Thursday, 31 May 2012

Elephant No. 242: Bingo Dabbers

I haven't played bingo since I was a child and you used little plastic chips to mark the spaces. I have played bingo lottery cards, but this is my first-ever experience with bingo dabbers. I've seen pictures of the marks they leave, but I've never had one in my hot little hands, so I guess we'll just have to see what kind of elephants they produce.

The modern game of bingo originates in a lottery-style game called Il Giuco del Lotto d'Italia ("the Italian Lottery Game"), first played around A.D. 1530. From Italy, the game spread to France, where it was called Le Lotto. The French version of the game had 27 squares in three rows and nine columns, with numbers ranging from 1 to 90. Only five of the squares within each row featured numbers, however. This ultimately led to the design of today's bingo cards.

A similar game named "Housey-Housey" was played in Great Britain, and until quite recently "Housey Housey" or "Housie" was the name by which the game was known throughout Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. In Germany during the nineteenth century, bingo was played as a way of helping children learn math, spelling and history. In these versions of the game, the squares featured words, pictures, or unsolved math problems, instead of numbers. Similar games, such as "road trip bingo" and "zoo animal bingo" are still played today.

Vintage Housey-Housey game.

A man named Hugh J. Ward standardized the game at carnivals around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the early 1920s. Ward's version of the game was called "Beano" because it used dried beans as markers, although the name "Bingo" is thought to have existed since at least the 1770s in Great Britain. No one is sure of the origin of the name, although some have speculated that it may relate to the "bing" sound a bell makes when rung.

In Ward's version of the game, a dealer would pick numbered discs from a cigar box, and players would mark their cards with beans. If they won, they shouted out "beano!"

Ward copyrighted the names "Beano" and "Bingo", and wrote the game's first rulebook in 1933, but a man called Edwin Lowe is credited with popularizing it. At a travelling carnival in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, Lowe noticed how much people enjoyed playing Beano. Taking the game to New York, Lowe introduced it to his friends, who loved it.

Lowe hired a Columbia University mathematics professor named Carl Leffler, to help increase the number of combinations in Bingo cards. By 1930, Leffler had invented 6,000 different Bingo cards, after which he is said to have gone insane. According to recent calculations, there are 552,446,474,061,128,648,601,600,000 potential Bingo card combinations. No wonder Leffler went mad.

In the early 1930s, a Catholic priest from Pennsylvania approached Lowe about using Bingo as a way of raising funds. Once people started playing Bingo in churches, it became wildly popular. By 1934, approximately 10,000 games were being played weekly across the United States.

Lowe later produced the first commercial Bingo Game, which came in two versions: one with a 12-card set for $1.00; the other a 24-card set for $2.00. By the 1940s, Bingo was popular all over the U.S., leading Lowe to try franchising the name.

Today, Bingo is played in a number of ways. The most conventional version involves pre-printed bingo cards, each featuring five columns and five rows, with numbers ranging from 1 to 75. The centre space is normally a "free" space. Each column falls under a letter from the word B-I-N-G-O, with numbers between 1 and 15 appearing in the first column, numbers from 16 to 30 appearing in the second column, and so forth. This makes it easy to find the numbers when the Bingo caller says "Under the B: 14" or "Under the G: 42".

Typical Bingo card by the Milton Bradley Company.

Other forms of Bingo include online games, Bingo-based slot machines and lottery scratch cards. Today, more than $90 million are spent on Bingo each week in North America alone.

For today's elephant, I bought a purple bingo dabber and a blue bingo dabber, thinking I could perhaps blend the two colours in some way.

I decided to start with the purple first. Turns out it was a sort of hot pink. This was the first mark I made.

Having never used these before, I wasn't really sure what kinds of marks they would make, but the first mark reminded me a bit of the kind of sponge-applicator shoe polish I used on my white church shoes as a child. I decided to stamp a bunch of marks in a vague trunk shape to see what kinds of effects I could get.

Before I started, I had I expected I'd be able only to make round blobs. If you vary the pressure, however, you can make some interesting marks. The two photographs below show some of the different effects.

This felt like a fun, kid-like activity, so I just kept pouncing the bingo dabber onto the paper in an elephant shape until I thought it was about as good as it would get.

I decided to try the blue bingo dabber next. Turns out it was a weird orange-red. It also looked like it had been used before. Sigh.

I liked my first two elephants well enough, but I thought it would be interesting to see what I could do if I used the bingo dabbers with a very light hand instead. For my next elephant, I started by dabbing lightly and quickly.

In addition to layering these light dabs, I began adding some darker bits by jabbing sharply with the side of the bingo dabber.

I liked this effect a lot, so I thought I'd try one more, this time with the disappointing not-blue.

When I picked up the bingo dabbers to use as an art medium, I thought I would be mostly making dense webs of saturated dots. Instead, I discovered that it can be a surprisingly subtle and delicate medium. In fact, I liked bingo dabbers almost as much as yesterday's bamboo reed pen.

To be sure, this is not a precise medium, but the effects you can get are quite nice. I even toyed with reproducing a photographic elephant image, but decided I didn't want to work that hard today. That being said, all four drawings took me about half an hour in total, so it's definitely a fast medium to work with, and rather fun. Just check the colour of the ink under the cap before you buy.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In a previous post, I wrote about Lawrence Anthony, and how a herd of elephants made the long trek to his house to pay tribute after his death. Such devotion on the part of this rescued herd of problem elephants was nothing new at the Thula Thula game preserve in South Africa. Neither was mischief.

In order to make enough money to keep the game preserve going, Anthony and his family began welcoming paying guests. One evening, guests were enjoying a candlelit dinner on the verandah, when the herd suddenly appeared on the lawn, led by matriarch Nana.

As Anthony notes in his book, The Elephant Whisperer, elephants operate on the principle that all other forms of life must give way before them. In this case, that meant the tourists sitting around Anthony's swimming pool.

Although most of the guests fled to safety, one table of men stayed where they were, blustering about their indifference to the approaching herd. An elephant named Frankie flicked her ears as a warning to the puny humans, but the men stayed where they were. Indignant about their lack of respect, Frankie took a few quick steps towards them, trunk in the air and ears flaring. This time the men took notice, tripping over their chairs as they sprinted for cover.

Somewhat mollified, Frankie began to explore the beautifully appointed table, accompanied by Nana. They swept glass and china off the table with their curious trunks, smashing things all over the place. They picked up chairs and flung them into the air. They tossed candles and holders on the ground, then yanked out the tablecloth, bringing everything else crashing to the ground.

Realizing that some of the mess was rather tasty, they delicately picked through broken crockery and glass to eat whatever food they could find. Then they turned their attention to the main purpose of their visit: the swimming pool.

Elephants prefer clean water to the muck they usually find at a waterhole, and a pool full of clear, fresh water was a real find. Matriarch Nana dropped her huge trunk into the pool first, sucking up gallons of water, then spraying it into her mouth and over her body. The rest of the herd followed suit, drinking and bathing themselves by squirting water in every direction.

When they'd had their fill—and following a brief battle of wills between Nana and Anthony—the herd turned around and went back into the bush.

Some of the elephants on the Thula Thula game preserve,
South Africa, 2009.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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