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. . . and that's a skunk—how to win graciously at Crib—or not

I learned to play crib early. What can I say, my dad was in the Air Force. I also learned how to play Black Jack, but never for money, just for Poker chips. The Poker chips were courtesy of an elderly neighbour. They were treasure to us, treasure to go along with a wooden chest from WWI adorned with its owner’s initials. The chest traveled to Europe with him when he served in the Royal Air Force (RAF). It turns out our elderly next-door neighbour had a licence to fly a flying machine.

But I digress. Like I said, I learned to play crib young. My mom credits the game with strengthening my older sister’s math skills. It must have worked because my sister spent her career teaching elementary school.

I thought I was a good crib player until I started playing against my husband. He’s a shark, gifted with the ability to see the points in his head, totaling them while I’m still saying: Fifteen . . . one, fifteen . . . two . . . you get the picture. Anyway, I got tired of losing and my daughter took up the challenge of trying to beat him. She’s left-handed/right-brained like he is. Maybe there is truth to the reports that lefties see things from a more mathematical perspective.

Lucky for me, my husband doesn't steal my points, instead he patiently waits while I add them up and then points out the seven or eight that I missed.

Game set and match—yes I realize that's tennis

Recently, we had a Spring vacation and went to Lake Tahoe with friends. The crib board came along. I avoided playing him until one afternoon, I decided it was time for a rematch. I counted first and took a commanding ten-point lead. I knew that wouldn't last. The next hand, I pulled further ahead. Near the end of the game I had him in double skunk territory. Slowly, steadily, he crept closer. One more hand . . . then it happened. My crib, my points, it was over, leaving him helpless behind the skunk line. Time for a happy dance. So, was I a gracious winner? Nah, where's the fun in that. I reveled in it.

So just how old is Crib or Cribbage and who invented this game of rhyming counts and strange sayings?

The invention of Cribbage is credited to Sir John Suckling, a seventeenth century poet, soldier, courtier. It’s believed to be a variation of an earlier game called Noddy. While the game of Crib became popular, spreading across the world and sending down roots as a beloved card game, Sir John wasn’t so lucky.

He was a soldier/poet, known more for his activities in the bedroom than his abilities on the battle field. In 1639, he raised a troop of men and backed King Charles I against the Scots during the Bishops’ War. Two years later, he took part in a failed attempt to rescue Thomas Wentworth, the first Earl of Stafford from the tower of London. The try failed, and Suckling escaped to France and a life of poverty. He committed suicide in 1641.

War, colonization, and exploration made Crib a popular game. Sailors, soldiers and settlers carried it in packs, trunks and saddle bags. It wiled away the hours and offered a distraction to its players.

My internet snooping turned up a WWII submarine the USS Wahoo where an epic game of Crib between its Captain, Dudley “Mush” Morton and Executive Officer, Richard “Dick” O'Kane, netted O’Kane a perfect 29 hand, the best possible score. The win was seen by the crew as a lucky sign and the Wahoo went on to set a record for ships sunk. The luck of O’Kane’s crib board remained with the US submarine fleet and continues to pass to the navy’s oldest serving sub. Currently, it resides in the wardroom of the USS Bremerton where it's still used to this day.

The language of Crib:

Some say His Nibs, some say His Nobs.I think its all about the origin of the player. Both my husband and our friend take the game seriously. She says Nobs, he says Nibs. She learned the game from English parents, he learned from an air force father. I looked it up. Both refer to the name given to the Jack holding the same suit as the start card.

His Heels:

The turn up card is a Jack.

I got a rock:

I know that feeling. It means a big hand of nothing, nada, a bust hand in Crib.


It’s what you don’t want to happen.

A victory of 31 points or more.

The skunk line sits between the 90th and 91st holes.

The Stink Hole:

As a kid I thought that meant you were the car left in the lot waving good bye as a BC ferry sailed away from the dock. It took me years to realize that it referred to losing a Crib match by one peg hole.

Yup, I was raised on a series of 15—2 and the rest won’t do’s as well or 15—2, 15—4, a pair is 6, and the rest don’t mix. I bet there are some ruder, more colorful terms dating from the early days of Crib, but I've never heard them.

Crib and now

I know people don’t play cards as much as they used to, but Crib is still a traveler's game. Our daughter and her friends carry a board when back packing or camping. It still wiles away the hours and offers up distraction, and it’s probably been used as a drinking game a time or two.

Anyway, we weren’t using it as a drinking game. It was strictly there for entertainment. I took my win and walked. I haven’t asked for a rematch. Sometimes it better to go out in a blaze of glory.

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