757 Episodes of the Classic TV Game Show What’s My Line?: Watch Eleanor Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, Salvador Dali & More

What would the host and pan­elists of the clas­sic prime­time tele­vi­sion game show What’s My Line? have made of The Masked Singera more recent offer­ing in which pan­elists attempt to iden­ti­fy celebri­ty con­tes­tants who are con­cealed by elab­o­rate head-to-toe cos­tumes and elec­tron­i­cal­ly altered voiceovers.

One expects such shenani­gans might have struck them as a bit uncouth.

Host John Charles Daly was will­ing to keep the ball up in the air by answer­ing the panel’s ini­tial ques­tions for a Mys­tery Guest with a wide­ly rec­og­niz­able voice, but it’s hard to imag­ine any­one stuff­ing for­mer First Lady Eleanor Roo­sev­elt into the full body steam­punk bee suit the (SPOILER) Empress of Soul wore on The Masked Singer’s first sea­son.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Oct 18, 1953 appear­ance is a delight, espe­cial­ly her pan­tomimed dis­gust at the 17:29 mark, above, when blind­fold­ed pan­elist Arlene Fran­cis asks if she’s asso­ci­at­ed with pol­i­tics, and Daly jumps in to reply yes on her behalf.

Lat­er on, you get a sense of what play­ing a jol­ly par­lor game with Mrs. Roo­sevelt would have been like. She’s not above fudg­ing her answers a bit, and very near­ly wrig­gles with antic­i­pa­tion as anoth­er pan­elist, jour­nal­ist Dorothy Kil­gallen, begins to home in on the truth.

While the ros­ter of Mys­tery Guests over the show’s orig­i­nal 17-year broad­cast is impres­sive — Cab Cal­lowayJudy Gar­land, and Edward R. Mur­row to name a few — every episode also boast­ed two or three civil­ians hop­ing to stump the sophis­ti­cat­ed pan­el with their pro­fes­sion.

Mrs. Roo­sevelt was pre­ced­ed by a bath­tub sales­man and a fel­low involved in the man­u­fac­ture of Blood­hound Chew­ing Tobac­co, after which there was just enough time for a woman who wrote tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials.

Non-celebri­ty guests stood to earn up to $50 (over $500 today) by pro­long­ing the rev­e­la­tion of their pro­fes­sions, as com­pared to the Mys­tery Guests who received an appear­ance fee of ten times that, win or lose. (Pre­sum­ably, Mrs. Roo­sevelt was one of those to donate her hon­o­rar­i­um.)

The reg­u­lar pan­elists were paid “scan­dalous amounts of mon­ey” as per pub­lish­er Ben­nett Cerf, whose “rep­u­ta­tion as a nim­ble-wit­ted gen­tle­man-about-town was rein­forced by his tenure on What’s My Line?”, accord­ing to Colum­bia University’s Oral His­to­ry Research Office.

The unscript­ed urbane ban­ter kept view­ers tun­ing in. Broad­way actor Fran­cis recalled: “I got so much plea­sure out of ‘What’s My Line?’ There were no rehearsals. You’d just sit there and be your­self and do the best you could.”

Pan­elist Steve Allen is cred­it­ed with spon­ta­neous­ly alight­ing on a bread­box as a unit of com­par­a­tive mea­sure­ment while ques­tion­ing a man­hole cov­er sales­man in an episode that fea­tured June Hav­oc, leg­end of stage and screen as the Mys­tery Guest (at at 23:57, below).

“Want to show us your bread­box, Steve?” one of the female pan­elists fires back off-cam­era.

The phrase “is it big­ger than a bread­box” went on to become a run­ning joke, fur­ther con­tribut­ing to the illu­sion that view­ers had been invit­ed to a fash­ion­able cock­tail par­ty where glam­orous New York scene­mak­ers dressed up to play 21 Pro­fes­sion­al Ques­tions with ordi­nary mor­tals and a celebri­ty guest.

Jazz great Louis Arm­strong appeared on the show twice, in 1954 and then again in 1964, when he employed a suc­cess­ful tech­nique of light mono­syl­lab­ic respons­es to trick the same pan­elists who had iden­ti­fied him quick­ly on his ini­tial out­ing.

“Are you relat­ed to any­body that has any­thing to do with What’s My Line?” Cerf asks, caus­ing Arm­strong, host Daly, and the stu­dio audi­ence to dis­solve with laugh­ter.

“What hap­pened?” Arlene Fran­cis cries from under her pearl-trimmed mask, not want­i­ng to miss the joke.

Tele­vi­sion — and Amer­i­ca itself — was a long way off from acknowl­edg­ing the exis­tence of inter­ra­cial fam­i­lies.

“It’s not Van Clyburn, is it?” Fran­cis ven­tures a cou­ple of min­utes lat­er.…

Expect the usu­al gen­der-based assump­tions of the peri­od, but also appear­ances by Mary G. Ross, a Chero­kee aero­space engi­neer, and physi­cist Helen P. Mann, a data ana­lyst at Cape Canaver­al.

If you find the con­vivial atmos­phere of this sem­i­nal Good­son-Tod­man game show absorb­ing, there are 757 episodes avail­able for view­ing on What’s My Line?’YouTube chan­nel.

Allow us to kick things off on a Sur­re­al Note with Mys­tery Guest Sal­vador Dali, after which you can browse chrono­log­i­cal playlists as you see fit:




1961 ‑63


Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Sal­vador Dalí Gets Sur­re­al with 1950s Amer­i­ca: Watch His Appear­ances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Mike Wal­lace Inter­view (1958)

How Amer­i­can Band­stand Changed Amer­i­can Cul­ture: Revis­it Scenes from the Icon­ic Music Show

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophis­ti­ca­tion to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Clas­sic Inter­views Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We cel­e­brat­ed my birth­day yes­ter­day: [Ted] gave me a love­ly Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the oblig­a­tions of this term are over your daugh­ter shall start her way on the road to becom­ing a seer­ess & will also learn how to do horo­scopes, a very dif­fi­cult art which means reviv­ing my ele­men­tary math. 

Sylvia Plath, in a let­ter to her moth­er, 28 Octo­ber 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birth­day present from her hus­band, poet Ted Hugh­es, just went for £151,200 in an auc­tion at Sotheby’s.

That’s approx­i­mate­ly £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Mar­seille deck print­ed by play­ing card man­u­fac­tur­er B.P. Gri­maud de Paris, was expect­ed to fetch.

The auc­tion house’s descrip­tion indi­cates that a few of the cards were dis­col­ored —  evi­dence of use, as sup­port­ed by Plath’s numer­ous ref­er­ences to Tarot in her jour­nals.

Recall Tarot’s appear­ance in “Dad­dy,” her most wide­ly known poem, and her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Hang­ing Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I siz­zled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eye­lid :

A world of bald white days in a shade­less sock­et.

A vul­tur­ous bore­dom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This cen­tu­ry has seen her col­lec­tion Ariel restored to its author’s intend­ed order.
The orig­i­nal order is said to cor­re­spond quite close­ly to Tarot, with the first twen­ty-two poems sym­bol­iz­ing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the num­bers of the Minor Arcana. Those are fol­lowed by four rep­re­sent­ing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to ref­er­ence the pen­ta­cles, cups, swords and wands that com­prise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s man­u­script was rearranged by Hugh­es, who dropped some of the “more lac­er­at­ing” poems and added oth­ers in advance of its 1965 pub­li­ca­tion, two years after Plath’s death by sui­cide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daugh­ter Frie­da defends her father’s actions and describes how dam­ag­ing they were to his rep­u­ta­tion in her Fore­word to Ariel: The Restored Edi­tion.

One won­ders if it’s sig­nif­i­cant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card asso­ci­at­ed with pos­i­tive mes­sages relat­ed to fam­i­ly and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also won­der who paid such a stag­ger­ing price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt bur­ial to cleanse it of Plath’s neg­a­tive ener­gy?

Or is the win­ning bid­der such a diehard fan, the chance to han­dle some­thing so inti­mate­ly con­nect­ing them to their lit­er­ary hero neu­tral­izes any occult mis­giv­ings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Mar­seille had been award­ed to Phillip Roberts in Ship­ley, Eng­land, who planned to exhib­it them along­side her tarot-influ­enced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Fes­ti­val. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign, pledg­ing that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at ran­dom, with all con­trib­u­tors invit­ed to sub­mit new art or writ­ing to the mini-exhi­bi­tion: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from liv­ing in the draw­ers of some wealthy col­lec­tor, and let’s make some art togeth­er!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the win­ning bid. Bet­ter luck next time, mate. We applaud your gra­cious­ness in defeat, as well as the spir­it in which your project was con­ceived.

via Lithub

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Artis­tic & Mys­ti­cal World of Tarot: See Decks by Sal­vador Dalí, Aleis­ter Crow­ley, H.R. Giger & More

Why Should We Read Sylvia Plath? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 18 Poems From Her Final Col­lec­tion, Ariel, in 1962 Record­ing

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Artisans Make Hand-Carved Championship Chess Sets: Each Knight Takes Two Hours

Whether because of the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Net­flix’s The Queen’s Gam­bit or because of how much time indoors the past year and a half has entailed, chess has boomed late­ly. Luck­i­ly for those would-be chess­mas­ters who’ve had their inter­est piqued, every­thing they need to learn the game is avail­able free online. But the deep­er one gets into any giv­en pur­suit, the greater one’s desire for con­crete rep­re­sen­ta­tions of that inter­est. In the case of chess play­ers, how many, at any lev­el, have tran­scend­ed the desire for a nice board and pieces? And how many have nev­er dreamed of own­ing one of the finest chess sets mon­ey can buy?

Such a set appears in the Busi­ness Insid­er video above. “You can pick up a plas­tic set for $20 dol­lars, but a wood­en set cer­ti­fied for the World Chess Cham­pi­onship costs $500,” says its nar­ra­tor. “Much of the val­ue of a high-qual­i­ty of the set comes down to how well just one piece is made: the knight.”

Prop­er­ly carved by a mas­ter arti­san, each knight — with its horse’s head, the only real­is­tic piece in chess — takes about two hours. Very few are qual­i­fied for the job, and one knight carv­er appears in an inter­view to explain that it took him five or six years to learn it, as against the four or five months required to mas­ter carv­ing the oth­er pieces.

The work­shop intro­duced in this video is locat­ed in Amrit­sar (also home to the Gold­en Tem­ple and its enor­mous free kitchen, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here in Open Cul­ture). To those just start­ing to learn about chess, India may seem an unlike­ly place, but in fact no coun­try has a longer his­to­ry with the game. “Chess has been played for over 1,000 years, with some form of the game first appear­ing in India around the sixth cen­tu­ry,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor. “Over the past two cen­turies, high-lev­el com­pe­ti­tions have drawn inter­na­tion­al inter­est.” For most of that peri­od, fluc­tu­a­tions in pub­lic enthu­si­asm for chess have result­ed in pro­por­tion­ate fluc­tu­a­tions in the demand for chess sets, much of which is sat­is­fied by large-scale indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion. But the most expe­ri­enced play­ers pre­sum­ably feel sat­is­fac­tion only when han­dling a knight carved to arti­sanal per­fec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Begin­ners, Inter­me­di­ate Play­ers & Beyond

A Brief His­to­ry of Chess: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

Man Ray Designs a Supreme­ly Ele­gant, Geo­met­ric Chess Set in 1920–and It Now Gets Re-Issued

Mar­cel Duchamp, Chess Enthu­si­ast, Cre­at­ed an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Avail­able via 3D Print­er

The Bauhaus Chess Set Where the Form of the Pieces Art­ful­ly Show Their Func­tion (1922)

A Beau­ti­ful Short Doc­u­men­tary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Pulp Tarot: A New Tarot Deck Inspired by Midcentury Pulp Illustrations

Graph­ic artist Todd Alcott has endeared him­self to Open Cul­ture read­ers by retro­fitting mid­cen­tu­ry pulp paper­back cov­ers and illus­tra­tions with clas­sic lyrics from the likes of David BowiePrinceBob Dylan, and Talk­ing Heads.

Although he’s dab­bled in the abstrac­tions that once graced the cov­ers of psy­chol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, and sci­ence texts, his over­ar­ch­ing attrac­tion to the visu­al lan­guage of sci­ence fic­tion and illic­it romance speak to the pre­mi­um he places on nar­ra­tive.

And with hun­dreds of “mid-cen­tu­ry mashups” to his name, he’s become quite a mas­ter of bend­ing exist­ing nar­ra­tives to his own pur­pos­es.

Recent­ly, Alcott turned his atten­tion to the cre­ation of the Pulp Tarot deck he is fund­ing on Kick­starter.

A self-described “clear-eyed skep­tic as far as para­nor­mal things” go, Alcott was drawn to the “sim­plic­i­ty and strange­ness” of Pamela Col­man Smith’s “bewitch­ing” Tarot imagery:

Maybe because they were sim­ply the first ones I saw, I don’t know, but there is some­thing about the nar­ra­tive thread that runs through them, the way they delin­eate the devel­op­ment of the soul, with all the choic­es and crises a soul encoun­ters on its way to ful­fill­ment, that real­ly struck a chord with me. You lay out enough Tarot spreads and they even­tu­al­ly coa­lesce around a hand­ful of cards that real­ly seem to define you. I don’t know how it hap­pens, but it does, every time: there are cards that come up for you so often that you think, “Yep, that’s me,” and then there are oth­ers that turn up so rarely that, when they do come up, you have to look them up in the lit­tle book­let because you’ve nev­er seen them before.

One such card for Alcott is the Page of Swords. In the ear­ly 90s, curi­ous to know what the Tarot would have to say about the young woman he’d start­ed dat­ing, he shuf­fled and cut his Rid­er-Waite-Smith deck “until some­thing inside said “now” and he flipped over the Page of Swords:

I looked it up in the book­let, which said that the Page of Swords was a secret-keep­er, like a spy. I thought about that for a moment; the woman I was see­ing was noth­ing like a spy, and had no spy-like attrib­ut­es. I shrugged and began the process again, shuf­fling and cut­ting and shuf­fling and cut­ting, until, again, some­thing inside said “now,” and turned up the card again. It was the Page of Swords, again. My heart leaped, I put the deck back in its box and qui­et­ly freaked out for a while. The next day, I asked the young lady if the Page of Swords meant any­thing to her, and she said “Oh sure, when I was a kid, that was my card.” Any­way, I’m now mar­ried to her.

The Three of Pen­ta­cles is anoth­er favorite, one that pre­sent­ed a par­tic­u­lar design chal­lenge.

The Smith deck shows a stone­ma­son, an archi­tect and a church offi­cial, col­lab­o­rat­ing on build­ing a cathe­dral. Now, there are no cathe­drals in the pulp world, so I had to think, well, in the pulp world, pen­ta­cles rep­re­sent mon­ey, so the obvi­ous choice would be to show three crim­i­nals plan­ning a heist. I could­n’t find an image any­thing close to the one in my head, so I had to build it: the room, the table, the map of the bank, the plan, the peo­ple involved, and then stitch it all togeth­er in Pho­to­shop so it end­ed up look­ing like a cohe­sive illus­tra­tion. That was a real­ly joy­ful moment for me: there were the three con­spir­a­tors, the Big Cheese, the Dame and The Goon, their roles clear­ly defined despite not see­ing any­one’s face. It was a real break­through, see­ing that I could put togeth­er a lit­tle nar­ra­tive like that.

Smith imag­ined a medieval fan­ta­sy world when design­ing her Tarot deck. Alcott is draw­ing on 70 years of pop-cul­ture ephemera to cre­ate a trib­ute to Smith’s vision that also works as a deck in their own right “with its own moral nar­ra­tive uni­verse, based on the atti­tudes and con­ven­tions of that world.”

Before draft­ing each of his 70 cards, Alcott stud­ied Smith’s ver­sion, research­ing its mean­ing and design as he con­tem­plates how he might trans­late it into the pulp ver­nac­u­lar. He has found that some of Smith’s work was delib­er­ate­ly exact­ing with regard to col­or, atti­tude, and cos­tume, and oth­er instances where spe­cif­ic details took a back seat to mood and emo­tion­al impact:

Once I under­stand what a card is about, I look through my library to find images that help get that across. It can get real­ly com­pli­cat­ed! A lot of times, the char­ac­ter’s body is in the right posi­tion but their face has the wrong expres­sion, so I have to find a face that fits what the card is try­ing to say. Or their phys­i­cal atti­tude is right, but I need them to be grip­ping or throw­ing some­thing, so I have to find hands and arms that I can graft on, Franken­stein style. In some cas­es, there will be fig­ures in the cards cob­bled togeth­er from five or six dif­fer­ent sources. 

These cards are eas­i­ly the most com­plex work I’ve ever done in that sense. The song pieces I do are a con­ver­sa­tion between the piece and the song, but these cards are a con­ver­sa­tion between me, Smith, the entire Tarot tra­di­tion, and the uni­verse. 

Vis­it Todd Alcott’s Etsy shop to view more of his mid-cen­tu­ry mash ups, and see more cards from The Pulp Tarot and sup­port Kick­starter here.

All images from the Pulp Tarot used with the per­mis­sion of artist Todd Alcott.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Clas­sic Songs Re-Imag­ined as Vin­tage Book Cov­ers Dur­ing Our Trou­bled Times: “Under Pres­sure,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Shel­ter from the Storm” & More

David Bowie Songs Reimag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers: Space Odd­i­ty, Heroes, Life on Mars & More

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers & Vin­tage Movie Posters

Four Clas­sic Prince Songs Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Cov­ers: When Doves Cry, Lit­tle Red Corvette & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

The tarot goes back to Italy of the late Mid­dle Ages. Every day here in the 21st cen­tu­ry, I see unde­ni­able signs of its cul­tur­al and tem­po­ral tran­scen­dence: specif­i­cal­ly, the tarot shops doing busi­ness here and there along the streets of Seoul, where I live. The tarot began as a deck for play, but these aren’t deal­ers in card-gam­ing sup­plies; rather, their pro­pri­etors use tarot decks to pro­vide cus­tomers sug­ges­tions about their des­tiny and advice on what to do in the future. Over the past five or six cen­turies, the pur­pose of the tarot many have changed, but its orig­i­nal artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty — dra­mat­ic, sym­bol-laden, and high­ly sub­ject to coun­ter­in­tu­itive inter­pre­ta­tion — has remained intact.

You can get an idea of that orig­i­nal artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty by tak­ing a look at the the Sola-Bus­ca, the old­est known com­plete deck of tarot cards. Dat­ing from the 1490s, it holds obvi­ous his­tor­i­cal inter­est, but it’s hard­ly the only tarot deck we’ve fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Artists of sub­se­quent eras, up to and includ­ing our own, have cre­at­ed spe­cial decks in accor­dance with their dis­tinc­tive visions. The unstop­pable sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí designed his own, a project embarked upon at the behest of James Bond film pro­duc­er Albert Broc­coli. Lat­er, the mas­ter of bio­mech­anism H.R. Giger received a tarot com­mis­sion as well; though his deck uses pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished rather than cus­tom-made art, it all looks sur­pris­ing­ly, some­times chill­ing­ly fit­ting.

The world’s most pop­u­lar tarot deck was designed not by a famous artist, but by an illus­tra­tor named Pamela Cole­man-Smith. Many more have used and appre­ci­at­ed her work than even, say, the Thoth deck, designed by no less renowned an occultist than Aleis­ter Crow­ley, “the wickedest man in the world.” If you won’t take his word for it, per­haps the founder of ana­lyt­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy can sell you on the mer­its of tarot: for Carl Jung, the deck held out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the “intu­itive method” he sought for “under­stand­ing the flow of life, pos­si­bly even pre­dict­ing future events, at all events lend­ing itself to the read­ing of the con­di­tions of the present moment.” (See his deck here.) Even if you’re not in search of such a method, few oth­er arti­facts weave togeth­er so many threads of art, phi­los­o­phy, his­to­ry, and sym­bol­ism. Of course, no few mod­ern enthu­si­asts find in it the same appeal as did those ear­ly tarot play­ers of the 15th cen­tu­ry: it’s fun.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet the For­got­ten Female Artist Behind the World’s Most Pop­u­lar Tarot Deck (1909)

Sal­vador Dalí’s Tarot Cards Get Re-Issued: The Occult Meets Sur­re­al­ism in a Clas­sic Tarot Card Deck

The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleis­ter Crow­ley

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Jour­ney into the Occult

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

Divine Decks: A Visu­al His­to­ry of Tarot: The First Com­pre­hen­sive Sur­vey of Tarot Gets Pub­lished by Taschen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Modernizing Table-Top Role-Playing Games — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #96

What’s the cur­rent sta­tus of table-top role-play­ing games like Dun­geons and Drag­ons in pop cul­ture? Thanks to D&D’s recent depic­tion in Stranger Things and the enor­mous pop­u­lar­i­ty of fan­ta­sy prop­er­ties like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, inter­est in elves and mag­ic and such is no longer fod­der for Satan­ic pan­ic, but the idea of active­ly pre­tend­ing to be a char­ac­ter in this genre to engage in col­lab­o­ra­tive sto­ry-telling still seems for­eign to many.

Your Pret­ty Much Pop hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt are joined by Aman­da McLough­lin, the host of Join the Par­ty, a begin­ner-friend­ly, pur­pose­ful­ly inclu­sive D&D real-play pod­cast, to go over some D&D basics, the dynam­ics of play­ing vs. spec­tat­ing (by lis­ten­ing to her pod­cast, for instance), and the racism and impe­ri­al­ism built into the set­ting (adven­ture = going into a for­eign land to kill often intel­li­gent crea­tures and take their stuff). What is it to “act out your fan­ta­sy” in this way?

Some of the ways of wit­ness­ing oth­ers play­ing that we refer to include Crit­i­cal Role, The Adven­ture Zone, and Dimen­sion 20.

The Join the Par­ty game mas­ter Eric Sil­ver wrote the arti­cle “Dun­geons & Drag­ons Has an Anti­semitism Prob­lem.” You can also look at Wikipedi­a’s “Dun­geons and Drag­ons in Pop­u­lar Cul­ture” entry or get a fla­vor of the range of options by look­ing at Dice­break­er’s list of “10 Best Table­top Role­play­ing Games Out Right Now”, this list of “The 12 Best Actu­al Play Pod­casts,” or this video of “Top D&D Chan­nels that Aren’t Crit­i­cal Role.”

Fol­low Aman­da’s pod­cast @jointhepartypod on @MultitudeShows. She also hosts the Spir­its Pod­cast about folk­lore and urban leg­ends.

Hear more of this pod­cast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

Learn to Play Senet, the 5,000-Year Old Ancient Egyptian Game Beloved by Queens & Pharaohs

Senet gam­ing board inscribed for Amen­hotep III with sep­a­rate slid­ing draw­er, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Games don’t just pass the time, they enact bat­tles of wits, proxy wars, train­ing exer­cis­es…. And his­tor­i­cal­ly, games are cor­re­lat­ed with, if not insep­a­ra­ble from, forms of div­ina­tion and occult knowl­edge. We might point to the ancient prac­tice of “astra­ga­lo­man­cy,” for exam­ple: read­ing one’s fate in ran­dom throws of knuck­le­bones, which were the orig­i­nal dice. Games played with bones or dice date back thou­sands of years. One of the most pop­u­lar of the ancient world, the Egypt­ian Senet, may not be the old­est known, but it could be “the orig­i­nal board game of death,” Col­in Bar­ras writes at Sci­ence, pre­dat­ing the Oui­ja board by mil­len­nia.

Begin­ning as “a mere pas­time,” Senet evolved “over near­ly 2 mil­len­nia… into a game with deep links to the after­life, played on a board that rep­re­sent­ed the under­world.” There’s no evi­dence the Egyp­tians who played around 5000 years ago believed the game’s dice rolls meant any­thing in par­tic­u­lar.

Over the course of a few hun­dred years, how­ev­er, images of Senet began appear­ing in tombs, show­ing the dead play­ing against sur­viv­ing friends and fam­i­ly. “Texts from the time sug­gest the game had begun to be seen as a con­duit through which the dead could com­mu­ni­cate with the liv­ing” through moves over a grid of 30 squares arranged in three rows of ten.

Fac­sim­i­le copy of ca. 1279–1213 B.C. paint­ing of Queen Nefer­ti­ti play­ing Senet, via the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

“Beloved by such lumi­nar­ies as the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun and Queen Nefer­tari, wife of Ramess­es II,” Meilan Sol­ly notes at Smith­son­ian, Senet was played on “ornate game boards, exam­ples of which still sur­vive today.” (Four boards were found in Tut’s tomb.) “Those with few­er resources at their dis­pos­al made do with grids scratched on stone sur­faces, tables or the floor.” As the game became a tool for glimps­ing one’s fate, its last five spaces acquired hiero­glyph­ics sym­bol­iz­ing “spe­cial play­ing cir­cum­stances. Pieces that land­ed in square 27’s ‘waters of chaos,’ for exam­ple, were sent all the way back to square 15 — or removed from the board entire­ly,” sort of like hit­ting the wrong square in Chutes and Lad­ders.

Senet game­play was com­pli­cat­ed. “Two play­ers deter­mined their moves by throw­ing cast­ing sticks or bones,” notes the Met. The object was to get all of one’s pieces across square 30 — each move rep­re­sent­ed an obsta­cle to the after­life, tri­als Egyp­tians believed the dead had to endure and pass or fail (the game’s name itself means “pass­ing”). “Because of this con­nec­tion, senet was not just a game; it was also a sym­bol for the strug­gle to obtain immor­tal­i­ty, or end­less life,” as well as a means of under­stand­ing what might get in the way of that goal.

The game’s rules like­ly changed with its evolv­ing pur­pose, and might have been played sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ways over the course 2500 years or so. As Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Jim Stor­er notes in an expla­na­tion of pos­si­ble game­play, “the exact rules are not known; schol­ars have stud­ied old draw­ings to spec­u­late on the rules” — hard­ly the most reli­able guide. If you’re inter­est­ed, how­ev­er, in play­ing Senet your­self, res­ur­rect­ing, so to speak, the ancient tra­di­tion for fun or oth­er­wise, you can eas­i­ly make your own board. Storer’s pre­sen­ta­tion of what are known as Jequier’s Rules can be found here. For anoth­er ver­sion of Senet play, see the video above from Egyp­tol­ogy Lessons.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch a Playthrough of the Old­est Board Game in the World, the Sumer­ian Roy­al Game of Ur, Cir­ca 2500 BC

A Brief His­to­ry of Chess: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Orig­i­nal Col­ors Still In It

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Magnus Carlsen’s Mind-Blowing Memory of Historic Chess Matches

How many his­toric chess games can Mag­nus Carlsen rec­og­nize just by look­ing at the place­ment of chess pieces on the board? It turns out a lot. And that’s part­ly what makes him the reign­ing World Chess Cham­pi­on.

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If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Begin­ners, Inter­me­di­ate Play­ers & Beyond

A Free 700-Page Chess Man­u­al Explains 1,000 Chess Tac­tics in Straight­for­ward Eng­lish

A Beau­ti­ful Short Doc­u­men­tary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

A Brief His­to­ry of Chess: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

Vladimir Nabokov’s Hand-Drawn Sketch­es of Mind-Bend­ing Chess Prob­lems

The Mag­ic of Chess: Kids Share Their Unin­hib­it­ed, Philo­soph­i­cal Insights about the Ben­e­fits of Chess

Gar­ry Kas­parov Now Teach­ing an Online Course on Chess

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