Categories
Animation

Going Looney, On Purpose and in Order (4)

A Birthday for Bugs: The Pre-War Cartoons (1938-1942)

The next era runs roughly from Porky in Wackyland to 1942’s Crazy Cruise, the first WB cartoon (#359) clearly acknowledging the wartime theme. Once Bugs uses his ears to make the “V for Victory” that closes Crazy Cruise, the cartoons have gone to war (several months after Pearl Harbor, given the lag time in production and release), and they were all in. (1941’s Meet John Doughboy and Rookie Revue have military life as subject matter, but are not Allies/Axis WW2 specific. You start to see a bit of wartime commentary in Who’s Who in the Zoo in early 1942.)

Overall, these years can be summed up with Bob Clampett speeding things up with Porky, Chuck Jones slowing things down with Sniffles, and Bugs Bunny being birthed by committee. 1940’s A Wild Hare (cartoon #294, reissued with a slight name change as The Wild Hare) is the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon, although if you ran Elmer’s Candid Camera from earlier in the year to just about anyone, they would tell you they just saw a Bugs Bunny / Elmer Fudd cartoon. The only differences? Elmer brandishes a camera instead of a rifle, and the voice and appearance of Bugs are still evolving.

If ethnic sensibilities are removed (which is an impossibility), the cartoons of this era, especially starting with 1940, range in quality from amusing to delightful. The Clampett Porky Pigs are reliably hilarious. The color Merrie Melodies of the time look a bit old-fashioned and stodgy compared to the lightning-fast black-and-white Looney Tunes, but the gorgeous background work and fluid character animation go a long way towards making up for it.

Ethnic Sensitivity

Confederate Honey, a Gone With the Wind parody from 1940 (cartoon #280, with Elmer Fudd as the romantic male lead!) is a case study in the problems of censorship. It is currently available as an extra on the Erroll Flynn western Virginia City DVD, but with all of the scenes with black characters removed (or pan-and-scanned to remove said characters). The problem with this approach is that the missing scenes establish the set-up to the film’s punchline gag, and the cartoon makes no sense without them. And that’s not even discussing whether the best way to rectify the use of black stereotypes is to merely erase all the black characters regardless of how they were portrayed. If you watch Confederate Honey, view the uncut original.

On the other hand, encountering the sixth official Bugs Bunny cartoon, 1941’s All This and Rabbit Stew, is a deeply unsettling experience. Not only is the hunter protagonist the worst example of the lazy, shuffling ethnic stereotype, but Bugs ultimately distracts and defeats him with a pair of dice in a craps game. There’s hardly a shred of humor left in this cartoon when viewed with anything resembling a modern sensibility. This is the only Bugs Bunny short on the Censored Eleven list.

Contemporary References

Many of the usual suspects are rounded up as caricatures during this period, especially comic and dramatic actors under contract to Warner Bros. It apparently was a huge deal in popular culture during the late 30s and early 40s that popular entertainers Bing Crosby and Eddie Cantor only sired male or female offspring (respectively). Were the incessant references to the Crosby and Cantor families big audience crowd pleasers back then?

Bugs

Watching A Wild Hare now, especially in a high-def, restored version, is an unalloyed pleasure. It’s gorgeously drawn and animated, it’s hilarious, and all the pieces are there, including a dramatic death scene for Mel Blanc’s voice. The flat-out funniest moment is when Bugs halts Elmer’s point-blank firing upon him under the tree, not because he’s afraid of being shot, but because he’s standing directly beneath a couple of birds that might poop on him. He takes a couple steps to his left before giving Elmer the go-ahead, because of course he knows the brave hunter will miss anyway. 17 cartoons later, Elmer’s Pet Rabbit would be the follow-up, with Bugs as his official name, but with a strange voice, an aggressive personality and Chuck Jones as director.

The third official Bugs Bunny cartoon, Tortoise Beats Hare, is a brilliant subversion of a formula that was just getting started, and the first of a magnificent trilogy with Cecil Turtle. It’s amazing that in the three Cecil vs. Bugs films, the always unflappable good guy Bugs Bunny becomes the bad guy, is vanquished and humiliated, and we love every minute.

Highlights

The prenatal Bugs cartoons are worth viewing in order: Porky’s Hare Hunt, Prest-o Change-o, Hare-um Scare-um, Elmer’s Candid Camera. Other highlights from this era include a couple of change-of-pace Chuck Jones non-comedies, Old Glory and Tom Thumb in Trouble. The exact opposite, Clampett at his unhinged best, may be found in The Daffy Doc, The Lone Stranger and Porky and Porky’s Last Stand. Friz Freleng returned to Termite Terrace after a stint at MGM, and his credits include the Who Framed Roger Rabbit inspiration You Ought to Be in Pictures, the endlessly delightful Rhapsody in Rivets, and his Bugs Bunny film Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt. Tex Avery, in addition to A Wild Hare, also directed the hilarious classics Thugs With Dirty Mugs, Dangerous Dan McFoo, and Porky’s Preview

I find the Chuck Jones of this period hard to reconcile with the later director of Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening; he slows everything down and cutesifies it all, as if to show he could be working for Disney. A good example is Porky’s Prize Pony, one of a couple of Porky Pigs Jones made in 1941. Clampett’s series of Porky Pig cartoons are unsurpassed in their frantic pace and unhinged humor. Once Jones gets hold of Porky and applies his super-slow-motion frustration humor approach, the whole series stops dead in its tracks. Despite Porky’s Prize Pony’s horse race story line, which by definition should involve speed and dynamism, Jones finds a way to insert an endless, maddening sequence with the horse trying to arrange its own tail. 

A few cartoons later, the Chuck Jones style suits the material much better in Porky’s Midnight Matinee. Here you have Jones going from strength to strength: the world as seen from the tiny pygmy ant’s perspective, and Porky’s facial expressions as he tries to capture the ant. Unfortunately, as so often during this period, the cartoon ends with a blackface gag.

I liked Sniffles when I was 6 years old, but now not so much; the Inki films are memorable mostly due to their brilliant use of Mendelssohn’s music. For my money Jones didn’t really hit his stride until he gave us the Dover Boys and Hubie and Bertie later on.

1941’s The Cagey Canary is a forgotten treasure. Not readily available, the cartoon was started by Tex Avery and finished by Bob Clampett. Avery was fired in a dispute with Leon Schlesinger over the ending of The Heckling Hare. The Cagey Canary, despite the change of directors, shows no seams and moves like lightning. To modern eyes it seems like the genesis of Tweety, Sylvester and Granny (without the eventual look and sound of those three characters) and appears to be the blueprint for dozens of cat vs. the canary films later on.

Lesser Lights
In the Complete Illustrated Guide, Jerry Beck refers to Chuck Jones’ 1940 cartoon Good Night, Elmer as “one of the most irritating cartoons ever made.” Even considering that animation history includes the likes of Little Lulu, Baby Huey and Ren and Stimpy, he’s right. Also in this period you’ll find several “spot gag” cartoons like travelogues, trips to the zoo or jungle, and spoofs of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” These are, by definition, exactly as entertaining as the jokes they contain.

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Animation

Going Looney, On Purpose and in Order (2)

The Bosko and Buddy Era (1930-1935)

The first Looney Tunes “stars” were Bosko, then Buddy. Bosko had a girlfriend named Honey, and Buddy had Cookie. There isn’t much that distinguishes the two characters; Bosko is dark-skinned and Buddy is light-skinned. They’re each pretty dull. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen one Bosko or Buddy film, you’ve sort of seen them all. To quote Leonard Maltin in “Of Mice and Magic,”  “These cartoons seem pleasant and somewhat imaginative — until one watches three in a row.”

What to Look For

For animation buffs, among the things to look for are instances of rotoscoping (tracing live action), which become obvious once you spot them. As the early animators learn to effectively convey quick movement, it’s fun to go frame-by-frame to learn the secrets. And it’s quite interesting when the action has some perspective; instead of left-right scrolling, as in a primitive video game, the early renderings of action coming towards or away from the viewer perspective are notable. There are some gags of which the animators seem so proud they show up in nearly every cartoon. The popular effect in this early era? Let an approaching character’s mouth form a dark jump cut to the next scene.

Adult Themes

These films were shown before a feature meant for a wide audience, so the time-honored tradition of sneaking in some pre-Code entertainment for Mom and Dad and Grandpa is in effect. There are lots of outhouse and bedpan gags. Despite Bosko’s girlfriend Honey spending her every appearance both topless and flat-chested, her clothesline always has a brassiere hanging on it. When a telephone or alarm clock rings, the two front-mounted bells often put on a display of mammalian pendulousness. In 1930’s Congo Jazz, (cartoon #2), and 1932’s Pagan Moon, a dancing coconut tree has coconut eyes that descend to become coconut breasts that are wildly gyrated and released as missiles! 1931’s Bosko the Doughboy has a surprising amount of wartime carnage. One recurring gag from this era features characters sliding down banisters only to have the rail removed by an enemy and the victim being pounded in the crotch by the exposed uprights. And, of course, early animation from many studios featured kicks, bites, stabbings and other indignities visited upon the rear ends of characters. The discovery that barnyard animals have underwear beneath their fur is also made during this time, although that doesn’t apply to the cows that appear to be 50% udder. And there’s a lot of drinking in these films.

Topical References

Hollywood caricatures feature during this era, as in so many cartoons later on. Greta Garbo always has huge feet and “vants to be alone;” Jimmy Durante is mortified; Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Mae West and the Marx Brothers make multiple appearances. 

Voices

Late in the era one starts to recognize Bernice Hansen and Billy Bletcher doing voice work, but the voices before 1935 are for the most part bland and undistinguished. Bosko was usually voiced by Carman Maxwell in the early years, Buddy by Jack Carr.


The films of this first era lie squarely at the intersection of melodrama and vaudeville. Particularly in the Merrie Melodies series, here’s the formula: (a) 1 or 2 choruses of the title song; (b) the bad guy’s entrance and kidnapping of the leading lady; (c) the hitherto timid hero’s rescue of his gal. If you only watch a few of the 1930-1935 films, some of the better ones include Bosko the Doughboy, How Do I Know It’s Sunday, Bosko’s Mechanical Man, Sinkin’ in the Bathtub (cartoon #1) and Red-Headed Baby. If you want to be astonished or shocked by what passed for family entertainment in the early 1930s, check out Buddy’s Circus, One Step Ahead of My Shadow, and Buddy of the Apes. For a strange, unexpected surprise ending, watch Ride Him, Bosko.

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Animation

Going Looney, On Purpose and in Order (3)

The Dawn of Porky and the Birth of the WB Style (1935-1938)

Starting in 1935, several milestone cartoons were released that pointed toward the recognizable Warner Bros. style. 1935’s I Haven’t Got a Hat introduced the first enduring WB character, Porky Pig. Gold Diggers of ‘49 (1936) was director Tex Avery’s debut (with Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones as lead animators) and shows the sense of pace, timing and humor that was to come. The 1936 Jazz Singer spoof I Love to Singa is beloved, and later in 1936 Porky’s Poultry Plant marked the debut of both director Frank Tashlin and music supervisor Carl Stalling. 1937 brought 3 major milestones in quick succession. Picador Porky started Mel Blanc’s WB career in voice characterization, and a few cartoons later he would take over as Porky Pig. She Was An Acrobat’s Daughter is, in my opinion, the first WB cartoon that is pure, uncut Warner Bros. energy and humor from start to finish. Then in the very next release, Porky’s Duck Hunt, the comedic hunter character is established in Porky (which is later taken up by Elmer Fudd) and Daffy Duck as his nemesis makes an indelible debut. 

Voices

Porky had a recurring sidekick (Gabby Goat) and pet (Lulu the Ostrich) for a few films in his early days; that no one remembers this is a testament to how memorable these characters are. Porky was originally voiced by Joe Dougherty, who actually did stutter and whose vocal recording sessions were reportedly endless and problematic as a result. The story of how Dougherty went from attending the University of Nebraska medical school to serving as the voice of a stuttering cartoon pig in southern California seems to be undocumented, but might make interesting reading. Porky lost a lot of weight when he changed voice actors, so Blanc’s Porky is the one we are familiar with, while Dougherty’s Porky elicits more sympathy and irritation than humor.

Character Origins

Endless (pointless?) debate continues about whether Egghead, who made his debut in 1937’s Egghead Rides Again, is Elmer Fudd, Elmer Fudd’s brother (at one time an official WB publicity claim), or a different character altogether. Upon viewing the debut cartoon again, I was struck by Egghead hinting at not only Elmer’s origins, but also those of Yosemite Sam. As with discussions of prenatal Bugs Bunny appearances, a full-blown origin story seems for some to require the complete confluence of character design, behavior and voice. For others the appearance of one or two out of three will suffice.

What to Look For

Questions emerge when one views cartoons from this era. Is the fact that hens sit on unhatched eggs to keep them warm the wellspring of all comedy? If minor Hollywood comedians such as Joe Penner, Lew Lehr and (later) Jerry Colonna live on merely in their WB animated versions but not their actual body of work, are they nevertheless successful? How does it become so normal to watch naked quadrupeds depicted as clothed, English-speaking bipeds? The appearance of a normal human character in any of these films is genuinely disorienting.

The famous Censored Eleven cartoons banned from broadcast in the late 1960s are, of course, not the only examples of racially / ethnically sensitive stereotypes in the WB canon. A good example is the 1937 short Sweet Sioux. A modern viewer may well decide that the title itself is sufficient deterrent, but upon viewing the cartoon, which is pretty funny, one finds the satiric targets are not generally the indigenous nations. 

I am emphatically not maintaining that the Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies cartoons from 1930s – 1960s are devoid of harmful racist depictions of indigenous North American nations; there is plenty of evidence to the contrary (although, interestingly, not represented extensively in the Censored Eleven).

Most of the gags in Sweet Sioux are pretty mild, such as the mother / papoose flipping over so the baby can do some of the walking, and the attacking braves encircling the lone covered wagon forming a functional merry-go-round complete with brass ring. The actual satirical targets of Sweet Sioux are the conventions of two Hollywood genres, the western and the college sports comedy / musical. A very funny gag cuts from the attacking braves to the bench, where the second string, wearing numbered warm-ups, sits behind the nervous, pacing coach / chief. 

The strangest section of Sweet Sioux involves, of all people, singer / comedienne Martha Raye. Raye was a big-mouthed, brassy and loud supporting presence in b-pictures. She served in the 1930s a similar function to what Eve Arden and Thelma Ritter did to the 1940s and 1950s, in that frequently she was the best (or only) thing a motion picture had to offer. Anyway, in mid-cartoon a Raye impersonator depicted as a shapely Indian maiden hijacks the picture, just as the real Raye usually did. The effect is much like the Clutch Cargo series of ultra-cheap cartoons which used a live-action human mouth superimposed on a cartoon body.

The most insensitive and nonsensical aspect of Sweet Sioux may come from comparing its weak-punned title with its weak ending; the Sioux and Mohican tribes are different nations, distinct in many geographical and historical details, but the comedy conventions of the day (as elucidated in several cartoons) involved being “The Last of” the latter. Thanks a bunch, James Fenimore Cooper.

Other interesting cartoons of this period include Streamlined Greta Green, a take on anthropomorphic automobiles that predates Tex Avery’s later MGM efforts and Pixar’s Cars films; A Sunbonnet Blue, whose cute mice are familiar but the overnight setting of a millinery shop is unique (and which would make a good double bill with Bugs’ Bonnets from 1956); and the terrific The Case of the Stuttering Pig, which manages to serve as both Porky’s genealogy and a fully-functioning mystery thriller.

One cartoon from late 1937, Little Red Walking Hood, features a classic Tex Avery fairy tale parody but also a very unique look. Instead of solidly painted backgrounds, the surrounding scenes and settings (and even moving details like the automobiles) are rendered in beautiful colored pencil. The effect is so striking it’s surprising the technique wasn’t used more often.

It’s strange how in February 1938, the studio could produce the bright and funny Porky at the Crocadero, two weeks later release something as offensive, unfunny and dull as Jungle Jitters, then bounce right back the next week with the breathlessly fleet-footed What Price Porky. There were different units under different directors, but it’s still the same production studio. Sometimes it makes sense that Warner Bros. is selective about what it makes currently available.

Cartoon #198, 1938’s Porky’s Hare Hunt, features the first appearance of the rabbit character that is considered to be proto-Bugs Bunny. These continuing evolutions into the greatest cartoon character of all time make an interesting study; here the bunny has Woody Woodpecker’s voice, helicopter ears and an aptitude for jumping around in a Daffy manner. Those who (rightfully) equate Warner Bros. cartoons with Bugs Bunny might be surprised to learn that nearly 200 cartoons went by before he showed up, and even then he wasn’t yet quite himself.  

If time travel were an option, landing somewhere in a movie theater on September 24, 1938 just to watch a group of people encounter Porky in Wackyland for the first time would be a revelation. Even now its power to turn the human brain inside out is undiminished.

Watching the films in order, one can see Bob Clampett gearing up for his surreal trip to Wackyland; the previous Clampett cartoon, Porky and Daffy, features a pelican climbing out of his own mouth. Before that, Porky’s Party depicts an incredibly productive silkworm working in birthday party ice cream. Still, nothing prepares the viewer for the overwhelming adventure of Wackyland. It takes a minimum of 3 viewings just to take it all in. To date Porky in Wackyland is the earliest WB cartoon in the Library of Congress National Film Registry, and is a regular inhabitant of every list of animation’s masterpieces.

The end of 1938 had the studio operating in high gear, as the Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin units were creating cartoons that are as funny and creative in their own way as Clampett’s. And at the tail end of the year, another animator, Chuck Jones, was promoted to director when Tashlin left the studio for a few years.

Categories
Animation

Going Looney, On Purpose and in Order (1)

Overview

I’m viewing all of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in chronological order and writing notes about the experience here. I’ve been collecting them for years, and I think I’ve seen just about all of them, but never in their proper order.

First, a note about availability. Not counting dead formats like laserdiscs and videocassettes, around 40% of the 1000 or so WB animated shorts (the original canon from the 1930s – 1960s) are available on legitimate dvd and Blu-Ray releases. In addition to animation sets like the 6-volume Golden Collection, 3-volume Platinum Collection, and Porky Pig 101, a fair number of the titles are available as dvd extras on Warner Bros. feature films. For example, the 9-film Busby Berkeley Collection of WB musicals contains 15 Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies, many not available anywhere else. Many of the extras on WB dvds are part of “Warner Night at the Movies,” a feature started back in the VHS era, frequently hosted by Leonard Maltin. A newsreel, a musical or comedy short, a cartoon and a trailer or two would all precede the feature. I own a few used dvds from Half Price Books or eBay just for this purpose, and on some I’ve never bothered to watch the feature. Some of them are highly appropriate pairings, such as the Robin Hood parodies on The Adventures of Robin Hood, or Buddy the Gee Man paired with  ‘G’ Men. Some make strange discfellows; the short Bosko’s Mechanical Man is, oddly, only commercially available paired with Morning Glory, the 1933 RKO drama that earned Katharine Hepburn her first Oscar. (I believe there are more Katharine Hepburn impersonations in 1930s WB cartoons than anyone else, really, I do.)  It’s one thing to add great movies like Bringing Up Baby or The Life of Emile Zola to your film collection for the sake of an extra cartoon, but it takes dedication to add Allegheny Uprising or Dance, Girl, Dance.

None of the sets have the cartoons in order (some have particular characters’ series in order, but these are rarely consecutive), so much of the time expended in chronologically viewing these films is spent changing media or sources. Every time an official WB dvd is inserted, after the tinkly piano blue sky Warner Home Media logo appears, you are warned about piracy, shown a disclaimer about ethnic sensitivity, and perhaps an autoloaded ad or two before getting to the menu. It is a major investment in time and patience, even without fumbling with dvd cases or looking for old James Cagney movies.

The rest of the cartoons (some treasures of film history, some not so much) are not for sale, not from Warner Bros., not at any price. The Warner Bros. Archive Collection, offering hundreds of made-on-demand titles on dvd and Blu-ray, will be happy to sell you the entire Hanna-Barbera television series The Secret Squirrel Show. They will not sell you Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, ranked as #21 in Jerry Beck’s book “The 50 Greatest Cartoons.” If you’d like to purchase the entire cartoon tv series The Biskitts, or Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, they’ve got you covered. You wouldn’t want to spend too much on the series of Daffy Duck / Speedy Gonzales cartoons from the 1960s, but it doesn’t matter; Warner Bros. won’t sell them to you, even though, as lame as they are, they’re undoubtedly still better than The Biskitts.

Some of this lack of availability stems from concerns over racial and ethnic content, obviously; also, reportedly, ongoing golden era film restoration and release is financed by how well previous golden era releases have sold. (The assumption that fans would only purchase sets if the cartoons were restored broke down in the last several years when two things happened: the “Censored Eleven” were reportedly restored and mastered for a dvd release that never occurred, and the chronological character set Porky Pig 101 was released, containing many unrestored transfers.) Suspiciously, Warner Bros. has shown a proclivity for selling us the same cartoons over and over; I have at least five collections that include Knighty Knight Bugs. But the explanation “buy this so we can make more available” breaks down when one examines some of the material that Warner Archive does put out, along with the huge expense of “new” Looney Tunes productions and projects of wildly varying quality. The 1930s-1960s series of Warner Bros. animated short films contains, by critical and popular consensus, some of the best films ever created. The cream of the crop is available, yes, but the fact that there are still Bugs Bunny cartoons from the classic era that are not available at any price is strange.  

Many of the earliest films, particularly the Bosko series, are in the public domain, and are easily found online and on disc in various forms. The rest, even the infamous handful of the least ethnically sensitive cartoons, can be discovered and viewed online without too much trouble. Some of these online copies are pretty rough; a few seem to be time-stamped reference transfers. Many are dubs from Cartoon Network or Boomerang (and are edited); years ago Turner Classic Movies used to program some rarities from time to time, and even had a regular Saturday morning time slot. These unreleased films exist in kind of a grey area; since Warner Bros. won’t make them available to purchase, it’s hard to make the case that posting them online steals any money from them.

Speaking of Boomerang, that streaming service does rotate some of the classics into their rotation, but as a family-oriented service it steers clear of the riskier content and is not a comprehensive resource of the entire oeuvre in any way.

Second, an endeavor like this needs some kind of a reference checklist. Two essential books are “Of Mice and Magic” by Leonard Maltin, and “Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons” by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald. Used copies of the out-of-print editions of these are out there, and well worth pursuing (although some of the asking prices for the Beck/Friedwald book are eye-openers). There are also good online resources available. Note: there is some disagreement among these sources about the correct release order from the earliest years, due to conflicting or missing copyright information, etc.

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Flexdeck Card Games

Flexdeck Handheld Solitaire

Adapted for Flexdeck by Martin Willett

Last revision: 11/16/19

The handheld solitaire game I learned as a child is itself a variation on the traditional table solitaire game Accordion. Here the Flexdeck gives an additional twist with the letter cards available.

PLAYERS: 1

TIME: 2 minutes

EQUIPMENT: 52 or 56* card Flexdeck

This game can be played in just a minute or two. The object is to eliminate as many cards from the deck as you can.

Shuffle the deck and turn it face up in your hand. 

In this game, you always focus in on a group of 4 visible cards. Fan out the top 4 cards. Here are the possibilities:

  • If the outside cards (the first and fourth cards) match in denomination (if, for example, both are queens), then all 4 cards are removed.
  • If the outside cards match in color (if, for example, both are red), then just the 2 middle cards are removed.
  • If a four-letter word can be formed with the cards, then all 4 cards are removed.
  • If none of those criteria are met, then all 4 cards are retained.
  • Play then resumes by moving to the next card in and the 3 following cards. 

You’ll quickly adapt to the dexterity of manipulating the deck in this way, and backing up a few cards after removing some to check for matches.

A “win” that eliminates all cards is somewhat rare but eminently possible; most likely just a few cards remain, and you can see how well you do with several rounds in just a few minutes.

* When using all 56 cards (even the instructional extra card!), consider that extra card a red joker. Note that if you add the 4 extra cards, the jokers only act as wildcards when forming words; for matching purposes they form their own denomination.

I made a simple video explanation of this game.

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Flexdeck Card Games

Flexdeck Hangman

Flexdeck Hangman

Adapted for Flexdeck by Martin Willett

Last revision: 11/16/19

Use one Flexdeck per player for a quick, fun round Hangman. (And for family playing, this version avoids illustrating capital punishment.)

PLAYERS: As many as 8, with 1 Flexdeck per player

TIME: 10 minutes

EQUIPMENT:

1 Flexdeck per player

Players draw cards to see who goes first: highest domino total wins.

Each player chooses 6 letter cards from their deck to form their secret word. (No abbreviations or proper nouns.)

Each player places their secret word in front of them, cards face down, so that their opponents will be able to read the words left to right (see illustration)

Each player then takes 9 cards from their leftover deck and stacks them, face down, at the end of their word. These are used for scoring, as each player will have nine incorrect guesses available before elimination.

First player guesses a letter (and designates an opponent if more than one) and if that letter is part of the opponent’s word, all instances of that letter are flipped and revealed. If that guess is incorrect, first player removes a card from their scoring stack and sets it aside, face down.

Play continues to first player’s left, and the next player makes their guess. Correct guesses earn additional (unlimited) guesses, that is, a player’s turn ends with an incorrect guess or a victory. Players are eliminated if their word is guessed correctly and/or all of their letters are correctly guessed and flipped. Whole word guesses may only happen during the guesser’s turn; incorrect word guesses remove two cards from the guesser’s score pile.

Game ends / winner determined:

  • When one player is left with an unguessed word.
  • When only one player is left with scoring cards.
  • All scoring piles are depleted without eliminated players. In that case, the winner is the player with the most unexposed letters.
  • If all the words are correctly guessed, last one uncovered is the winner.

VARIATION

For a more challenging game, players are allowed to choose 1, 2 or 3 wild cards they can place at the beginning or end of a 3, 4 or 5-letter word. Players always start with 6 facedown cards in front of them.

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Flexdeck Card Games

Flexdeck Dice Poker

Flexdeck Dice Poker

A New Flexdeck Game by Martin Willett

Last revision: 11/16/19

This original Flexdeck game takes advantage of the Flexdeck’s design, and is inspired by the many variants of poker dice which have been around for at least 125 years, likely longer. The Flexdeck’s design gives each player a virtual ten-sided die, numbered from zero to nine.

PLAYERS: 2

TIME: 3 minutes per hand, 5 hands per game, 15 minutes total

EQUIPMENT:

One Flexdeck, 55 cards (full set of double-nine dominoes)

Table of Winning Hands (in descending order)
Five of a Kind5 identical valuesHigher die value wins
Straight-55 consecutive valuesHighest die wins (for example, 0-1-2-3-4 loses to 2-3-4-5-6)
Full House3 of one kind, 2 of anotherHighest value of the 3 of a kind
Two Pair2 of one kind, 2 of another, unmatched fifth dieHighest value of one of the pairs; if still tied, the second pair; if still tied, the highest fifth die value
Straight-44 consecutive values, unmatched fifth dieHighest die of the straight wins (for example, 0-1-2-3-9 loses to 2-3-4-5-7)
Three of a Kind3 identical values, 2 unmatched diceHighest value of the 3 of a kind
One Pair1 pair matched dice, 3 unmatched diceHighest pair value
Garbage5 unmatched dice, no run of 4 consecutive diceHighest total of all 5 dice

Dealer deals five face-up cards in a row in the middle of the table. The row of dominoes facing each player (one half of each of the five cards) constitute the opening dice roll. 

In this sample game, Player 1 (dealer)  has rolled a 1,1,2,4,5. Player 2 has rolled a 0,0,2,6,9. So far each player has one pair. 

Dealer hands the remaining deck to the opponent, who can then choose to improve their hand by adding one, two or three cards (or none, if the deal was highly favorable) to their half of the tableau. (New cards are flipped off the top of the deck and cover just the player’s half. Only the upper half of the new cards are used, as they cover the lower half of the original cards. The cards must be used as placed and not rotated for advantage.) 

Player 2 has chosen to keep the pair of zeroes and roll three more virtual dice by dealing three new cards, covering the unwanted halves. Now player 2 has 2 pair, zeroes and nines, along with a one. (The lower halves of the new cards are disregarded; the yellow box in the sample image indicates the active hand for player two.)

The deck is handed back to the dealer, who makes the same choice. Each player is given two turns to try to improve their hands.

Player one might have chosen to keep the pair of ones and replace the rest, but has instead decided to try to fill the inside straight 1-2-4-5 with a three. Instead a 4 is rolled.

Player two keeps the two pair and rolls one die to try for the full house, and is rewarded.

Player one has one last chance to beat the full house, either trying again to fill the inside straight, or keeping the pair of fours and getting lucky with three new dice. Player one chooses the latter option, but comes up just short, ending with two pair, eights and fours, and an unmatched three. Player two wins this round with a full house.

The existing tableau of cards is gathered with the remaining deck. Deck is shuffled and deal rotates to other player. First player to 5 wins is the victor.

Categories
Flexdeck Card Games

Flexdeck Golf Solitaire

Flexdeck Golf Solitaire

Adapted for Flexdeck by Martin Willett

Last revision: 11/22/19

This adaptation of the traditional golf solitaire game is given three additional variations to take advantage of all the features found in the Flexdeck. Golf solitaire has a greater degree of skill versus luck than many other forms of solitaire.

PLAYERS: 1 (Variation for 2*)

TIME: 9 hole round, approximately 25 minutes

EQUIPMENT:

One Flexdeck (52-card deck, jokers removed)

Pencil and paper for scoring

Sample scorecard:

TRADITIONAL

The 1st, 5th and 9th holes are played as TRADITIONAL golf solitaire. Rules for this may be found online, but here are the basics:

A tableau of seven columns, five face-up cards each, is dealt, for a total of thirty-five cards. The remaining cards form the draw pile. 

Cards are turned face up, one at a time. Fully exposed cards (cards at the bottom of the columns) may be removed from the tableau and placed on the face-up drawn card if they form a numerical sequence with that card (suits are ignored). For example, if the exposed draw pile card is a ten, either a nine or a jack may be placed on it. Aces are low and may only be placed on a two; kings are high and may only be placed on a queen. Wrapping around from king to ace (or vice versa) is illegal. 

In the sample image shown, the first card turned from the draw pile is a king, so the queen may be drawn down from the tableau and placed on top of the king. There are no jacks or kings then exposed to make a sequence with the queen, so the next draw pile card is turned.

One pass is made through the draw pile, card by card. When play on the final card is blocked, the number of cards remaining on the tableau is the score for the hole. If the tableau is cleared completely, the number of cards remaining in the draw pile are strokes under par and entered as negative numbers.

The three variations for the Flexdeck all use the same tableau, basic gameplay and scoring.

COLOR CLEAR

The 2nd and 6th holes are COLOR CLEAR holes. In this variation cards may be removed if they match the color of the exposed draw card. 

In the sample image, there are no blue cards available to match the turned draw pile card, so another draw pile card is turned. If that card is red, for example, then the three red cards could come down. If gold, then all eight matching gold cards could be cleared. 

WORD BUILDER

The 3rd and 7th holes are WORD BUILDER holes. In this variation the letters in the card corners are used to form words beginning with the exposed card’s letter. If an additional word can be formed using the last letter of the previous word, it may be formed and removed before turning another draw card. This can continue until play is blocked. Words may also be legally formed with unexposed cards if those cards will become exposed and usable in the correct order; use the upside-down letters to plan ahead! (Standard word disqualifications apply: no proper nouns or abbreviations; words consist of 2 or more letters).

*Special “Q” rule: If a “U” is turned onto the draw pile and a “Q” card is available from the tableau, the QU digraph may be formed in the wrong order, but only if a valid QU word is immediately available by drawing the appropriate cards down.

In the sample image shown, the word “BETA” could be formed by drawing down the “E,” the “T,” and then the “A” that was behind the “T.” Then the word “AX,” etc.

DOMINO MATCH

The 4th and 8th holes are DOMINO MATCH holes. In this variation cards may be removed if either end of the domino is a match for either end of the exposed card. However, the use of any double domino, such as 6-6, blocks further progress and forces the turning of the next draw card. This rule includes turning a double domino from the draw pile; a new card must be turned.

In the sample image shown, the first draw card turned is the 5-8 domino. The 3-5 domino is the only match, so it is drawn down. Then any of the exposed dominos containing a 3 or 5 could be drawn down, keeping in mind that if or when the 3-3 double domino is used, play is frozen and the next draw pile card is turned.

SCORING

A nine-hole score of 50 or less (an 18-hole round of 100) can be considered very good. Holes-in-one (1 tableau card left), zeros (tableau cleared with the last draw card), and birdies, eagles, and other negative scores (tableau cleared with remaining draw cards) are somewhat rare, but of course help the overall score immeasurably.

VARIATIONS

Variations that would affect the scoring and difficulty:

-Add 1,2 or 3 joker/wild cards, to be used to represent any denomination. This would take the scoring into miniature golf territory.

-On the traditional holes, allow wrapping between ace and king for an easier game; disallow queens from being placed on kings for a greater challenge.

-Within an overall round and after the tableau is dealt, the player may choose their “club” (one of the variations) based on an evaluation of the visible tableau card distribution. The 9 holes of play must still include 3 traditional holes, and 2 each of COLOR CLEAR, WORD BUILDER and DOMINO.

-*Two players play at a time with two decks and compare scores, round by round.

Categories
Flexdeck Card Games

How to Play the Bali Card Game Using the Flexdeck

Martin Willett

Single player solitaire: 1 Flexdeck

2, 3 or 4 players: 2 Flexdecks

History and Overview

An excellent word card game was introduced in 1954 called “Bali.” Between 1954 and 1980 several different printings from several game companies were sold, but unfortunately this splendid game has been out of print since then. It’s surprising that such a worthwhile game has been out of print for 3 decades; your best bet for obtaining an original Bali game is from a garage sale or finding it used online.

However, you can enjoy this great game using a Flexdeck! Bali may be played as a solitaire game, or with 2, 3 or 4 players. A very satisfying Bali adaptation may be played solitaire with 1 Flexdeck, and 2 combined Flexdecks are used for 2, 3 or 4 players. Or with additional Flexdecks the exact original Bali game can be mapped into the Flexdeck universe.

The Bali game was printed as two identical decks with contrasting back colors, simplifying the combination and separation of the decks for solitaire vs. multiplayer use. Consonants and the wild card (the “Bali” card) have point values. The point values and the letter distribution, as compared with the Flexdeck letter distribution, is shown.

ADAPTING FOR FLEXDECK

Letter distribution between the Bali deck and Flexdeck is similar enough that a satisfying game will result using 1 Flexdeck (including 1 wild card) for solitaire and 2 Flexdecks (with 2 wild cards)  for 2, 3 or 4 player games. 

However, mapping the precise Bali letter distribution is possible if enough Flexdecks are available. The solitaire version would require adding one each of  E, G, I, P, and R from a second deck, and removing one each of H, S, T and X. Creating a precise double deck for 2, 3 or 4 players would require 4 decks, due to the relative Flexdeck scarcity of G, P and R.

Again, precise mapping is not really necessary for a satisfying adaptation; you could also use the extra non-joker Flexdeck card as an E if you wish.

Looking up and adding the consonant point values could become a bit tedious during scorekeeping, but if you want the exact Bali experience, you likely would learn all the point values quickly.

The other adaptation from the original: with the Flexdeck, the letter indices are printed in the lower left-hand corner of the card, so instead of building down the word column as in Bali, for clarity you would build upward in the word column using Flexdeck cards.

INSTRUCTIONS

These are the rules as printed in the 1972 edition:

BALI: The Best Word Game Under the Sun 

Bali is a competitive card word game completely different from any other word game. It is a word-building game and words of great length can be built. The longer they are the higher they score! 

Each Bali deck has 54 cards. 

Each deck has the following number of letters: 

(letter distribution in chart above)

*A Bali card is a wild card. It may be used for any letter but each Bali card must remain the letter it is declared throughout that game. 

HOW TO PLAY BALI The two-, three-, and four-handed Bali games are based on the solitaire game; read the solitaire rules to learn how the game is played. 

SOLITAIRE BALI 

(played with one deck) 

The object of the game is to build words of three or more letters and if possible, to use every single card, playing through the deck once. If, at the end of a game, all cards have been used in completed words, the game is Balied and your score is tripled. (Many players have objected to this rule; some ignore it, others allow a doubled score bonus.) On games that end with some words incompleted, the score is based on completed words. All dictionary words are allowed except proper nouns, contractions, abbreviations, slang, and apostrophized, hyphenated, or foreign words. Variations such as plurals, participles, and comparative endings are allowed. 

TO PLAY: Shuffle the deck and deal the top 7 cards, face up, in a horizontal row on the table. This is the panel and it must never have more than 7 columns. Build words by moving the panel cards to make words or parts of words, say, as follows:

An opening is made each time a panel card is moved, also when a word is removed. (Completed words can be removed whenever desired, but must not be referred to afterwards to see what letters are gone.) Fill each opening with the top card from the deck. A deck card may not be exposed until there is an opening to fill. Once started a column may not be broken, though it can be moved as a unit. 

Example:

A game may end before all the deck cards have been turned. This occurs when an opening cannot be made on the panel because no usable combination of the columns or letters is possible and there are no complete words to remove.

SCORING: 

Numbers on the consonants show their value. (Point values can be found in the chart above.) 

To score a word add the card numbers and multiply by the number of cards. Thus, ROB is worth 9 points—R and B add up to 3 and there are three cards in the word. PROBE would be worth 20 points, THROB, 25 MICROBES, 56 PROBLEMATICAL, 130. 

Add all word scores to get your final score. Unused cards are not deducted from the score. Bali solitaire carries the endless challenge of trying to beat one’s own best score. 

TWO-, THREE-, & FOUR-HANDED BALI 

(played with two decks combined) 

Read Solitaire Rules First. All three games follow the solitaire pattern. Two decks are combined and shuffled and separate panels are dealt to each player. Players take turns and play only on their own panels, but they may use other players’ single cards, parts of words, or even whole words! Words are built, removed, and scored as in Solitaire, highest scorer winning. Panels are 7 cards in two-handed games, 5 cards in 3-handed, and 4 cards in four-handed. 

Rules: 

1. Player who cuts card nearest A deals the starting panels and goes first. Play passes to the left. Deal opponents’ panels first, from left on around. 

2. A player may build on only one of his columns at his turn, but may play any number of cards to that column. 3. You can only capture letters or columns to build down on a letter or word combination in your own panel.

4. When the same letter is available on different panels, a player may choose whichever he pleases. The strategy, of course, is to keep opponents from getting the letters they need (and to capture, if possible, the high value letters that turn up in other panels).

5. A player may use single letters or parts of words from any or all panels, as long as he plays to just one column in his panel. After a turn dealer fills all openings, from the deck, beginning with the panel at the left. 

6. Removing a word counts as a turn in itself and is not forced, unless no other play is possible. (Score words as they are removed.) If a player cannot play, he must forfeit one of his uncompleted columns by shuffling it into the deck. The choice of which column must be forfeited is made by the player whose turn follows. 

7. A player who builds a combination of letters which apparently doesn’t exist in a word may be challenged. If the challenged player has no real word in mind, he loses his turn, and the cards are returned to their original position. If the challenger is wrong, he loses his turn. 

8. When the last deck card is turned up, play continues as before except that no play may be made that does not result in a completed word. Players who cannot complete a word and have no reason to remove one simply let the others take their final turns.

9. A player who Balies his panel (ends the game with all cards used in completed words ) triples his final score. He gets credit for the Bali, even though an opponent makes the play that clears his panel. If more than one player Balies, each or every Balled player triples his score.* (Note: Balies can occur only after the whole deck has been dealt.) 

PARTNERSHIP RULE 

Four-handed Bali may be played as a partnership between players who sit opposite. Partners take turns as a team and play as a team, deciding together what they wish to do. They may build on only one column at any turn, but it can be in either panel. A team may plan to hold words on one of their panels to insure a Bali. When one of a team’s panels is Balled, the partnership score is tripled. When both are Balled (a double Bali ) the partner-ship score is tripled twice.* 

*See Solitaire Bali, first paragraph. 

FLEXDECK ADAPTATIONS / SIMPLIFICATIONS

  1. Those who might enjoy the gameplay but not the scoring aspect can simply play through and attempt to use all their cards in valid words. 
  2. Instead of using the Bali point values, players could agree on simple bonuses based on length of word (1 additional point for 3- and 4-letter words, 3 for 5- or 6- letter words, 5 for 7 or more, etc.).