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How to Play Twiddlythinks

Luckily for me, this morning’s post included another letter from old friend Prince Karl Zeis of the royal house of Delthfia.

Dear Eric,

I write to share a wondrous find. It was discovered by my precocious fourteen year old niece. Her name is Karen Zipslicer and she has come to stay with me for a little while during her school holidays. Diligent young Karen has been helping me put the remnants of our royal archives back into some kind of order. As she did, she chanced upon something very unexpected in the back of an old atlas. The pages were loose; they had been torn from another book. We cannot tell if they represent a factual account or a whimsy of the author. Either way, we found them very entertaining, and thought you and your readers might enjoy the contents too. Please see the enclosed photocopies.

Yours &c.

Prince Karl Zeis of the Royal House of Delfthia

enc.

Within the envelope were a few photocopied pages as promised. The original had been neatly written by hand, and the pages were numbered from 272 to 275, implying they were taken from a longer work. The pages read as follows:

The Rules of the Tournament of Twiddlythinks, as Played in the City-State of Lundern

1. There are no rules to the tournament and game of twiddlythinks except for the fourteen rules stated here. These rules may never be amended or added to.

2. The winner of the tournament of twiddlythinks shall rule Lundern, according to its constitution, for a period of twelvemonth, commencing the April 1st that follows their victory.

3. All citizens and visitors to Lundern may enter the tournament at any time. When a contestant is defeated, they may not re-enter until the following year’s tournament.

4. No tournament match may take place outside of Lundern’s borders.

5. The game of twiddlythinks is played by two opponents. The winner of the tournament is the player who remains undefeated after having beaten all willing and eligible challengers at the game of twiddlythinks during the course of a tournament. In the event that there are two or more undefeated players at midnight of March 30th, the winner of the tournament is the player who has played most games; in the event of a tie, the winner of the tournament is the player whose name comes first in the alphabet.

6. At the start of the game, a piece is placed on each square of the board. Pieces are placed facing up or down at random.

7. Each piece is a counter with two sides. The top of the piece has a different colour to the bottom of the piece. Any colours may be used for either side.

8. The board shall be divided into squares. The board may be of any dimensions, so long as it is not so large as to extend beyond the borders of Lundern. There may be any number of squares on the board, in any arrangement, so long as they are each large enough to hold one piece and that there are at least two squares on the board.

9. All squares must be of the same colour, to maximize the difficulty in correctly executing a move.

10. Any player who makes an incorrect move immediately forfeits the game.

11. The following moves are all valid: turning a piece over and replacing it on the same square, moving a piece from one square to any other vacant square without turning it over, and removing a piece from the board.

12. Players take it in turns to make moves. The player with the greatest value of small change in his or her pockets shall make the first move.

13. After each move, the player shall say something to enlighten their opponent. Players may not communicate with each other at other times, nor may they use intermediaries as a way of circumventing this rule.

14. If all pieces are removed from the board without there being a winner, all pieces are replaced on the board and the game recommences as if from the beginning.

The Strategy and Tactics of the Tournament of Twiddlythinks

It must be noted that the game of twiddlythinks has no specific goal, no means of keeping score, and no clearly defined criteria to determine who is the winner. This is all according to the rules, which clearly state that there are no additional rules nor any possibility of change to the rules. As a consequence, each game continues until one or other player resigns. This means there are three possible strategies for winning a game of twiddlythinks:

Persistence: the winner is the player prepared to keep on playing for longer than their opponent.

Threats: the victor intimidates their opponent into conceding. A player may choose to make threats immediately after making a move.

Bribery: a player induces their opponent to resign. As with threats, these offers may be made immediately after making a move.

Commentaries on the constitution of Lundern note, with some pride, that twiddlythinks is not a game of simple merit. Players do not win through intellect, skill or via a better appreciation of the rules and the subtleties of how to make moves. On the contrary, the role of the tournament in deciding the ruler of Lundern is presupposed on the assumption that rulers should either be rich and generous, ruthless and powerful, or just so determined that they can demonstrably bend the will of others to their own.

The board, the pieces and their arrangement are all understood to be incidental to gameplay. Their role is formal. This is not without some utility; by facing each other over the board, passersby can verify the two players are engaged in competition until there is a definitive winner. Just as importantly, there is no order of play as is found with most other tournaments known to men. No two players are forced to play each other. Match-ups are by invitation, and may be declined. To win the tournament, all that matters is winning the most individual games during the course of a year. Clever selection of opponents is hence a vital aspect of winning the tournament. Successful tournament winners are also known to employ so-called ‘professional’ players to frustrate their rivals; these professionals lure the unwitting competitor into a match-up, and then ardently refuse to concede, thus denying their opponent the chance to play again and rack up more wins during the year. However, professional players tend to be short-lived. More often than not they become targets for the assassins engaged by the opponents whose hopes they seek to thwart.

Due to the extraordinary and unfamiliar nature of the rules, the histories of Lundern record that on only three occasions has the tournament been won by someone other than a citizen. Nevertheless, Lunderners take great pride in the fact that their tournament is open to all, meaning that in theory literally anybody could become ruler of Lundern. Allowing outsiders to compete is seen as a necessary way of maintaining the strength of Lundern’s governors; if Lundern’s leading citizens become corrupt or weak, then a strong outsider may take command via the exigency of what is effectively a bloodless coup. Despite the seeming openness of the process of picking Lundern’s ruler, few conquerors are willing to submit themselves to the annual tournament. They are much more likely to resort to warfare as a means to take over Lundern. The Lunderner’s faith in the tournament is underpinned by two observations. Firstly, the tournament has determined Lundern’s ruler for the last three hundred years without interruption. Secondly, during that time, Lundern has successfully repelled all would-be invaders.

Though the account of Twiddlythinks is fascinating, no explanation is given as to where Lundern is supposed to be. You have to imagine this fantastic account is the product of a fanciful imagination. After all, who would choose a ruler simply based on who has the greatest wealth, power, or lust for the job?

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