Wednesday, June 9, 2010

According to Hoyle

I'm not a big fan of required summer reading.  I have my reasons, but primary among them is this idea that books on required reading lists rarely allow room for personal exploration in literature.  I know the lists make concessions from the broccoli reading – you know, the classic and "good for you" books – but where's the fun in exploring genres and delving into the empty calorie beach reads if they're on a sanctioned list?

On the other hand, if someone asked me to suggest a single book for summer reading, one that could be casually perused and practically applied, I would go with a solid edition of Hoyle's Rules of Games.  With a copy of this book, a scrounged deck or two of playing cards, perhaps some dice, a reader could spend an entire summer filling in the odd gaps of time at camp, the down time between rain showers, and the shady respites from sweltering afternoon sun.  A commitment to learn one game a week would, by summer's end, yield nearly a dozen opportunities to gain lessons in strategy, gambling, skill, luck and plain old relief from boredom.
Edmond Hoyle first laid down his collection of rules in 1750 and since then collections baring his name abound in much the same way Webster's name appears on dictionaries.  Originally, Hoyle's rules focused on card games but the collections have expanded over the years to include board games like chess and backgammon, gambling games like poker and craps, in addition to standards like rummy and whist.  Some modern editions even discuss computer games like minesweeper, but what fun is clicking digital mines on a screen when you can throw down a game of Liar's Dice with a friend while pretending to be pirates?

None of the editions currently available are derived directly from Hoyle's original so the language is contemporary and easily followed.  My 2001 edition (the one posted up top) is edited by Albert Morehead & Geoffrey Mott-Smith, which is an update of an old Signet edition from the 1950s or so.  The edition and editor doesn't matter, really, the name Hoyle in the title is as ubiquitous at the work Kleenex to indicate facial tissues.  What you want from Hoyle's is a selection of card, board, parlor, and dice games.  Then grab a deck of cards, some friends, and master popular games that have been played and enjoyed for hundreds of years.

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