The game we played most this Christmas - gathered together with my wife's family in the Cotswolds - was tiny and made of brass. It looked a bit like one of those early World War One grenades - the kind that has a sort of lolly stick that you hold it by before you toss it into the abyss. Fitting, really, because the game we played came from World War One itself, allegedly. The game's called Put and Take, and it's played with an odd six-sided spinner. I had never heard of it before. It's kind of brilliant.
The spinner is known as a teetotum, which is an entirely delightful word. These spinning tops are alternatives to dice, and go as far back as the Greeks and Romans, apparently. Put and Take was born in the trenches, though. That's the most satisfying theory I've read. Someone, perhaps alternating between states of terror, boredom and exhaustion, crouched in one of those dripping underground chambers on the battered front in northern Europe, someone had the idea to take a bullet case and reshape it until it had six sides and could be spun on one end. Then, inevitably, they decided to start gambling with it.
That's the core of Put and Take: gambling. This is part of the Christmas tradition for my wife's family, I gather, and after seven years of marriage I've finally been allowed in. Each person puts in two pounds, but that's just the winner pot. For the game itself you also get thirty wooden toothpicks or cocktail sticks or whatever you want to call them. These are your chips. And then the teetotum comes out.
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