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Animated Dominoes, Dice



No matter how tough the police make it, a compulsive ivory roller can find ways and means to pull the law's leg. A devoted band of Ne-ro dice shooters in a small Alabama town wearied of being raided and, on the basis of evidence found on the premises, fined or jailed. They switched to miniature dice in September 1927. The police found them huddled around a heap of silver and bills but no bones were in sight. A few days later the performance was repeated, with the same results. After the second dismissal one of the players confided to the defense lawyer that he had swallowed the dice. "We always uses the little ones now," he said.

Word leaked to the police, who immediately applied to the city council for an X-ray machine.

Long before X-ray machines had been invented, dice was a favorite American sport. The game, introduced into America by Louis Philippe on a visit to Louisiana and played by the bayou and levee Negroes, had a wildfire popularity.

John Phillip Quinn recalled, "I first became acquainted with it on board the steamboat City of Chester on the Mississippi River. I was traveling in partnership with a man named Martin, and we had succeeded in fleecing one man out of $800, at poker in the cabin. I went our on deck, and my attention was arrested by hearing a Negro crying in a stentorian voice, `come 7 or 11,' then another man calling out, `chil'en cryin' fo' bread.' This was followed by the sound of something rolling on the floor. My curiosity was aroused and I went below to learn what was going on. Here I first saw the game of `craps' and my introduction to it cost me precisely $15. I went upstairs and informed my partner that I had discovered a new game. He was anxious to see it, and together we returned to the main deck where the play was in progress. He dropped $10 to the `crap' roller, expressed himself satisfied, and we returned to the cabin."

Zack Bragg, a famous foreman of Negro flatheads (lumberjacks), developed a practical way to handle his gangs in the Mississippi Delta at the end of the nineteenth century. "The foremen never forgot what their men needed for happiness ,`specially on Saturday night. That's why all the lumber camps paid off in quarters and half dollars. It was some trouble to have a man bring several thousands of small silver on a hand car over the dummy line every two weeks. We paid 'em every two weeks to sorta spread out the hell raisin'." In these camps the crap games started Saturday night and ended Monday morning, when all the flatheads except three or four went back to work dead broke. The lucky ones headed for Beale Street in Memphis and were back themselves with empty pockets within a week.

The simplicity and fast play of craps appealed to red-blooded sports everywhere, so it spread. In some communities where card playing was allowed craps was banned, which the Negros resented because they understood the legislation as discrimination against their game and therefore them. A Texas Negro fined ten dollars for shooting craps appealed the sentence on racial grounds. The court dismissed the case summarily. "Appellant's position is a unique one, but tive cannot agree with him. It is unnecessary, we think, to discuss the question."

White men of all sorts and kinds took pleasure in craps. The story has been handed down that the great Chicago fire of 1874 began when a cow kicked over a lantern in Mrs. O'Leary's barn. On September 30, 1944, when Kenneth Olson, dean of the Medill School of Journalism of Northwestern University, acknowledged a $35,000 grant by Louis M. Cohn to the Medill School, he made known a different account of the origin of the fire. Louis M. Cohn, Chicago importer who had died at the age of eighty-nine in 1942, had disclosed, according to the Medill School, that he, with one of Mrs. O'Leary's sons and several other lads, was shooting dice in the O'Leary barn by lantern light. In the excitement of the game one of the players accidentally knocked over the lantern and started the fire.

When Harry K. Thaw escaped from the mental hospital where he was shut up after he killed Stanford White, he fled to Canada. District Attorney William Travers Jerome, en route to Canada to start extradition proceedings, was collared by the law on the train as a gambler; he had been caught in a modest crap game with gentlemen of the press who were covering the case.

Charles M. Schwab, the steel magnate, learned-the game from his Negro steward, Joe Ray. According to Andrew Tully, Schwab would tell his friends, "I ask Joe . . . `you got any money, Joe?' and Joe'll say `Yup, a couple of dollars.' `All right,' I'll tell him. `Come on out to the garage and I'll take it away from you.'"

The rise in popularity of dice was clearly indicated in the activities of dealers in "sporting goods." Such firms as had once made a specialty of marked cards were doing a roaring business in crooked dice by the beginning of World War I. Hunt & Company of Chicago offered complete instructions on how to win (with honest or dishonest dice) along with any order of five dollars or more. Like many of their business competitiors they employed men with solid experience both on the "outside" and "inside" of the gambling profession to make and test their products. It was with no false modesty that crooked dice makers told gamblers, "In using our dice all you have to do is start a game and let everybody shoot them and shoot yourself when it comes your turn and follow our instructions, which are sent with every order and you will have no trouble getting the money."

Each manufacturer had his own secret metal used to load the dice and the best of them poured in a solid that became as strong and inflexible as steel. Quicksilver and amalgam were undesirable because the mercury would in time work through the pores of the dice, blacken the sides and cause them to rattle. Any professional crap shooter's game was queered if the quicksilver expanded and fell out. A wall inside "good" phony dice prevented any hollow sound so they looked and sounded honest when they were shaken and rolled. They weighed the same as fair dice and manufacturers always included honest dice with their orders to match the set with "work" in them.

A pair of dice could be "worked" to cheat twenty-six ways and could be bought to "bank" or "fade" for any of these. Crooked dice of bone, vegetable ivory, ivory celluloid, and a composition like celluloid, called zylo, ranged in price from five to ten dollars a pair. Transparent, or "candy," dice were ten dollars and much favored by crap sharks, for, since the metal was in the concave spots, they defied even close inspection.

Hunt offered to "teach any of our customers all of the secrets about controlling fair dice when shooting craps either on a hard surface or on a soft surface and also teach them how to control the dice when shaking them from a dice box. We teach you how to make your 'point' after the `come out.' How to avoid throwing `craps' and also how to throw `seven' or `eleven' on the `come out."

Crap shooting was a natural for the armed forces, easiest of games to play in a trench or on a ship at sea. Servicemen sang:

"They put your name on a piece of paper, Fellow over there gives you your pay,Take it to the squad-room, put it on a blanket, Fellow yells "CRAPS!" an' takes it all away."

The "Six-Bit Express men," a Negro outfit that ran a narrowgauge railroad to supply troops in the battle of St. Mihiel, sang to the tune of "The Camptown Races":

Got in a crap game wid my hat caved in Doo daa, doo daa, Goin' to come out wid my pockets full o' tin, Oh, doo daa day.

And bluejackets and stripers chorused: You learn to splice and shake the dice And games that sailors play.The favorite lines from "Columbo" were: Colombo had a one-eyed mate,He loved him like a brother; And every night till very late, They shot craps with each other.

When the war was over doughboys jubilantly joshed each other with their version of "Mademoiselle from Armentieres": Oh, the Cavalry said they did it all Shooting crap in an empty stall Hinky dinkey parlez-vous.Oh, the Signal Corps said they won the war, Rolling the bones on the floor.Hinky dinkey parlez-vous.

Dice, like all gambling, had its language that had infiltrated everyday speech - even making the dictionary in some cases. Dice talk is the "hard guy," "wise guy" talk that comes out fast and flippant, talk that is a plea and an invective, murmured or cried out, emotional or unrestrained as the dice player booms: "Fade me! Cover my dough! C'mon sweet little bones, get hot, give me a natural . . . read 'em and weep, sevennnn. Let it ride. . . . Some of the best-known nicknames in dice are:

Snake eyes: the total of two Craps: total of three Little Dick, Little Joe, Little Joe from Baltimore, Little Joe from Kokomo: total of four Phoebe, Little Phoebe, Fee-Bee, Fever, Fever in the South (and no doctor): total of five Sixty Days: total of six Natural: total of seven on the come-out throw - a winning point Seven out: total of seven after the first roll - a losing point Ada Ross, the stable Hoss, Decatur, Ada from Decatur, Eiglzter from Decatur: total of eight Carolina nine, Ninety days, Nina: total of nine Big Dick, Big Dick from Boston: total of ten Natural: total of eleven Boxcars: total of twelve.

Some crap-shooting terms fade but a few have proved durable:

African golfer, wangler: crap shooter Dice hustler: professional crap shooter Fader: player who bets against the thrower African dominoes, animated cubes, animated dominoes, animated ivories, galloping dominoes, the elusive bones, Memphis dominoes, Mississippi marbles: dice Cheater, Phoneys, Shapes: crooked dice, Make a pass: repeat a number thrown on the first roll before throwing a seven Fade: cover the bet of the thrower.

Of all high-play professional crap shooters in the twentieth century, Nick the Greek is said to have had the greatest talent for hitting seven or eleven on the first toss. And the only professional gambler who could beat Nick at dice was Arnold Rothstein. Nick would abandon Chicago every so often and show up in New York with a bank roll of two or three hundred thousand dollars, spoiling for a game with Rothstein, which he almost never won because, Donald Henderson Clarke wrote: ". . . everyone, including the Police Commissioner, the District Attorney, and all the uniformed patrolmen and plain clothes detectives in the New York Police Department knew that Arnold Rothstein was the greatest, most prodigiously successful crap shooter that ever threw a `natural,' or successfully faded an opponent."

Nick the Greek had the reputation of being an honest gambler, and if Rothstein depended on more than prayer no one was ever rash enough to pry into the matter. When they hassled each other, the play was honest, but Rothstein probably won because when crap shooters are equally talented, the experts say, the one with the bigger supply of cash comes out ahead. The two made all-time craps history when Nick dropped $600,000 in one night of high and lively shooting.

The throwing of dice in one or another form goes back to antiquity all over the world, and Indians were rattling the bones in America when the white man arrived, but nowhere was it ever to become so general a pastime as in the United States during two World Wars and the prosperous eras following the wars. In time even children shot for pennies, while giant floating crap games were run by an organization called, justifiably, Murder, Inc. The American game of craps in time even crossed the ocean and invaded the most famous gambling center in the world, the Monte Carlo Casino.

At the end of 1947, when the casino found itself a half million dollars in the red, it was decided to add "les craps" to the traditional games.

The director-general of Monte Carlo's gambling, Louis Ceresole, and chief croupier Albert Jauffret visited the U.S. for weeks, assiduously addressing themselves to the mastery of les craps, observing games in Cincinnati, Toledo, Detroit, and other cities. They took back with them the proper specifications for crap tables, the best type of dice, and recordings made of the anguished entreaties and victorious howls of the players for the croupiers back in Monte Carlo to study.

The opening night of the first Monte Carlo dice season was as gala as a latter-day Hollywood premiere, with the croupiers's dark dinner coats audaciously switched to white. The croupiers did their best to use the newly learned vocabulary, but as the evening wore on would slip back into "Faites vos jeux" and "Rien ne vas plus." One American woman, leaving the table, was heard to say, "This is the most ridiculous way to play craps I've ever heard!"



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