A traditional children's game that requires dexterity, patience and hand-eye coordination. The beauty (and longevity) of Pick Up Sticks lies in its simplicity. As the name suggests it involves picking up sticks to score points - a simple task which is both fun and frustrating at the same.time.

Basic Rules
  • The game requires between 25 to 50 thin sticks of equal length (chopsticks or skewers will do).
  • The sticks are held upright in a bunch and are allowed to fall into a heap.
  • Players take it in turns to remove sticks from the pile, one at a time. If, while doing so, the player disturbs any stick other than the one he/she is picking up, he/she forfeits the stick and it becomes the turn of the next player.
  • This continues until all the sticks have been removed from the pile.
  • Points are allocated according to the colour or design of the stick and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
  • Usually a black stick is provided which can be used to separate sticks that lie very close to one another.

The origins of the game is a matter of contention. It seems to have developed in China from the practice of using arrows cast for divination purposes. In the Chinese tradition the arrows were shortened and the feathers removed or replaced with carvings resembling a spear, a saw, a snake or other common object. The sticks are cast in a pile and the object of the game is then to remove individual pieces without disturbing the rest of the pile. This original form shows a striking resemblance to a British game known as Spellicans.

The British form of the game are described by R.C. Bell in his book Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. In Spellicans the sticks are made of ivory or bone and are carved with familiar motifs similar to the Chinese version of the game. A hook is used to extricate the intended pieces from the pile.

Spellicans was, in turn, transferred to Canada and it's name changed to Spilikins.

Finally, references are made to Sauk and Fox Indians in Iowa playing a similar, though simplified, game in Stewart Culin's book Games of North American Indians. In this form of the game the pile of sticks are individually named and are divided using a dividing stick. The player has to call out by which two sticks he/she intends dividing the pile before doing so.

  • In the modern version of the game the value of each stick is determined by its colour and the players agree on the number of points awarded for each colour.
  • In Spellicans or the Chinese version of the game the shape of the stick determines its value. The more difficult the piece is to remove the higher its value.


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