Play Jacks

Jacks is a great, easy-to-learn game that can be played indoors on a hard floor or outdoors on concrete. It can be played in groups, pairs, or solo. All you need is a small bouncy ball and a set of jacks. Read on to learn the rules of the game.


Setting Up the Game

  1. Gather your supplies. All you need is a small bouncy ball and a set of jacks, which are six-pronged metal pieces. The number of jacks you need depends on which variation of the game you're playing: The simplest games can require just five, while more complicated ones can involve up to fifteen.
    • Jacks sets, which include a ball, a set of jacks, and a pouch to hold them in, can be found at most toy stores.
    • The ancient form of jacks was called knucklebones, because instead of today's modern metal jacks, the knucklebones of sheep or goats were used. [1]
  2. Play on a hard surface. Jacks requires a hard, flat, smooth surface for the ball to bounce on.
    • If you're playing outdoors, a wooden porch or a paved surface like a sidewalk or a blacktop is ideal.
    • If you're playing indoors, a hardwood or a linoleum floor works best.
    • It's possible to play on a table, but standing is better than sitting in a chair, because it gives you more mobility.
  3. Gather your players. Jacks can be played in pairs, groups of any size, or solo.
  4. Decide who goes first. There are a number of ways to do this, some more traditional than others.
    • The most traditional way is called flipping. Place the jacks in your two cupped hands, throw them into the air, and then catch as many as you can on the backs of your two hands, linked together with your thumbs. Toss them back in the air, and then catch as many as you can again, this time with your palms cupped again. The player who catches the most jacks goes first. [2]
    • It can be easier to catch the jacks if your fingers are spread apart a little.
    • Flipping can also be done using only one hand.
    • Use a simpler decision method, like rock-paper-scissors or a coin toss.

Traditional Gameplay

  1. Scatter the jacks onto the playing surface. Throw them directly in front of you, and try to scatter them evenly, not too close together and not too far apart.
  2. Toss the ball into the air. Throw it straight up, and give it enough height to give you time to pick up your jacks, but not so high that it veers off beyond your reach.
  3. Pick up a single jack. Scoop the jack into your hand before the ball bounces.
  4. Let the ball bounce once. The ball can only bounce one time - if you let it bounce more than once, your turn is over.
  5. Grab the ball before it bounces again. Use the same hand that you used to pick up the jack.
    • The jack must stay in your hand while you grab the ball.
    • Once you've grabbed the ball, transfer the jack to your left hand. Continue transferring your collected jacks into your left hand.
  6. Collect all the jacks in this manner. Keep scooping the jacks one at a time. This first round is called "onesies."
  7. Continue on to the next rounds. Scatter the jacks again, and this time pick up two jacks each time. This is called the "twosies" round. Next, pick up three each round, then four, then five, and on to ten.
  8. Move on to the next player after a foul. Your turn ends and goes to the next player counterclockwise to you once you foul. There are a number of different ways to foul, including:
    • Missing the ball, or letting it bounce more than once.
    • Failing to pick up the correct number of jacks.
    • Picking up the wrong number of jacks.
    • Dropping a jack that you've picked up.
    • Accidentally moving a jack from its placement on the ground (this is called "tipping"). [3]
  9. Pick up where you left off. If your turn is reached again, start from where you were before your foul.
  10. Keep going until you have a winner. The winner can either be the first person to complete "tensies" or the first person to complete "tensies" and then work their way back down to "onesies."


  1. Play no bouncies. Go through the traditional steps, but cut out the ball bounce: Scoop up jacks and grab the ball before it bounces.
  2. Play double bouncies. Allow the ball to bounce twice before you grab it.
  3. Add a challenge to the steps. Before each pick up of the jacks, clap your hands. [4]
  4. Switch hands. Use the other hand than the one you would normally throw with.
  5. Play Black Widow. You must go from "onesies" to "tensies" without making a mistake. If you do, you have to start over at "onesies" at your next turn.
  6. Play Around the World. After you throw the ball, make a circle in the air around it with your hand before it bounces.
  7. Use different materials. Try using a wooden ball, like earlier forms of the game did, or a set of small, similar-sized stones instead of metal jacks.


  • Jacks are small and pose a choking hazard. They also hurt if you step on them, so put them away as soon as you're done playing with them.

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Sources and Citations

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