(1) Ten-Pin Bowling, (2) A Decade, (3) Powers of Ten, (4) The Metric System, (5) Ten Fingers, (6) Ten in a Bed, (7) Ten Lords A-Leaping, (8) A Decathlon, (9) The Ten Plagues of Egypt, and (10) The Ten Commandments
It was January 3rd, 1889. The Bagley cousins were bored, bored, bored. Christmas had brought a few nice toys, but the children had already wrung all of the possible fun from them. "What now?" they demanded.
There were no immediate answers, so they struggled to invent some. They thumped down the stairs, feet-first. They slid down the bannister, head-first. Then they dropped their tea trays from the upper landing, which sent up a great whoosh of crumbs.
After a vase shattered, and Grandfather roared at them, it was up to the attic, all of them-with no lunch at all.
In the dust, they sulked. Gerald cried. Olivia sang, in a tight-lipped tuneless way, as if determined to annoy everyone. Rupert called both of them stupid. Annabelle, meanwhile-obsessive, pedantic Annabelle-rummaged studiously through the crates. Finally, with a little cry, she withdrew a curious wooden object. It had a tiny, bulbous top. Its lower section was wider and possessed two steep curves.
The others gathered around her. "Is it supposed to be a snowman...?" Isaac asked. It wasn't, clearly, and Rupert called him stupid.
Henrietta suggested that it was the torso of a doll. She spoke in a low, gruesome way, as if it were some bloody cast-off generated by Jack the Ripper, and then extended her hand like a hook. "You're stupid," said Rupert.
Frances, sniggering, declared that it was a "pinheaded penguin." It was a popular suggestion, perhaps because it was the least sensible. (Even Rupert's "stupid"-though richly deserved-came a beat too slow.) The cousins extemporized on it for nearly half an hour. They were great admirers of nonsense poetry, though less skilled at composing it. "Penny pigeon!" cried Henrietta. "Peony pug!" cried Olivia. "Pawnee prison! Piny Pinion!" giggled the others.
By the time Uncle Micah arrived to release the cousins, the point of this phonetic exercise had shifted several times, and the whole phrase had just been streamlined. The object became, then and forever, a simple "pin." The word seemed to fit best of all.
After their imprisonment, Aunt Judith hosted a snack in the pantry, quite against Grandfather's orders. "Hush, children!" she fretted, brushing off their gratitude. "Chew faster!"
When they had finished eating, they ran back upstairs. Olivia and Isaac-who were fair jugglers-tossed the pin back and forth, as if it were a prop at the circus ("A circus for stupid people," said Rupert).
Eventually, Thomasina took a turn. She ruminated a moment-searching for a location that pleased her-and then she placed it at the end of the hallway. Stepping back, with the air of a museum curator, she declared, "This is Art."
Frances, yelling "Huzzah!", kicked it over-hard as she could. Thomasina, squawking, set the pin right back up. Frances knocked it over again...and then again. Thwack! Thwack! By this time, the others had gathered around, each clamoring for a turn.
In the end, however, this version of the game turned out to be really too easy, even for the little ones. This was particularly true when Thomasina ceased resisting them and just ran away crying. ("This is stupid," said Rupert.)
Soon, though, James brought out one of his unused Christmas presents. It was a dark ball, too heavy to bounce. It had been a gift from their maiden aunt, a self-described "Bohemian," who had long collected the relics of pagan faiths. The ball was imprinted with three indentations, which-Aunt Alexandra explained-had been intended to represent "the three pits of Hell." To many, though, it gave the disconcerting impression of a primitive face-two eyes and a tiny mouth.
The gift had baffled James when he had first received it. His "Thank you," though immediate, had come out more quizzical than he had intended it. This memory pained him (he hadn't wanted to seem ungrateful), and it pleased him to imagine that he might now find a real use for it.
"This!" he cried simply, as he now presented it to his cousins.
There were a few dissenters. Gerald said the ball was too scary; Rupert said it was stupid. Henrietta, however, embraced the idea immediately. Taking the ball from James, she flung it down the hallway, with a great "Huzzah!" Afterward, standing at the far end, they all took turns rolling it towards the pin. Primrose, the eldest, came up with the idea of using the "pits of Hell" as finger holes, and showed the others how. It worked divinely.
The Bagley family had never met very often. The next reunion, after many excuses and postponements, wasn't scheduled until Christmas 1898. Even then, there were bungled travel arrangements, and knots of days-long traffic incurred by injured horses and stalled trains. The cousins, in consequence, did not actually meet again until January 3rd-precisely ten years after the game had first been played.
This time, they were shy with one another. Most were now young adults, and many of them harbored overly serious ideas about themselves. Each of them knew that it was a ten year anniversary, and was trembling to declare it; each, however, also feared that such an admission would make him or her seem pathetic, or reveal an unhealthy fixation with the past. Finally, though, Rupert-of all people-saved them, by blurting, "Let's play!" He clamped his hand over his mouth almost immediately, but by then a number of others had taken up the cry, and suddenly they were all racing, in the most childish way possible, up the stairs, while laughing and pulling at one another.
Ten years ago, the cousins had stored the pin and ball in an old bedroom wardrobe. It had been a tense compromise, since each of the cousins had wished to take the game pieces home with them. Today, Henrietta, racing in front of the rest, had the honor of removing them.
Thomasina, unable to push to the front, went out to pace the old hallway, and to measure out an official length, in meters, which would separate the pin from the line from which the roller would be required release the ball. She was a schoolteacher now, and a prematurely crotchety one.
Annabelle puffed up last, dragging a large traveling bag behind her. As the others began to exit the bedroom, she suggested a way in which they might render the game more extreme. She spoke in an overly bright way, as if struck by sudden inspiration. The apparent spontaneity of her suggestion was, however, somewhat undercut by the fact that she immediately withdrew nine additional pins from her traveling bag, which she had apparently hand-crafted for just this occasion.
There was a great bubble of excitement at this-ten, assuredly, would be better than one! "More pins, more fun," said Primrose philosophically. Thomasina made the only serious objection, insisting that she first be permitted to analyze Annabelle's pins. Many groaned at this; others paced impatiently. Meanwhile, Thomasina-making no attempt to hurry-ascertained the weight of each in grams, and even did a volume comparison, by determining the amount of water, in milliliters, that each displaced, when immersed in a bathtub. In the end, with a little sniff, she admitted that the new pins were equivalent to the original, and that they could be incorporated into the game. "Well done, Annabelle," she said grudgingly.
On January 3rd, 1909, the cousins held a second commemorative gathering. By this time, many were approaching middle-age, and they felt no embarrassment about expressing their true enthusiasm. Many, in fact, even exaggerated their actual feelings, in order to better engage the enthusiasm of their young children, whom they had also brought to play.
This time, Annabelle brought several additional traveling cases. As she unpacked them, she made another aggressive proposal. A close vote was held. If the cousins had been just a little older-or just a little more sensible-conservative feelings would have tipped the ballot in the other direction, and forever buried the proposal. The majority was, however, receptive to the idea of further modifying the game, according to the same principles as before.
It was a fateful decision-not simply for that afternoon (100, of course, is still a manageable number, both physically and conceptually) but, much more, because of the precedent it set for the centuries of gatherings that would succeed it. In 1919, when the cousins organized a much larger meeting, it would include many non-family acquaintances, who had begged for invitations, due to the game's increasing fame. It seemed, at that time, only natural that they should begin to employ a total of 1,000 pins, both to create a fitting spectacle, and to remain consistent with the previously established tradition.
By 1929, the cry of "More Extreme! More Extreme!" was in fact a conservative slogan, grounded in nostalgia and in thirty years of precedent. At that meeting, the interest of the entire region was engaged. For the several years that preceded it, many of the inhabitants of the surrounding towns had assisted in the whittling of the additional 9,000 pins that would be necessary for the day's competition. (Annabelle, of course-though it hurt her pride to confess it-could no longer manage it alone.) On the day of competition, one-hundred pin counters, who had received special training at the local university, were each assigned to a 100-pin section, in order to help with the scoring of the downed pins, following each roll.
At the 1949 gathering, the national newspapers announced: "One-Million Pins!" A few prominent community voices (which were quickly booed down) observed that the game's growth could not be forever sustained. By the 1960s, when it had simply become "The Game," the backlash was also stronger. Rallies were organized, dedicated to highlighting its "human cost." Workers reported on conditions in the pin factories-how they struggled, each day, to keep pace with the racing conveyer belts, and to process block of wood, after block of wood, after block of wood. Beneath the whirling knives, several of these workers had lost multiple fingers. To mark these losses, they and their supporters wore flesh-colored boutineers. Each boutineer extruded two clusters of finger-shaped petals-five on the upper half, to signify the right hand, and five on the lower half, to signify the left.
By the 1980s, the last of the cousins was dead, and the fact that The Game had ever been connected to an original family was only imperfectly remembered. In 1989, the number of pins employed would exceed, for the first time, the number of people on earth. A non-negligible fraction of the planet's resources had long been devoted to The Game's support-in pin manufacture and playing area preparation and regulatory staff. Entire fields of research, similarly, had long been driven by the necessity of devising new, automated methods to determine each pin's binary position (up or down) and to rapidly recalculate the score, following each player's roll.
Against this backdrop, new protest movements arose. Sympathizers staged sing-ins and acts of performance art. Much of it employed the trope "Roll Over," which had been adapted from a popular children's song. At first, their skits attempted to drum up defensive sentiment for the ideals that they believed The Game threatened. Actors, costumed as "The Earth" or "Human Serenity," were forced to "Roll Over!" and out of their cozy beds, and made to shiver ("Help us! Help us!") on the floor, while an obese Game laughingly luxuriated on their old pillows, and snuggled in their coverlets. Later, as the protestors became more militant, this trope was inverted. Opposition leaders published the names and addresses of The Game's administrators, and exhorted their supporters to "Roll them over!" and "Make them fall out!" Afterwards, there were a string of home break-ins, in which a few of the most hated administrators were literally tumbled out of their beds ("Thump!") and/or had their bedding and mattresses stolen. These incidents led to a few bruises (and, of course, to some lengthy imprisonments for the agitators), but to no casualties...and to no change.
In later years, there was additional violence. Nothing, however, could withstand the implacable logic of The Game's growth, or lessen the allegiance of its many fans.
By the 2030s, the opposition's goals had been significantly modified. It was clear, by this point, that The Game would never ever be stopped. What the movement wished, instead, was to create something significant-not even something memorable, for the machinery of memory, assuredly, would also be obliterated, during The Game's future expansion. They just wanted to make...a blaze. An event, full of self-indulgently ludicrous scenes, which might briefly exist-exist!-while room in the world still remained for them. An Anti-Game, bright and strange.
At the movement's forefront, there were ten men. In their earlier lives, they had been field entomologists, who had initially opposed The Game for ecological reasons. In the interim, when the Game-based economy had forced them from their professions, they had served as lumberjacks and pin-runners and (clandestinely) as socialist poets.
Now, for the sake of performance, the men styled themselves as aristocratic landowners. They adopted these personas mainly for absurdist reasons; behind their choice, however, lay a touch of truth, since a few of the men did in fact possess Bagley blood. The first called himself Lord Primus, the second Lord Secundus, the third Lord Tertius, and so on, to the tenth, who chose the name Lord Decimus.
They called their event The Blaze, and scheduled it for the Christmas season, just prior to The Game of 2039. Its backdrop-their stage-was an athletics stadium, which each Lord affectedly referred to as "my estate."
In deliberate contrast to The Game, The Blaze would feature absolutely no rolling. Only semi-airborne maneuvers-running, throwing and jumping-would be permitted. "We are leapers!" the Lords had dourly insisted, during The Blaze's planning period, and this insistence had guided The Blaze's design.
The Blaze began with a two-hour drinking session, called the Feast of Water and Blood. The Feast was boisterous and theatrical. Lords posed with old-styled goblets, which went slosh-slosh-slosh, in red or pink or clear, whenever they swirled them. They made rousing-and largely incoherent-toasts to one another, raising their glasses in a thick, sloppy way, as if their drinking had somehow impaired their motor skills, as alcohol would have done. Above the dining table, in a style that was too archaic to be entirely legible, a stern proscription had been penned: "You may drink water or blood-or water AND blood-but no food or alternative beverage will be permitted to you."
Each Lord was assigned his own hydration regimen. Lord Primus drank only blood. Lord Decimus drank only water-such an extreme quantity of water, that it severely bloated him, and disturbed his internal chemistry. The other Lords, in turn, were assigned to drink different blood-water ratios according to a smooth gradient, such that the two middlemost Lords consumed nearly equal quantities of water and blood-Lord Quintus a bit more blood than water, and Lord Sextus a bit more water than blood.
From the stands, thousands of spectators playfully heckled the drinking Lords, according to a script that the Lords had provided to them. To underscore their taunts, many spectators proffered delicious-looking foods over the wall-roasted meats or caramelized fruits. "Mmmmmm!" they cried, while smacking their lips cruelly. Licking their fingers, they mocked: "What a shame that you cannot partake!"
After the Feast, a short race unfolded, just 100 m. Each individual competitor strove very mightily, in a genuine effort to win. Their performances, however, appeared highly stylized. The Lords in the two outermost lanes had been so physically harmed by their respectively extreme hydration regimens that they were scarcely able to muster a jog. Lords in the intermediate lanes, meanwhile, suffered less severe handicaps, and were able to go gradationally faster. The two middlemost competitors, finally, who had consumed the most balanced and rational blood-water mixtures (and had been positively nourished by them), were able to run the very fastest.
With these staggered speeds, the runners' bodies outlined a near-perfect trapezoid, which could be best admired from the stands. ("Huzzah! Huzzah!" cried the spectators.) A win was recorded for the fore-runners, Lords Quintus and Sextus, who formed the trapezoid's uppermost base, and who crossed the finish line at the very same moment.