. All shots of the game were conducted in this manner throughout except the very initial pitch towards the bunny hole that commenced the game.

Once a player was able to land his/her marble within the hole, (s)he would immediately then fire his marble at his opponents’ marbles. However, if any player hit another player’s marble before his/her own marble had been to ‘visit’ the bunny hole, the act would be referred to as “a kiss”; the game would be over, and all or both players (in the case of two players only) would have to retreat back to the starting line to re-commence the game, without result. This, of course, could be quite annoying or frustrating if a player had already built up quite a few hits on another player’s marble! So, most skilled players did not resort to this kind of tactic.

The overall aim was to hit a particular marble 3 times after getting into the hole, then you had to “run away”, before the final contact shot was allowed to be played – which was called “the kill”. Once a player made a kill on another marble, if the game was ‘for keeps’, (s)he would then get to keep the marble [bunny] (s)he had ‘killed’. The format of playing this game was that each time you successfully hit another player’s marble, you were to have another shot – even if it was not the marble you had originally intended to hit.

Of course, the ploy was to hit the particular opponent marble 3 times, and then ‘run away’ to the bunny hole, because once you rested the marble into the hole, you immediately had your shot again, thus leaving no opportunity at all for your opponent to retreat his/her marble before “the Kill” was made on it.