06-19-2020, 04:17 PM
#1
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Well, today I got some Baltic amber dice, to alternate with some other dice in keeping track of the number of shaves on my current blade.

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So I thought I would write a little bit about dice...


Dice
Triumph depends on a roll of Fate's dice; the ultimate prize is a place in Heaven. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Dice have been used since before recorded history, and it is uncertain where or when they first originated, although they may have appeared independently across the populated world. The earliest known form of dice was the anklebones (tali) of sheep, oxen, or other animals, sometimes with markings on the faces. These were cast by religious shamans, who were sometimes employed by rulers, to reveal signs from the gods and divine the future. Sticks, rocks, or animal entrails also were used. Similarly, pebbles, fruit pits, and nut shells were used for games, which may have been an evolution from the divination practice. (It has been suggested that bone-tossing may have been used by hunters to determine in which direction they would search for game, with trends in the tossing results interpreted as representing good or bad luck.) The animal talus bones were known in Greece as 'astragali' and were chosen because they were roughly cube-shaped, with two rounded sides on which they couldn't land and four flat sides. Their use in divination came to be known as astragalomancy. It seems that it was not important initially for them to be symmetrical in shape, since external factors (mainly the gods) rather than shape were thought to be controlling the results.
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Perhaps the oldest known game dice were excavated as part of a turquoise and agate backgammon-like set at Shahr-e Suhteh ('Burnt City'), a site in southeastern Iran from 2800-2500 BC, and bone dice from Skara Brae, a Neolithic village on Scotland's Orkney Island dated to 3100-2400 BC. 
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Pyramidal dice (with 4 sides) have been found as part of the Sumerian 'Royal Game of Ur,' dating to 2600 BC. Investigations of graves at Mohenjo-daro, an Indus Valley (Harappan) settlement, have unearthed terracotta dice dating to 2500-1900 BC. These early dice have relatively sharp sides, and it is believed that this probably resulted from Mesopotamians and others discovering that carving down the rounded sides of astragali, making them more symmetrically cube-shaped and enabling them to land on all six sides, allowed more complex outcomes.
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Cubical dice with markings quite similar to those of modern dice have been found in Egyptian tombs from 2000-1000 BC and in Chinese excavations from 600 BC.
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The first known hexahedron (6-sided) dice with dots or pips denoting their values appeared in Mesopotamia around 1300 BC, centuries before the introduction of Arabic numerals. Games involving dice are mentioned in the ancient Indian Rigveda and Atharvaveda (c.1200-1000 BC) and on the list of games that Gautama Buddha was reputed to have advised not to play (c.700-600 BC). The first specific written record of historical dice use is found in the Mahabharata, an Indian Sanskrit epic from 400 BC. There are several biblical references to 'casting lots,' indicating dice playing or a similar activity at the time the books such as Psalms were created.

In Greek and Roman eras, most dice were carved from bone or ivory, although some were made of agate, rock crystal, onyx, jet, alabaster, marble, amber, porcelain, or other materials. In Greece the game using dice was called 'knucklebones' and was considered a game of skill, as it was in Rome. Sophocles claimed in 1188 BC that dice were invented by Palamedes during the siege of Troy at about that time, but evidence is lacking. 
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When General Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon River to attack Rome in 49 BC, knowing that there was no turning back, he said, "Lea iacta est" (meaning "The die is cast"). Gambling was illegal in Rome except during the winter solstice festival of Saturnalia, but betting on dicing (aleum ludere, 'to play at dice') was done nonetheless, with games involving large dice ('tali'] inscribed with 1, 3, 4, and 6 on four sides and smaller dice ('tessarae') with sides numbered from 1 to 6. Records indicate that it was common for the gamblers to call out the goddess Fortuna's name while rolling dice, and a golden statue of Fortuna was always kept in the sleeping quarters of the emperor. Rolling three sixes at the same time was said to have been called a 'Venus.' Several Roman rulers were passionate dice players, including Marc Antony, Domitian, Augustus, and Commodus. Caligula (12-31 AD) hated to lose at dice, and it was claimed that he had wealthy citizens arrested on false charges and executed so that he could claim their wealth to pay off his gambling debts. His successor, his uncle Claudius, who is said to have written a book called How to Win at Dice (sadly lost to history), had a carriage specially designed with a balanced table inside so that he could play dice while traveling. Nero, the great-nephew and heir of Claudius, would bet up to 400,000 sestertii (about $800,000 in today's US currency).
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Twenty-sided (icosahedron) dice date to Ptolemaic Egypt as early as 300 BC and appeared in Rome not much later, and twelve-sided Egyptian dice date to 150 BC. A 20-sided Roman die from around 100 AD was sold at auction in 2003 for almost $18,000.
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Dominoes and playing cards originated in China as developments from dice. The transition from a variation of dice to playing cards started around the time of the Tang dynasty (ca. 600-900), coinciding with the technological evolution from manuscript rolls to block printed books; and dominoes (basically flattened dice) were popular by the 12th century. In Japan, dice were used to play two forms of a popular game called sugoroku, introduced from China in the 6th century. 

Dice probably were introduced to Europe by the Romans and have been found in numerous Roman archeological sites of that time, as well as in Viking grave mounds from around 1000 AD. Subsequently dice games were one of the few leisure activities affordable to European Medieval peasants; the game they called Hazard became popular in the 1100s and was mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the 14th century. Richard the Lionheart and King John both enjoyed playing dice in the 12th century, especially when it involved gambling and betting. During the First Crusade in 1190, Richard passed a law prohibiting dice playing by anyone below the rank of knight; and to curb debts and teach moderation, he forbade the knights from losing more than 20 shillings a day. 
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King Henry VII, who won his throne from King Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, was a notorious dice player. Royal accounts show various charges to the royal purse as a result of his gambling activities:
For a par of tables and dise bought, 1s.4d
To Hugh Denes for the Kinges pley at dice upon Friday last passed, £7.15s
To my Lorde of York to pley at dise, £3.6s.8d


Henry VIII, a gambling addict, lost the bells and tower of St. Charles Cathedral, as well as money earmarked for construction on Westminster Abbey, in an early 16th century game. Medieval English etchings depict groups of men playing with dice in roadhouses, and the games were so popular that dice guilds and schools formed all over Western Europe, despite efforts by Catholic popes, bishops, and priests to ban all gambling games. Around 1100, a 'primes' arrangement in which 1 and 2 are on opposite sides of a die, as are 3-4 and 5-6, such that each set adds up to a different prime number, which had been used at times in Mesopotamia and Egypt, once again became popular, although it is not known how the idea originated. About 1450, the numbering system changed predominantly to 'sevens,' where opposite sides have numbers adding up to 7, and this has continued to the present. (Neither the 'sevens' configuration nor the prime number one seems to be intuitive: when researchers asked schoolchildren to number the sides of paper cubes, the kids wrote 1 on one face, then turned the cube laterally 90 degrees to write 2 on the next face, and so on, resulting in a configuration called 'turned.') Around this time dice became much more highly standardized in shape, and some of them began to get smaller, perhaps as a way to make them easier to hide from increasingly powerful religious authorities. 
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There is a story in the Heimskringla,or Chronicles of the Kings of Norway, in which ownership of the island of Hising was decided between the King of Sweden (Olof Skötkonung) and the King of Norway (Olaf II Haraldsson), by a game of dice, the highest thrower winning. The King of Sweden three two sixes and declared that it was futile for Olaf to throw since he could not beat that. Olaf insisted and threw two sixes also. Again the King of Sweden threw two sixes. This time when Olaf threw, one of the dice split in two; the good die came up 6 and the two halves of the split die came up showing a 1 and a 6, making his throw a 13. Thus Olaf won Hising for Norway.

By the 13th century, when dice became more uniform, authors in Europe started to write in a systematic way about why dice games work the way they do. Dice were first examined with mathematical analysis around 1600, when Galileo Galilei, Girolamo Cardano, and others investigated the concepts of randomness and probability. They noted and explained why in a game with three dice, the number 10 comes up more often than the number 9, although that observation could not actually be seen physically without thousands of rolls.
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A sad story is told of a young Florentine named Antonio Rinaldeschi, who in 1501 lost all of his money and some of his clothes in a dice game. In a foul mood, he cursed the name of the Virgin and threw some horse dung at a church fresco of the Madonna. This provoked public outrage against him. Realizing the strength of public feeling, he tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself; but the blade struck a rib, and he lived. He was imprisoned, found guilty of sacrilege, given absolution, and hanged. There is also a somewhat happier story of an entrepreneur in London named William Bankes, who in the early 17th century trained a horse named Maracco the Thinking Horse and exhibited him at various inn-theatres. Maracco could walk on two legs, play dead, drink a bucket of water and then immediately urinate a full bucket on command, and pick out the maids from the harlots in the bawdy audience. Bankes had silver horseshoes made for Maracco, and the horse could kick large dice and then count out the results by thumping his shoes on the stage. When Bankes and Maracco traveled abroad and exhibited in Paris, Bankes was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft and only escaped trial when he revealed that he had trained the horse with hand signals. He and the horse moved quickly to Orleons, where he was arrested again when rumored to be a sorcerer, and both he and Maracco were sentenced to be burned at the stake. Bankes persuaded the authorities to allow them to give one last performance, during which Maracco knelt down before a cross being held by a priest in the audience. This was taken as a sign that he was not possessed by an evil spirit, and they were released (and even paid to compensate them for their troubles).

Samuel Pepys, president of the Royal Society from 1684 to 1686, once wrote to the great mathematician Isaac Newton for advice about a wager on dice, asking which of three propositions would be most likely:
- Six dice are tossed independently of each other and at least one six appears
- Twelve dice are tossed independently of each other and at least two sixes appear
- Eighteen dice are tossed independently of each other and at least three sixes appear

Pepys thought the third option would be likeliest and needed to know, because he had made a wager that this would be so. Newton replied in three personal letters, giving a detailed outline using his new mathematical calculus that showed that the first proposition was likelier than the second, and the second was likelier than the third. Pepys is said to have then declared, in colorful language, that he proposed to welch on his wager.

Dice were said to have traveled to North America aboard ships carrying immigrants, although the religious Pilgrims on the Mayflower apparently were not fond of the crew's gambling games. The European game of Hazard was introduced by the French in New Orleans, who called it crapaud, meaning 'toad.' This game became popular with slaves, who shortened the name to craps, and it remains the most popular dice game in the US today. Gambling on dice games was very common in saloons of the Wild West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and 8-sided poker dice were patented for this in 1906. 

In 1944 a man named Louis M. Cohn died, leaving with his will a letter in which he confessed to having been playing craps in 1871 in a Chicago barn with James O'Leary, son of the barn's owners, and some others. At one point in the game an oil lamp was knocked over and started a fire. Gathering up the money, the players all ran away. Firefighters were called but unfortunately were sent to the wrong neighborhood, and when they finally arrived at the barn the fire was out of control. It spread and burned for two days, causing 300 deaths, making 100,000 people homeless, and causing $200 million of damage. Catherine O'Leary, one of the barn owners, was made a scapegoat for the fire in a Chicago Tribune article, which said that the fire was caused by one of her cows kicking over a lamp. Michael Ahern, the reporter who wrote the story, finally confessed in 1893 that he had fabricated it.

With the growth in popularity of board games like Monopoly in the early 20th century, dice became common household items. Plastic 20-sided dice were patented in 1950, and in 1974 the famous game Dungeons and Dragons was published, featuring a set of polyhedral dice. The first plastic 10-sided gaming dice were introduced at GenCon in 1980, with many forms of polyhedrons appearing subsequently. In 1985 the 100-sided zocchihedron (invented by a gamer named Lou Zocchi) was introduced. There are barrel dice (roughly cylindrical but with flat surfaces) and many other variations now. There is even a 'no-sided' die, a sphere with a moving internal weight that causes the sphere to stop rolling with one of its six numbers facing up.
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Various attempts have been made to ensure as much as possible the randomness of dice results. Based upon mathematical models and computer-driven mechanical simulations, and depending on the rolling surface, it appears that sharp-edged dice may be more random in general than those with rounded edges; but there is controversy about this, and rounded ones roll significantly more easily. A man named Paul Mitchell, apparently of the opinion that he had thought of 'new and useful Improvements in Dice' overlooked by everyone since the ancient civilizations, filed a patent application in 1925 for dice with rounded edges.

One device that may contribute to randomness and has been used since the 4th century is the dice tower. This is a small wood or metal tower into the top of which the dice are dropped so that they bounce off hidden interior baffles or platforms before emerging down a ramp at the bottom front and coming to rest in a small tray. An example is the Vettweiss-Froitzhiem Dice Tower, used by Romans in Germany. Dice towers, often called dice tumblers, are commonly used in tournament backgammon.
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Of course, where there is gaming - and especially where there is gambling on it - there is cheating. While some people in ancient civilizations believed that the gods were responsible for the outcome of a roll, others felt the need to 'influence the gods.' Archeologists at Pompeii have found 'loaded' dice weighted on one side with tiny hidden bits of lead to make them come up more often on a certain number. When wooden dice became common, clever gamblers would grow small trees around pebbles, then would carve them into dice with no visible marks but with the pebbles inside to provide unbalanced weight. Medieval dice discovered in Norway show that someone had made them with two fives, two fours, a three, and a six (dice known in modern terms as 'tops and bottoms'), apparently for cheating unsuspicious opponents. Later cheaters developed 'trappers,' in which a drop of mercury is loaded into a center reservoir so that holding the die a certain way and tapping it against a table, the mercury moves down a tunnel to another reservoir, shifting the weight. Another trick was to fill a die with wax that would melt at just below body temperature; held in a closed fist, the wax would melt and settle to the desired side. 

Adding to the repertoire of cheating is the skill developed by some masters of hand movement control to intentionally influence how the dice roll and land. After many hours of practice, Dominic LoRiggio, the 'Dice Dominator,' was able in the 1990s to throw dice in a way that appeared normal but actually made the dice stick close together during flight and controlled the dice rotation. He was able to call out numbers and then roll them with the dice and has been filmed doing so. After being banned by the casinos, he has turned to writing books, teaching others his techniques, and consulting with the casinos themselves.

Modern technology with lasers and micro- and nano-material development have allowed creation of more subtle forms of cheating, against which casinos have had to spend millions of dollars, trying to create countering detection methods. Casinos now use translucent dice that have tiny serial numbers and logos, 'monogrammed' key letters on a pip spot before it is painted, and UV-detectable epoxy pips in an attempt to prevent cheating, as well as using electronic micrometers, balancing calipers, magnets, textured bumps along the table sides to make it more difficult to manipulate the dice results, and other methods such as frequent dice change-outs. Many casinos now are transitioning to virtual dice rolling by computer, which not only supposedly makes dice loading impossible (although hacking theoretically still is possible), but also encourages gambling from a cell phone key pad or a computer keyboard.
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However, old ways persist and perhaps always will: dice made from the anklebones of sheep still are used in gaming in Mongolia today, and dice are used widely in the related ancient practice of divination called cleromancy (including the famous modern Magic 8-Ball, that answers questions with 'Yes,' 'No,' 'Ask Again Later,' etc.). Tibetan Buddhists use a set of three dice made from conch shells to make daily decisions. Astrologers sometimes use sets of 12-sided dice (dodecahedron) related to the Zodiac signs, and there are I Ching dice with trigrams and yin/yang symbols. 

And finally, a few enlightened wet shavers use dice to note how many shaves have been accomplished with the current razor blade.

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 06-20-2020, 06:51 AM
#2
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I’ve been looking for steel dice to use with a magnet.  Hard to find.
I’m always up for a beer and a game of “ship, captain, crew”...

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 06-20-2020, 11:54 AM
#3
  • Mouser
  • Senior Member
  • Forest City, Florida U.S.A.
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I find this kind of information and history fascinating.  Also, big coincidence,  I'm in the middle of a documentary about the Stone, Bronze and Iron age British Isles and last nights episode was partially about an archaeological dig at Skara Brae.

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 06-20-2020, 12:03 PM
#4
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An interesting read, thank you Biggrin

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 06-20-2020, 02:11 PM
#5
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Some non-traditional designs:

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 06-21-2020, 04:48 AM
#6
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Pretty cool read! Thanks for sharing!

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 06-22-2020, 07:17 PM
#7
  • naiyor
  • Active Member
  • Ontario, Canada
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Thanks for a great read Biggrin

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 07-07-2020, 10:38 AM
#8
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I have been using this for a few years.  I took the photo with a razor and a pack of blades so you ca see the size.

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 07-11-2020, 01:33 PM
#9
  • WHC
  • Ex-Lurker
  • New Mexico
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These were my late uncle's dice, from when he worked at the hotel in Puerto Rico, mid 1970's.   

I've tried to keep  track of blade use with them but always forgot to change,  so I never really knew how many shaves the blades had.  Now I just go by intuition;  if shave is rough, requires more passes, or if the blade tugs,  or I nick myself,  I toss the blade.

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 07-11-2020, 02:52 PM
#10
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(07-11-2020, 01:33 PM)WHC Wrote:
These were my late uncle's dice, from when he worked at the hotel in Puerto Rico, mid 1970's.   

I've tried to keep  track of blade use with them but always forgot to change,  so I never really knew how many shaves the blades had.  Now I just go by intuition;  if shave is rough, requires more passes, or if the blade tugs,  or I nick myself,  I toss the blade.

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Those are cool dice. I actually don't need my dice, since I follow a written schedule on which I keep the number of shaves up to date, but it's fun to use them anyway.

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 07-11-2020, 04:06 PM
#11
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(07-11-2020, 01:33 PM)WHC Wrote:
These were my late uncle's dice, from when he worked at the hotel in Puerto Rico, mid 1970's.   

I've tried to keep  track of blade use with them but always forgot to change,  so I never really knew how many shaves the blades had.  Now I just go by intuition;  if shave is rough, requires more passes, or if the blade tugs,  or I nick myself,  I toss the blade.

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Wow!  The Caribe Hilton is one of the most famous hotels in Puerto Rico.  You're fortunate to have your uncle's dice from the 1970's.  Thanks for sharing such a family heirloom.

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