‘National game of Texas’ has its own legend

By Sharon Denning
Odessa American
July 06, 2003

Those who know 42 inside out — and those who have never heard of it — may be surprised to know there is a book of rules for 42, which also includes history and reminiscences about the game.

Dennis Roberson, author of “Winning 42: Strategy and Lore of the National Game of Texas,” credits an article by Christopher Evans published in August 1985 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for information on the history of 42.

According to Evans’ research, 42 was the creation of two boys in Trappe Spring, Texas in 1887. Trappe Spring, now called Garner, is about 45 miles west of Fort Worth.

The story goes that 12-year-old William Thomas and 14-year-old Walter Earl, both avid card players, were punished for playing cards, which some people thought was sinful.

Since dominoes was an acceptable pastime, the two worked out a domino game resembling the English card game whist, also known as pitch.

The boys taught the game to their families and the town. When Thomas delivered fruit from his father’s orchard to Mineral Wells, Texas, he taught interested bystanders the game.

Later, the two families moved to Fannin County in northeast Texas, and 42 apparently took on a life of its own.

It was a game, Roberson writes, “that could be played on rural front porches after church services, after Sunday dinner, with neither shame or sin.”

The game gets its name from the 42 points that can be won in each hand. Using a standard 28-piece set of dominoes, the ones that “count” — the double-five, the six-four, the four-ace, the three-two and the five-blank — add up to 35 points.

Four players divide into two teams, and each player draws seven dominoes. When these dominoes are played, they form “tricks.” The seven tricks are each worth one point, providing the seven additional points that, when added to the 35 dominoes that “count,” tally up to 42 points.

After drawing their dominoes, players bid for the right to declare which dominoes will be trumps. The person who wins the bid leads the play, and whoever catches each trick leads the next domino.

The lowest bid is 30, and in order to win a hand, partners must get enough of the dominoes with count — and capture enough tricks — to total 30 points. Otherwise, they are “set,” and their opponents get the winning mark for that hand. The winners are the first to accumulate seven marks.

If you’re completely confused, consider yourself normal because watching people play 42 is the easiest way to learn the game.

Of course, the best way to learn 42 is to be a kid sitting in your granddaddy’s lap, watching him play and listening to him explain some of the finer points as he goes along.

If you’re lucky, he may let you have a go at scrambling the dominoes when it’s his turn to shuffle. But don’t squirm and kick the cardtable leg because you might knock over someone’s dominoes.

This is when you learn that when it comes to patience, sometimes even grandfathers have their limits.

Incidentally, Puremco Manufacturing Company, the only company in the United States that still makes dominoes, is in Waco, Texas.*

Go figure.

Above reprinted with permission, 17 June 2007

*According to Scott Pitzer, former general manager (retired), Puremco was sold to its Canadian distributor, Alary Games in Quebec, Canada in Oct 2007. Puremco is still in Waco, TX and they switched their domino molds and production to China circa 2000. They still package, sell, distribute and imprint the dominoes in Waco. They are still the only company that permanently imprints designs and personalization on dominoes.     - Posted by webmaster, 30 Apr 09

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