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The Game of Twelve Lines

		T  W  E  L  V  E    L  I  N  E  S: A

		G  A  M  E  T  O    R  E  A  D  A  S

		W  E  L  L  A  S    T  O  P  L  A  Y

by Alfredo el Bufon

The Game of Twelve Lines, or Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, is a fore-
runner of backgammon that was popular in the Roman Empire.  The board
has thirty-six points divided evenly into six groups.  Sometimes the
points are symbols such as circles or leaves, but often they are letters
that spell out a sentence.  I intend to outline some rules of thumb for
creating the sentences.  The rules of the game, and the reason that the
game was called "Twelve Lines" when it doesn't have any lines, are
beyond the scope of this article.

	L E V A T E   D A L O C V	R I S E U P   G E T O U T

	L V D E R E   N E S C I S	Y O U C A N   N O T W I N

	I D I O T A   R E C E D E	L A Y M A N   G O A W A Y

Here is a Latin board that was found in the city of Rome.  To the
right of it is an approximate English translation.

I say approximate because "ludere nescis" doesn't mean "you can not
win" so much as "you do not know how to play."  Also, "idiota" can mean
"ignorant person" as well as "layman."  I think that the certainty that
a translation fits the board is more important than the mere probability
that it fits the context.

Notice that the first group is actually two words, "leva te" ("raise
yourself"), and the second is two words with a final "m" missing, "da
locum" ("give up the spot").  In Latin, "m" was sometimes dropped from
the ends of words, much as the "g" is dropped sometimes from "-ing"
words in English.

	V E N A R I   L A V A R I	T O H U N T   T O S W I M

	L U D E R E   R I D E R E	T O P L A Y   T O G R I N

	O C C E S T   V I V E R E	T H I S I S   T O L I V E

This board was found in the Roman colony town of Thamugadi, in
Algeria.  "Lavari" actually means "to be washed" (perhaps "to go to the
public baths"?) and "ridere" means "to laugh."  I think the fifth group
is two words, "occ est," possibly a variation of "hoc est."

As far as I know, there is no definite guide for composing these
sentences.  The World of Games, by Pieter van Delft, et al., which gives
instructions for making a clay board, says "The ruder the six-word
message the better" and "The only criterion is that each word must be of
six letters to provide the right number of playing points," but these
rules are not followed in the two examples above.  The Thamugadi board
is only vaguely hedonistic, not rude, and they both have words of fewer
than six letters.

I have made up the following rules for composing sentences for the
Game of Twelve Lines, based on my own observations and deductions.

Rule I.  Stick with a language you know well.

	V E S T E R   M E R C E D	A G U E S T   O F O U R S

	C A R P A T   P R O P E R	B R I N G S   H I S O W N

	D A M N U M   S N A X U M	D A M N E D   S N A C K S

These are two separate attempts to render the motto of the Barony of
Delftwood, viz., "Tuam propriam cenulam improbam fer," i.e., "Bring your
own damn snacks."  The Latin one is trying to say something like "May
your grace sieze his own damned snacks,"  but it's less than 25%

While it's true that few if any boards from the heyday of Twelve
Lines were written in English, this was probably due to the non-
existance of the English language.

Rule II-a.  The sentence must contain a total of thirty-six letters,
to provide the right number of playing points. =

	T H E Q U I   C K B R O W

	N F O X J U   M P S O V E

	R T H E L A   Z Y D O G S

This is the rule given by van Delft, et al., but modified to account
for the fact that actual period boards were _not_ restricted to six six-
letter words.

The example has the added feature of containing all the letters of
the alphabet, but it also looks ugly, the way it breaks up words.  So
let's replace this rule with

Rule II-b.  You can make a six-letter group hold several smaller
words, but never let one word extend from one group to another.

	S W I N G A   G L A I V E

	D I E O L D   L E A V E A

	B L O O D Y   C O R P S E

This rule still accounts for the Latin examples, and leads to nicer
looking boards.  This is the version of Rule II that I usually follow,
but you might prefer

Rule II-c.  Each six-letter group must be either one word or a group
of words that go together naturally, such as subject+verb or

	I T H U M B   M Y N O S E

	A T Y O U R   S T U P I D

	L I T T L E   A W A R D S

This rule is for people who think that groupings like "swing a" don't
work as well as "leva te."  The trouble is, it makes it much harder to
compose sentences in English.  In Latin, you don't have words like "a"
or "the" to worry about, and leaving off "I" or "he" from a sentence
doesn't make it sound stupid, as it can in English.

This example, by the way, is a paraphrase of "Get a life," a phrase I
have often heard when scrolls are presented in court.

Rule II-d  A board must have six words of six letters each.

	D A N G E R   R A T T A N

	C A U S E S   S E V E R E

	B O D I L Y   D A M A G E

This, of course, is the rule given by van Delft, et al.  I don't
think there's any historical justification for being so strict, but you
might like it for the challenge.

Rule III.  You can leave out letters to fit, but only letters that
are dropped in ordinary writing or conversation.

	N O S H I T   T H E R E I

	W A S A X E   I N H A N D

	G E T T I N'  K I L L E D

I justify this rule by citing the dropped "m" mentioned at the start
of this article.

"Nosh it" is a traditional opening for a war story, telling the
audience they may partake of food as they listen (presumably their own
damn snacks).

Rule IIII.  You can use non-alphabetic abbreviations.

	L I V E A S   I F E A C H	I W O U L D   R A T H E R

	D A Y M A Y   B E Y O U R	L I V E I N   * M E A R C

	L A S T & 1   W I L L B E	T H A N B E   K I L L E D

Here are what I reckon to be two good examples of the use of non-
alphabetic abbreviations.  (The "*" should be replaced the "ethel"
rune that was often used in otherwise-alphabetic Anglo-Saxon writings
(such as _Beowulf_) to stand in for the word-element "ethel."  I use it
here to spell "AEthelmearc," the principality that I am proud to have
called home.)

Rule V.  The sentences can be inconguous but they shouldn't be
completely incoherent.

	F O L L O W   B U D D H A	C L U M S Y   P A N E L S

	O R E L S E   I'L L C U T	T H R O N G   A R O U N D

	Y O U B A D   S U C K E R	S N E E Z E   S P I D E R

The example on the left is what I would call a good sentence for a
board for the Game of Twelve Lines.  Even though the example on the
right follows Rule II-d admirably, I would have to say that it fails as
a sentence.

Rule VI. You can make a board hold several smaller sentences, but
never let one sentence extend from one board to another.

						O N E W H O   G I V E S A

						M A N O N E   R A B B I T

	W O R K A T   T H E A R T		S T A V E S   H U N G E R

	Y O U C A N   N O T B U Y

	L A U R E L   L E A V E S		F O R O N E   D A Y B U T

						O N E W H O   L E A R N S

						T O H U N T   R A B B I T

						W I L L B E   F E D F O R

						A S L O N G   A S T H E M

						C O N E Y S   H O L D U P

Once again, the example on the left shows the good that comes from
following the rule, while the one(s) on the left show(s) the folly of


Bell, R. C., _Board_and_Table_Games_from_Many_Civilizations_, Dover
Publications, New York, 1979, pp. 30-4.
Traupman, John C, _The_New_College_Latin_&_English_Dictionary_,
Bantam Books, New York, 1966 

van Delft, Pieter, et al, _The_World_of_Games:_Their_Origins_and_
History,_How_to_Play_Them,_and_How_to_Make_Them_, Facts on File,
New York, 1989, pp. 27-8

van Kirk Dobbie, ed., _Beowulf_and_Judith_, Columbia University
Press, 1953, p. 52 [_Beowulf_, line 1702]