Lesson #295: The Dreidel

One of my friends is about to embark on a year-long, round-the-world trip with his wife,* so last night, he had a “drink all the booze” party. I don’t think we succeeded, but we did put a hurt on it.

Anyway, a mutual friend, who was also in attendance, and I got to talking about dreidels somehow. As he (and his fiancee) are Jewish and I have never actually bothered to learn what purpose a dreidel serves, I asked.

Legend has it that while the dreidel is actually just the game I’ve always known it to be, historically, it served a practical purpose. In the eras of history when Jews were not allowed to study the Torah, it was brought out as a distracting device whenever the powers-that-be (usually soldiers) came around. “No sir, of course we weren’t studying…we were totally just gambling.”**

In reality, the dreidel is based on a 16th century Anglo-Irish game called Totum (or Teetotum) that was played with a four-sided top. Each side of the top had a letter dictating the exact same instructions as the ones the dreidel gives (take all, take half, put in, or do nothing). The letters on the dreidel, however, are derived from a later, German version of the game.***

*It should go without saying that I’m totally jealous of this

**Or as my friend put it, “usually you hide the vice in the sacred text, not the other way around.”

***More information here and here.


Lesson #282: Professional Bridge

Among other things, I learned today was what an episiotomy is.* With graphic visuals that I cannot unsee. I wish there were bleach for the brain.

I also learned that there is such a thing as professional bridge. As in the card game. Now, not only did I learn that this exists (from one of the documents I was working on), it turns out that my supervisor’s father made quite a lot of money playing bridge in college. I found this fascinating. So rather than asking him the slew of questioned I wanted answers to (is there a federation? are there tournaments in Vegas? are there sponsors and if there are, are they card companies? can you make a living playing professional bridge? how many people do this? is this an American thing or is it global?), I decided to wait until my work day had ended before checking this out.

The first thing I learned? In 2001, some guy was suspended for 18 months with five years of probation for dealing his partner specific cards. Seriously. Do you want to know my source? The New York Times. I could not make this up.

So the answer to the federation and locality questions are yes and worldwide. There’s a World Bridge Federation. There are also Canadian and US Bridge Federations. And a European Bridge League.

There are World Championships! They have tournaments all over the place. There’s some sort of movement to have bridge included at the Olympics.**

There don’t seem to be any official sponsors of the World Bridge Federation that I could find, but given how much of the fact checkers’ work I had to do today***, I’m a bit lazy on this. Which is also a bit because I don’t really care that¬†much.

So yeah…bridge. It’s a bigger game than you’d think.

*Guess who has never had kids?

**I’m sorry, but sitting around playing cards is not a sport. If you can simultaneously drink alcohol whilst competing in your “sport”, it’s not a sport. I’m not talking about like how I “go swimming” with my beer when I go hang out at my best friend’s because that’s actually just treading water and catching up. There is no physical way I could actually swim and drink my beer at the same time.

***I got a document today that said the client had worked for a time at a military hospital in Cairo. The fact checker who went over the document before it came to me highlighted that with a note that said “I couldn’t find any listed military hospitals in Cairo.” He couldn’t find them because he (like most of the fact checkers at my job) doesn’t know how to do research. If you google military hospital Cairo, the first results are the Wiki list of hospitals in Egypt, articles about Hosni Mubarak’s recent transfer to a hospital in Cairo and a medical journal article from 1915. If you know how to do research, that’s just a temporary problem. In under five minutes, I was able to come up with the name of three military hospitals in Cairo. The fact checkers at my job would make very poor academics.