Fun With a Pocket Knife: How to Play Mumbley Peg

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Every man should carry a pocketknife. It’s handy for cutting open packages, severing twine, and, of course, eating an apple like a bad ass.

But it can also be a source of instant, anywhere entertainment. Because it’s all you need to play the game of mumbley peg.

Never heard of the game? Don’t worry. Today we’ll give you the scoop on how to play this knife throwing pastime that was once popular among 19th century schoolboys, Wild West cowboys, and World War II soldiers. All you need to play mumbley peg is a friend, a couple of pocket knives, and a bit of skill. It’s the perfect way to pass the time when hanging outside with your friends, relaxing around the fire on a camping trip, and bonding with your son.

The History of Mumbley Peg

Versions of mumbley peg (also known as mumblety-peg, mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg or mumble-de-peg) have been around as long as jackknives have been in the pockets of boys and men who had time to kill. The game gets its name from a stick driven into the ground by the winner of the game, which the loser must pull out of the ground with his teeth. Mumbley peg was an insanely popular schoolyard game in the 19th century among boys. It was right up there with marbles and jacks. In fact, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Detective, mentions “mumbletypeg” as being a favorite game with the children at old Tom’s school.

The game continued in popularity well into the first half of the 20th century. If you’re an old timer who participated in Boy Scouts or went to summer camp, there’s a chance you played a version of mumbley peg.

Mumbley peg wasn’t just popular with boys. Men played the game, too. Cowboys would often circle around the campfire after a night of calf wrestling and play a few rounds of mumbley peg. Soldiers in both World Wars also passed the time throwing their knives in the ground.

The game waned in popularity starting in the 1970s as over-protective adults put a kibosh on the game at summer camps and as pocket knife-carrying became less prevalent among the male population.

How to Play Mumbley Peg

There are different variations of Mumbley Peg. One version involves two opponents who stand opposite from one another, feet shoulder-width apart. The first player takes his pocket knife and throws it at the ground, so that it sticks into the ground as close as possible to his own foot. The second player take his knife and does the same. The player who sticks his knife closest to his own foot wins. A player could automatically win if he purposely stuck his knife into his own foot. What can we say, this was a time before Xbox 360. Kids needed something do.

Mumbley Peg: American Boy’s Book of Sport Edition

A much more complicated and, I think, more fun (i.e., less likely to end in a tetanus shot) version of Mumbley Peg can be found in the American Boy’s Book of Sport, from 1896. Instead of trying to get the knife to stick as close to your foot as possible, the aim is simply to get the knife to stick in the ground. What makes this version tricky is that it involves progressively more difficult trick tosses. The first man to successfully perform all the trick tosses wins and gets to drive the mumbley peg into the ground with the handle of his pocket knife. The loser has to pull the mumbley peg out of the ground with his teeth. While mumbling curses at the winner, naturally.

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