AskDefine | Define jacks

Dictionary Definition



1 plaything consisting of small 6-pointed metal pieces that are used (along with a ball) to play the game of jacks [syn: jackstones]
2 a game in which jackstones are thrown and picked up in various groups between bounces of a small rubber ball [syn: jackstones, knucklebones]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of jack
  2. a children's game
  3. a toilet

Extensive Definition

For the musical group of same name, see Jacks (1960s Japanese band)
Jacks (sometimes called jackstones, fivestones or onesies) is a playground game for children.
The game originated hundreds of years ago, when the only playthings boys and girls had were materials they found near their homes. They collected small stones and animal bones and learned to use them in a game. They tossed them into the air in a way similar to today's version of the game.


A set of jacks consists of ten (or perhaps fifteen) small metal six-pointed stars, called 'jacks', and a rubber ball. The playing surface is any flat area, such as the tarmac of a playground or the hard surface of a table. Sometimes an area may be marked off in chalk, but more often it is just the space between the two players.


The players decide who goes first, usually through "flipping" (when the set of jacks is placed in cupped hands, flipped to the back of the hands, and then back to cupped hands again; the player who keeps the most from falling in his/her turn, goes first); or perhaps via ip dip, (American: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe), or a variant. Then the jacks are scattered loosely into the play area. The players take it in turn to bounce the ball off the ground, then pick up jacks, and then catch the ball before it bounces for a second time.
There are variants on this procedure. Sometimes the ball is thrown into the air rather than bounced. Sometimes it is bounced against a wall or target, if that is in the vicinity of play. Sometimes no bounce is allowed at all.
In some variants, the players must pick up as many jacks as possible in each turn. Perhaps more commonly, the number of jacks to be picked up is pre-ordained and sequential: at first you must pick up one ("onesies"), next two ("twosies"), and so on. Depending on the total number of jacks included, the number may not divide evenly and there may be jacks left over. If the player chooses to pick up the leftover jacks first, one variation is to announce this by saying "horse before carriage" or "queens before kings."
In most versions of the game, only one hand may be used. To simplify play, both may be used; to make it harder, or to impose a handicap, a player might be required to use their off-hand (eg, the left if right-handed).


The winning player is the one to pick up the largest number of jacks. If playing with fifteen, that goal is rarely, if ever, achieved. If ten jacks are used, the person who gets to the highest game wins. Game 1 is usually single bounce (onesies through tensies); game 2 is chosen by whoever "graduates" to game 2 first, and so on. Some game variations are "double bounces," "pigs in the pen," "over the fence," "eggs in the basket" (or "cherries in the basket,") "flying Dutchman," "around the world," etc. Some games, such as "Jack be nimble," are short games which are not played in the onesies to tensies format.


A variation of this game known as "gobs" was played in Cork, Ireland in the 1950s using five pebbles (often quartz) found on the beach. Also, in some Southern African countries, Death Jacks is played where the jack pieces are sharp spikes that seriously injure the participants. The winner is the person who lasts the longest before forfeiting. This method of play is used in determining the next tribe leader.
jacks in Spanish: Matatenas
jacks in Japanese: ジャックス (遊び道具)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agate, ball, baseball bat, bat, battledore, bauble, blocks, checkerboard, chessboard, club, cockhorse, cricket bat, cue, doll, doll carriage, gewgaw, gimcrack, golf club, hobbyhorse, jack-in-the-box, jackstones, jackstraws, kickshaw, knickknack, marble, marionette, mig, paper doll, pick-up sticks, pinwheel, plaything, puppet, racket, rag doll, rocking horse, sport, steelie, taw, teetotum, top, toy, toy soldier, trinket, whim-wham
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