Board Games History

Senet: Ancient Egypt’s “Game of Death”

I read to my daughter about Ancient Egypt. She’s in love with the time period, people, gods, and especially the process of mummification. By happenstance, in the most recent book we’re going through, her interest in Egypt intersected with my fondness for board games.


Senet is reportedly one of the oldest board games, dating to around 3,100 B.C. It was a two-player-only game played on a board of 30 squares arranged in three rows of 10 squares. The board was typically made out of wood, faience, ivory, or a combination of those materials. It had such a significance to the pharaoh Tutankhamun that he had four Senet boards buried in his tomb, the most lavish being an ebony and ivory board that had a drawer to store the counters and sat on ornate legs carved in the shape of animal feet.

While a fixed set of rules has not been found, historians says that each player had five pawns and the object of the game was for the player to move their pawns, and eventually get them off the board. By all accounts, a seemingly abstract strategy game with no theme. However, with the afterlife being a significant facet of Egyptian life, their texts over time began to describe the religious importance of the game. The New York Post reports that a Senet board found in the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California continues that line of thinking.

Archaeologist Walter Crist writes an article about the new find in the The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, saying that the game is a reflection of the ba – the person’s life force that is separated from its physical body at death – as it passes through Duat, the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. The squares on the board are meant to represent the different stages along the journey. Crist also talks about the meaning of the word Senet and its connection to the afterlife.

The word senet in Egyptian means ‘passing,’ and may refer either to the game’s religious connotation of the ba passing through the duat or to the mechanics of gameplay, where playing pieces passed each other on the board.

A fascinating breakdown of the board orientations and decoration, and an investigation of the Rosicrucian Museum’s Senet board is provided in Wrist’s article, which you can read further if you like: Passing from the Middle to the New Kingdom: A Senet Board in the Rosicrucian Museum.

History Mindlessness

MS-DOS Games Now Streaming to Your Browser

I’m sure many of you have visited the Internet Archive at one point or another, or taken advantage of the massive library of free music, books, or film. In fact, many of you are probably aware of the Archive’s Arcade Emulation section, allowing to you to play many arcade games from years of yore. But we’re not interested in yorish arcade games right now. We’re after a different species of nostalgia: MS-DOS games. If you’re an old fogey like me, you’ll likely have misspent much of your youth playing games in CGA and EGA, and longing for a VGA. Or listening to the blips on PC speaker and wishing for a SoundBlaster for christmas. Or, hell, tapping away happily on your 8086 connected to a 20MB hard drive and a 360kb floppy drive, and hearing about the wonders of the 286 and the 720kb “stiffy” drive. Ahh….memories…

Gauntlet for MS-DOSIn any event, it was with much glee that I was pointed at the’s insanely exhaustive repository of MS-DOS games, available to be streamed in your browser to you (like Gauntlet in the image above). No mucking about with DOSBox or fiddling settings; it’s all ready to play. And for someone like me, it’s pure nostalgic gloriousness. Oh, and a word to the uninitiated: most MS-DOS games are far far harder than the pansy stuff you kids play today.

I’m not sure how long this particular archive has been active, but I’ve had to tear myself away from it long enough to write a post about it—after this, you’re on your own again until I’ve sated my nostalgia-gland.

Check it out:

Arty Eating and Drinking History

Historic Explosions Reproduced in Cauliflower

The images of history’s famous explosions have been burned into our memory. Illustrator Brock Davis has reproduced some these disasters using a rather unusual medium.

Using the florets from the cauliflower vegetable, Davis recreated the bombing of Nagasaki, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and the fiery Hindenburg disaster. Have a look at his historic explosions in cauliflower after the jump.

History News

Indiana Jones Explains The 2011 Egyptian Situation

In case you haven’t heard, there’s some kind of revolution going on in Egypt right now. Apparently, they feel that the current president (who has been in power for the past 30 years) is a complete bell-end. Naturally, this means all sorts of fun things like marches, rallies, demonstrations, shooting, maiming, looting, and shutting down of Internets. To put all of this into some kind of easy-to-understand perspective, Twitter user furrygirl created this delightful precis of the goings on. Full image after the jump.

Cartoons & Comics History Mobile Science & Technology TV Video Clips

A Humorous Look at Technology

We live in an age of wonder where people are able to communicate with each other instantly. Using cell phones, computers, and gaming consoles, to name but a few. We have become so reliant upon these marvels, that to envision living life without them is down-right scary. It has integrated into our very fabric of existence, and it is funny to see how we have evolved with it.

I’m sure all of you, me included, have had a discussion along these very same lines at some point in the recent past. How would life have turned out differently without cell phones? I personally cannot imagine a life without mine. But it’s not just cell phones that shape the way we live; we depend on televisions, refrigerators, microwaves and coffeemakers (who can function without coffee these days?).

Let’s take a look at the comical aspect of how we as humans have evolved along with technology and where inevitably it might lead. Read more after the jump.

Arty History Sports

Spintriae: Racy Roman Sex Coins

Soccers stars and football fans aren’t the only people that will be pouring into the country for the soccer world cup. The Huffington Post reports that some 40,000 sex workers are also making their way here to score quick money off the visiting punters. That number seems to be greatly exaggerated and ssome say it’s a complete fabrication.

We’re not too concerned about the numbers, we’re more interested in the lost-in-translation moments that could possibly happen between the prostitute and their client, and whether there is something that would help to alleviate any sticky situations. It turns out the Romans found a simple solution ages ago around the 1st century AD when foreign nationals visited ancient Rome and required certain “services” during their time there. To get past any language barriers and streamline the transaction, the Romans used coins that depicted an X-rated scene on one side, and the price of said act on the other. These sex tokens were no bigger than a U.S. quarter and were called spintriae.

Have a look at some examples after the jump (possibly NSFW).

Awesomeness Cartoons & Comics Featured History Mindlessness

Going Medieval: The Bayeux Tapestry Meme

If you liked the Joseph Ducreux/Archaic Rap meme, you might enjoy the Bayeux Tapestry meme. Created sometime in the late 11th century, the Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth panel some 70 metres long and tells the story about the Norman conquest of England that happened in the year 1066.

That was then. This is now and as is commonplace with the Internet, the tapestry has been bastardized with modern pop culture references and other popular Internet memes. For your enjoyment, we pick 10 of our favourites from this medieval meme. Find them after ye olde jump.

Arty Awesomeness History Video Clips

The PEN Story

Introduced in 1959, the Olympus PEN was one of the smallest cameras at the time, and was as easy to carry around as a pen. Back in 2009, Olympus celebrated the 50th anniversary of their PEN range by creating a beautiful stop-motion video that shows a boy taking a journey through time to adulthood.

An impressive 60 000 shots were taken in 20 different locations; of those pictures, 9600 prints were developed and 1800 pictures were re-shot. The results are fantastic – see The PEN Story below.

If you liked it, then you should also take a look at A Wolf Loves Pork – it’s the work of Takeuchi Taijin that inspired the Olympus team to create their video.

[via Guy With Camera]

Arty History

The Long Forgotten Hobo Code

Did you know that a tramp worked only when forced to, a bum didn’t work at all, and hobo was a worker who wandered the roads? It’s a distinction I wasn’t aware of til now. The term hobo (or bo) originated in United States during times of economic hardship, notably the Great Depression, where the lack of work forced many to walk the roads or ride the freight trains in search of better prospects.

And as the wandered the lands the hobos developed a system of symbols, a code, a language to communicate with each other. The symbols were typically drawn using charcoal on electricity poles or on houses to tell their fellow travellers about those who lived inside. The symbols served as directions, recommendations, or warnings: a circle with two parallel arrows meant “get out fast”, a cat signified that a kindhearted women lived at the premises, and a drawing of two shovels meant that work was available nearby.

I remembered hearing about this quite a while back and had completely forgotten until Chris Burns over at World Famous Design Junkies happened upon a book called “Symbols, Signs, & Signets” and scanned some of the code contained within. Find a few of those symbols after the jump.

Entertainment History Movies Useful/Useless Info

Goodbye Grasshopper

Ah so much nostalgia. Sitting round the TV on wintry Saturday afternoons eating Corn Curls, drinking Sparletta Cherry Plum and watching David Carradine in Kung Fu and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Those were the days man. Needless to say I was very sad to hear that David Carradine famous for playing Kwai Chang Caine and Bill in Kill Bill had topped himself in a hotel room in Bangkok. There is much speculation as to whether like INXS vocalist Michael Hutchence, David Carradine didn’t actually mean to hang himself, but rather died as the result of a (solo?) sex act gone wrong.

Whatever happened, I think David Carradine was a fantastic actor and had a certain charisma about him that made even corny kung fu TV shows seem special.

Goodbye Grasshopper and good luck for whatever comes next.