The TV show Big Bang Theory is one of our family's favorite shows. One of the the funniest episodes has genius Sheldon and his comrades playing a variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors as the ultra nerdy "Rock, Paper, Lizard, Scissors, Spock". "Spock" is signed using a Star Trek Vulcan salute, and "lizard" is a hand forming a sock puppet mouth. Spock smashes scissors and vaporizes rock; he is poisoned by lizard and proven wrong by paper. Lizard poisons Spock and eats paper; it is crushed by rock and decapitated by scissors. Now, Lucas get's this and can play it, but my brain just won't work fast enough to calculate who beats who fast enough.
There's a much simpler, although extremely fast version that might be at the root of all finger games:
Morra is an Italian finger counting game that was played for a few thousand years in ancient Rome and Greece. Some say it began as a way of making decisions between two parties, but it seems it would only lead to more arguments, it seems more than likely that historically this has always been a betting game. One can easily picture Roman Centurions gambling away their rations on this simple game.
Morra is more than likely what the Bible refers to as "casting lots". In ancient Rome, the game was called micatio, and playing it was micare digitis (literally, flashing the fingers). There is an old Roman proverb about an honest man: dignus est quicum in tenebris mices (he is a worthy man with whom you could play micatio in the dark). Micatio even came to be used to settle disputes over the sale of merchandise in the Roman forum, a practice that was eventually banned.
Today, morra is played throughout Italy (in Sardinia, it's called sa murra) and Greece, and in parts of Spain, Portugal, France (called la Mourre), Corsica, Cyprus, and up through Croatia and Slovenia. In Spain there is a variation where coins are tossed instead of fingers. It's also popular in "Little Italy's" around the world. In my neck of the woods, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, an annual tournament is held in February.
I will admit that as a kid we used to shoot Odds and Evens to help us make big decisions... Me, "Let's go to the movies"... my friend Sam, "Let's go down The Cliffs to play". Me, "Let's shoot Odds & Evens to decide. I'm Evens.... One, Two, Three, SHOOT! Ok, the Cliffs it is!"
There are many variations of morra, most played with two, three, or more players, often in teams. In the simplest, two player, two fingered version, one person is designated the Odds player and the other is Evens. Players hold one hand count together "uno, due, tre, sparare!" (One, two, three, shoot!). Immediately, both players hold out either One, Two or Zero fingers (Zero is a fist). If the fingers of both players adds to an even number (two or four) then the Evens player wins. If not, the Odds player (with one or three) is the winner.
Of course, another more complex version for two players would be to use all five fingers and a fist for Zero, where the possible sums would run from 0 and 1 through 10. Same rules apply: The odd some gives a point to the Odds Player, the even sum awards a point to the Evens player.
In another popular version, all players guess at the total sum. They throw out a single hand, each showing zero (a fist) to five fingers, and call out (at the same time as the throw) their guess at what the sum of all fingers shown . If one player guesses the sum, that player earns one point. If no one guesses, they go again. The first player to reach three points wins the game.
Many versions of Morra are strictly gambling games--the winner earning cash equal to the sum of fingers displayed. The way many Italians play it, there is a mix of strategy, luck, skillful planning, a crazy glare at the competition and intimidating trash talk at a very loud level. While some may play sitting at tables, others make this a very physical, full body sport standing with both bodies and fists of fingers thrust toward one other--looking more like a brawl than a simple hand game. Being loud while "shooting" is part of the machismo of this game.
While many play for money, others play for trophies--believe it or now, there are Morra clubs around the world that make a pretty big deal out of this finger game. Here's one team version of the game from the IFC (Italian Fingers Champion) Morra Club:
Teams of 4 members
12 points per leg
3 legs per game
No zeros – must throw 1-5
Total amount of teams will be thrown in a hat. At random numbers will be drawn with the highest number seeded against the lowest number for round one. Round two, Winners will be seeded against the winners from round one in order of their original seed. Losers likewise, will be seeded against other losers from round one in accordance with their original seed. Losers of Round two from the losers bracket are eliminated. Rounds will continue until a team out of the Winners bracket only remains. They will be seeded against the remaining team from the Losers bracket. In order to be crowned champion, the Winner's bracket representative must beat the Losers bracket representative once. The Losers bracket representative must beat the Winners bracket Champion twice in order to be crowned champion."
Now, if you want to see how it's really played in Italy, check out the video below. I don't know about you, but I could never keep up with these regazzi!
And here's another video of a champion match in New Jersey.
And finally, the real deal. These guys are playing Morra in Barga in the Lucca provence of Italy... You won't believe the enthusiasm!
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