I’ve been trying to remember the particulars of a game I played as a kid when visiting my grandparents’ house.

The game was called “Jack-in-the-Bush.” The game consisted of two players and an even number of dried corn kernels (probably 10 for each player).

Without letting the opponent see, a player would place a given number of kernels in his hand and close it. Holding out the closed hand, the player would start an exchange:

  • Player One: “Jack in the Bush.”
  • Player Two: “Cut him down.”
  • Player One: “How many licks?”

At this point, Player 2 would guess a number. Player 1 would then reveal the amount of kernels in his hand.

If Player 2 guessed too low or two high, that player would have to supply the amount of kernels to make the number even. For example:

  • if Player 1 had five kernels in his hand and Player 2 guessed seven, then Player 2 would have to give Player 1 two of his kernels;
  • if Player 2 guessed two, then Player 2 would have to give Player 1 five kernels;
  • if Player 2 guessed the exact number, in this case five, Player 1 would have to give Player 2 all five kernels.

Then it would be Player 2’s turn.

It seems like we played this game a lot during a few summers spent on visits. I can’t really remember playing it at home. And, if this sounds like a dull game, keep in mind that this was a time when there were just 3 television channels on a clear night, and all channels stopped broadcasting around midnight.

But I’m curious to the game’s origins. Was this game just one that was played in the area (Boones Mill, Virginia)?

Was it played in different parts of the country with different elements? I found a reference to the game on a page about Dry Fork. It mentions Buckhorn Mountain, which is in Washington state. So it seems like the game was pretty popular at one time.

Now that I have young children, I’d like to eventually teach them the game and I’d like to know some context.

Does anyone know the history of Jack in the Bush?


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