Annals Of Miscellany

Weird dice

We now know more about those mystery dice from last month than anybody ever needed to know

By John Teti • October 16, 2013

Time to follow up on some unfinished business. Last month, after finding some strange dice at an odds-and-ends store in Chicago, I invited Gameological readers to figure out what the heck they were. The only evidence they had was two pictures of the dice, yet at the end of an afternoon of exciting detective work—everybody at Gameological HQ was excitedly reloading the comment section on the page—we had a solution, or at least as close to a solution as anyone could reasonably expect.

Weird dice, part two

The “W. GERMANY” mark imprinted on one face of each die proved to be a promising early lead. With the very first comment, ItsTheShadsy noticed a tantalizing similarity to dice listed for sale online:

Here’s a clue: they appear to be part of a set of some sort. Someone is selling accompanying alphabet dice on Etsy, though no clue to their identification other than that they come from the same woodworker that adds “W. Germany” to one side of the dice.

Soon thereafter, Aurora Boreanaz added a little more information in a reply:

Those apparently come from Roll-A-Word. But no numbered ones there.

He didn’t know how close he was. Captain Apathy zeroed in with photographic evidence:

Looks like dice from a game called Roll-A-Sum. Based on the title, I’m guessing that it was made by the same people who created Roll-A-Word, like Aurora Boreanaz mentioned quite a while ago. One caveat: I’m not sure exactly how the included instructions actually relate to the dice.

Roll-A-Sum rules

And ItsTheShadsy used this to find another piece of somewhat blurry but still convincing visual confirmation:

Based on this picture, it looks like the full version might’ve had six dice, black and red. But yeah, I think this is the best explanation we’ve got! Mystery solved! Now we must demand a video of the writers playing Roll-A-Sum.

Roll-A-Sum package

I wanted to meet that last request, so I tried to acquire a copy of the game. But the online store listing that ItsTheShadsy found isn’t functional—it seems to be impossible to order anything from that site—and I haven’t been able to find one for sale anywhere else. But I wanted to at least figure out the rules of Roll-A-Sum, which proved to be another puzzle in itself, as the rule sheet above is cryptic and incomplete.

First things first: What equipment are we working with? I wanted to determine what exactly was on the dice you use to play Roll-A-Sum. It’s clear both from the rules and from the packaged copy of the game that each player plays with three dice. One of these dice has the numbers 6 through 10 plus another face that reads “10-1”—like the dice that launched this mystery. The second die in each set has the digits 4 through 9 on it, as mentioned in the rules. (You can see in the photo that this die is a bit more brightly colored than other dice in the same set, probably to identify it as the “bonus cube.”)

The third die is a little trickier. If you look at the packaged set, you can see that the third die in the set is the lowest-numbered of the three. It definitely has a “2” face and a “3” face. Plus, if you look at the picture with the rule sheet and assume that there’s a full set of red dice there (there could be a dupe in the mix, but I’m guessing there’s not), the low-numbered die also has a “6” on it, which figures—it is a six-sided die, after all. So the low-numbered die is either 1 through 6 or it’s 2 through 7, and I can’t narrow it down any further than that. The art on the packaged game shows a die with a “1” on it in the lower right, but it also seems to show a die with both “3” and “10” on it, which definitely doesn’t exist.

A few commenters, including EffigyPower and HobbesMkII, theorized in the comment threads that Roll-A-Sum is a simple dice version of blackjack, and that guess proved to be on the mark. Here’s how it seems to work—I’m filling in a few blanks here in an effort to construct a ruleset that makes sense, because, again, the rule sheet is awful.

Each player rolls all three of his dice with the aim of getting as close to a total of 21 without going over. If a player has 15 or below, she “hits” by rolling the 4-through-9 die again. (If your score is 15 exactly, you have the option of standing pat.) The “10-1” die can be a value of either 10 or 1, much like an ace can be 11 or 1 in blackjack. The higher-scoring player—or the player who manages not to go over 21—earns the difference between the two scores, plus a 10-point bonus if he rolls 21 exactly. Play continues until players get bored and decide to do something else.

(Because the game is based on blackjack, I wonder if the low-numbered die is in fact 2 through 7, as there’s no “1” card in a deck of playing cards, and the ace is already represented with the “10-1” face on the highest-numbered die. Who knows.)

Anyway, that was a fun mystery, and thanks for jumping in to figure it out! I offered a Gameological logo pin to the first person who could solve the riddle, and while Captain Apathy certainly earned that prize, there were a bunch of other commenters who helped zero in on the answer. So if your commenter name was listed in boldface in this article, email john at gameological dot com with your mailing address to claim your prize. We’re still going to be using the button logo when Gameological is integrated into The A.V. Club next month, so don’t worry, your prize won’t be instantly obsolete.

Let’s do this again sometime, hmm? If you have an obscure game mystery you’d like the Gameological commentariat to solve, email me!

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  • Aurora Boreanaz

    Hooray! I get a button too! Thanks, John!

    • NakedSnake

      Oh no! Have I missed forever my chance at winning a fabled GLOG pin? Here’s hoping that the future editions of the What the Hell is/are ______? will feature the button pins, and they won’t just fade into legend.

      • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

        There are still plenty of pins to give away!

        • PhilWal0

          Hooray! I can’t wait to get a pin of my own!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Oh man, I was so worried for a second there. I need one of those bad boys to put on my (now most likely ill fitting) plaid jacket. Most niche halloween costume ever.

          “No like, I’m going as myself, but on the internet. It’s like this joke with the guys in the comments over on… wait, no don’t leave.”

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Tme to start a burner account which I use to drop perplexing mysteries to which Girard already knows the answers…

        • NakedSnake

          I think this is the first time I have seen you use the third person. It’s a good look for Girard.

  • DrFlimFlam

    This right here is the perfect example of how awesome Gameological is. Really. Perfect.

  • NakedSnake

    And with the mystery of the Uncle Fun dice resolved, the Gameological Society rode away into the sunset, their mission accomplished.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Uncle Fun Dice may stick to certain types of skin.

      Do not taunt Uncle Fun Dice.

  • Chum Joely

    Damn it! You need an account to order from “birchtreelane.com”, but the Register For Account form is busted! And it’s the last Roll-A-Sum in stock!

  • boardgameguy

    this experience was one of my favorite moments of being a part of this community.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      I, too, loved this, and I hope to poke around for more gaming mysteries once I’m in Chicago!

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

        Next time on Gameological Scavenger Hunt: “What are the rules to the ancient Egyptian game of senet?”

        • boardgameguy

          IF ONLY I KNEW!!!! There are also a number of medieval board games that have left pieces but no rule sets.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    I’ve never seen a professional website so shamelessly perseverate on something so geeky.

    I love it.

  • Electric Dragon

    Well done, everyone! Your next challenge is to decipher and translate the Voynich manuscript.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      You’d never believe it, but it’s actually just the manual for Banjo-Kazooie.

  • duwease

    This is fantastic.

  • Cliffy73

    Is there a job of being an archaeologist of the ephemera of the 20th century? Or even the early Aughts? Because god damn do I want that job.

    We’d been using shutdown downtime to do some reorganization of three decades of files at work, and while the subject matter is deathly boring, I still had a ton of fun reminding myself of how differently things worked even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago.

  • BobbyMcD

    That was fun! I enjoyed the puzzle and the follow up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    Trying to figure out what those dice went to was one of the best days of my life. I have very uneventful days.