013. fichas: cuban dominoes

Fryda: [00:00:00] Carmen, vamos a jugar un jueguito de fichas?


Carmen: Eyy. I’m carmen


Fryda: And I’m Fryda. Dominoes is a game that Cubans play.


Carmen: [00:00:19] it's a must have for a Cuban party. You can’t throw a Cuban party without the ability to accommodate a good domino game. Domino's is a game where you have 55 tiles. There's also 28, but most Cubans play 55 and the tiles all have dots on them and you're supposed to match the number of dots on a table,


Fryda: [00:00:41] domino pieces are, mm, they are so satisfying to touch aren't they? Carmen


Carmen: [00:00:45] Domino ASMR coming right up, baby. Yeah. I think that once upon a time, they used to be made out of ivory or Pearl or marble. Now they’re made out of resins and plastics, but they still look the same. They're typically like an ivory kind of color.Sometimes they'll have a design on the back, I guess. I don't know which is the front and which is the back


Fryda: [00:01:08] it's called the front, the side that has the puntitos like the little dots. And usually these dots are indented


Carmen: [00:01:15] And that is because you are constantly rubbing that side of the domino up against the surface of a table.


And you don't want that to get scratched up or rubbed off. We, fun fact, have some stickers and some of them are dominoes. And the long-term vision is to eventually have the entire 55 piece set so that you guys can play community Domino's on a wall or someplace public near you. But anyway, shameless plug for patreon. Please join.


To be honest with you. I can't imagine playing dominoes with anything that's too fancy because every time I pay dominoes, like I'm ready to slam some pieces on the table. Okay. Not me, but I feel like that is how you play dominoes. That is how you play dominoes and you have fun with it. You're like really interacting with these pieces. You're not just like gently putting them down.


Fryda: [00:01:57] Sometimes it bounces after that. That is one way to play. You can be someone who places it ever so gently. You can be someone who's screaming Every single time they make a move and you can be that person who hasn't spoken once since the game started. El domino lo invento un mudo.


Carmen: [00:02:15] That means domino was invented by a mute. And that's something that you get told. And I was like a scold when you're just being too vocal about what's happening. Let's get into how you actually play dominoes.


Fryda: [00:02:28] So Carmen mentioned there's a double nine domino style, and we're going to mainly go into that style because it's the most widely played.

Um, we'll mention that in Santiago de Cuba, other areas of Cuba, you can find people playing the double six. Yeah. But, okay. So how do you play, The rules of Cuban dominoes.


Carmen: [00:02:46] Okay. So you're sitting down at the dominoes table and the very first thing you need to do is you need to decide how far you want this game to go.


You can play to a hundred points, 150 or 200, whatever you decide, but you have to decide before you start playing.


Fryda: [00:03:01] Once you decide how far you're going to go. And let's say, you're going to play to 150. You probably bring out some way of tallying up those points because at the end of the game, whoever gets To a hundred, 150 or 200, whatever it is that you decide, that's the losing team.


Carmen: [00:03:21] So the object of the game is to have the least amount of points possible. So you want to finish each round with either no points or the least amount of points.


Fryda: [00:03:30] You’ve taken out your domino box, which is a nice slender, rectangular case that holds all your dominoes. Maybe it's wood, maybe it's vinyl, whatever material you like, and you throw the pieces onto the table. You make sure that they're all facing down so that you don't see. Y carmen, que le haces?


Carmen: [00:03:50] Y le echas agua


Fryda: [00:03:53] which means they throw water on it. You shuffle. And so whoever wants to put their hands out in Mr. Miyagi formation and


Carmen: [00:04:03] wax on wax off


Fryda: [00:04:04] wax on wax off and you shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. You know, I don't know. There's like a magic point where you're just like, all right, we've, we've shuffled it and


Carmen: [00:04:12] it’s when you’ve reached Zen. Okay. This is a very Zen activity

.

Fryda: [00:04:15] I do love that feeling.


Carmen: [00:04:18 ]It is very meditative. Okay. So you finished and now everybody takes 10 pieces and they keep it to themselves. They put it in the tiny divot that comes in the actual table, because remember we're using a proper domino table with four sides where everyone is sitting on one of the sides and you want to make sure that nobody sees your pieces.


Cause you don't want people to know what you're packing. Keep your heat to yourself, thanks.


Fryda: [00:04:40] this is how you decide who goes first, one person from each team Picks one domino piece from the center, they turn it over and whoever has the domino piece with the smallest number on it, That's the team that goes first. So let's say I picked up the piece with the smallest number I get to go first. I start the game and then The game proceeds clockwise. So the person to my left gets to go next.


Carmen: [00:05:08] Well, if you're the first person to go and you have the double nine and you don't throw it down, you are some kind of chaos wild card that I don't know what your strategy is because that's usually the first play you want to play the double nine or your biggest thickest piece.


This is the time to botar todas las gordas.


Fryda: [00:05:26] And this, that means the translation of botar Gorda means to throw away the fat. So that often that's often the first thing that happens. Like, let's say you don't have the double nine, you're still throwing away your thickest piece, Cause like there's no strategy to the game yet, really?


Like nothing's really happened. So you might as well not have too many big pieces waiting for you. So the way the Cuban dominoes are played, is they’re played in a string, you put one domino next to the other. And so each piece matches the next in terms of the amount of dots.


Carmen: [00:05:57] So let's just go ahead and say that the first play was the double nine.So unfortunately the next person that plays can only play a nine because you just played A double nine. So you know that the next person that's playing a nine is playing a nine and maybe say a five. So on one side, it's a nine on the other side, it's a five. And the person after that needs to match a five or a nine and so on, and you make a string this way. You always place doubles perpendicular to the actual string and you always play the string in continuous, Basically continuous sequence. You never break it.


Fryda: [00:06:30] So as we're going along the game, what ends up happening is a couple of different strategies end up emerging. your opponents, go before you and go after you.


So whatever they're playing is going to affect you and whatever you play is also going to affect one of your opponents that comes next. So there's a lot of observing that needs to get done in order to see what your opponent's trying to do, maybe what they're missing, what they have and what you might be able to do to block the people that come after you and help your homie out, who is Right in front of you.


Carmen: [00:07:04] That's your partner, your homie is your partner.


Fryda: [00:07:07] Yeah, yeah. Yeah.


Carmen: [00:07:10] So there's a lot that can go on depending on the skill level and your style of playing. And we're not going to get into all of the strategies, but I think. The main thing is that you want to help your partner.


So whatever it is that they are not putting down, you want to try to catch that. And then you want to try to screw your opponents, which means that whatever you see them putting down, you want to block whenever you can.


Fryda: [00:07:33] One thing that does end up happening is that sometimes really advanced players do things that feel like they kind of break that general rule, but they're playing like a much longer game. They actually managed to really keep track of what people have and what they don't have so much so that they can plan like many, many steps ahead.


Carmen: [00:07:54] How does the round end? Okay. There's several different ways. One way is when everyone passes and how do you pass fryda?


Fryda: [00:08:03] You go!, tun tun


Carmen: [00:08:11] that means, you don't even have to say anything, but you pass by knocking twice on the table. It signals to everyone que no llevas. I don't carry a, which means you don't have any pieces that you can put down. You are at a standstill. And so when everyone passes the game has effectively been locked up.


Fryda: Estas trancao!


Carmen: Another way that the round ends is when, and this is like the most satisfying thing ever, especially if it's a view, it's when one person puts down their last domino. I love being that person. And that one, esa persona se pego!


Fryda: [00:08:48] I glued myself. Cause like you basically, like you are. Sticking that last piece that you have to the end of the train and you're like, that's it, that's the only way you really win around the other way is the way to kind of skate by, right?


Carmen: [00:09:02] Yeah.


Fryda: [00:09:02] Like,


Carmen: [00:09:03] yeah. But if you put your piece down, you've played all of those pieces. So masterfully that no one else has been able to get ahead of you.


Fryda: [00:09:10] Yeah. And so, okay. So what happens in the first case where everyone passes?


Carmen: [00:09:16] if everyone passes, then both teams will reveal their Domino's and they will count the amount of points that is in their hand. And they both write their tally onto the tally score sheet.


Fryda: [00:09:29] So each team adds up the sum of all of their domino pieces. That is a score that ends up getting recorded for that team for that round. And it is the score that you do not want to get anywhere near 150. Carmen, have you ever, is it possible to get to 150 in your first round?


Carmen: [00:09:49] Hold on. mathematically speaking i don’t know


Fryda: [00:09:50] I feel like it might be because I feel like there's a way to fail.


Carmen: [00:09:54] Like that one. You have to be that it's not even that you failed it's that you're playing with people who are so freaking good that they never gave you any opportunity. And also you are an idiot.


Fryda: [00:10:05] Oh my God. Carmen pobresito, there's someone out here listening to us Who is that person. So one person puts down their last domino y se Pega. What do you do in the, in the score sheet then?


Carmen: [00:10:15] Only the team with the highest points, AKA, the loser will write their tally onto the score sheet. And the other team doesn't need to write down anything.


Fryda: [00:10:24] If someone se pega, they get a zero for their team, and it's awesome.


Carmen: [00:10:28] You have established a losing team. They typically get replaced by a new one to allow more people to play. So like we're talking about being at a party or being at a social gathering and multiple people want to actually play. And the winning team keeps on playing.


Fryda: [00:10:41] It can be exhausting to be good, you know,


Carmen: [00:10:44] it's, you know, it's tough.


Fryda: [00:10:46] It's so tough to keep winning.


Carmen: [00:10:48] Yeah.


Fryda: [00:10:49] Yeah.


Carmen: [00:10:50] But so I remember being a little kid and one of the fun things about playing Dominoes is that it's a very simple game, so anyone can learn it. You can learn very, very young. The second that you're able to count, you basically can play dominoes. And you, you kind of like start to have an activity that you can participate in with the adults at parties and stuff.


And not only that, but you get to actually interact with them in an intellectual way. And I feel like as a little kid, that was one of my favorite things, especially because when you're a little kid, you just don't give a shit you're wild carding all the way through. And you're just like, let's see what you're going to do now?


Fryda: [00:11:26] Yeah. Yeah. I remember doing some stuff and they'd be like, damn, Fryda's got a plan. And I was like, um, no, I don't. They're just like, wow. Field, right field. Where's she going now? a way for people to be able to express themselves or wait for people to be able to have some sort of comradery, I mean, I think we can say it for games overall, but Dominoes can be a very social game.

And so when people get together and play dominoes together, They get to know each other. And sometimes it actually kind of means you don't really have to have conversation and play this quiet game of strategy and have fun with other people. Carmen, and I talk so much about playing dominoes at parties, but what are the different environments that Dominoes is played in?


Carmen: [00:12:11] you can just be casually getting together, haciendo visita, and then you have a Domino's game. You can be in a proper party where this is a Very important centerpiece and element of the party. you can be un viejo that wasn’t to bitch about the revolution. And you're going to domino park too, you know, do that.


Um, there's there's like Dominoes tournaments. Fryda's grandfather has won one every single year since he’s been here in the us. One important thing that I have noticed is that. I don't usually see a lot of women at Dominoes tables.


Fryda: [00:12:49] Yeah. It's really not as common. I think like a lot of times dominoes are played like outside with a beer, you know, and say like, yeah.


Carmen: It’s like a man’s thing.


And so a lot of times like men are meeting up to play dominoes together. It's kind of like, oh, I'm going to go play poker with the guys kind of situation. And so at the same time, like, you know, every single time we're at a family, I know my grandmother sits down and plays. My mom sits down and plays, but it's just more so I think a bigger part of the social fabric of men keeping up their friendships with Dominoes versus older women.


Carmen: [00:13:27] They have other things to do. They're like chismeando, but I've also noticed, like there are many times that I observed women who are at Dominoes table Doing really, really well. I saw men sort of be surprised or act surprised that women could be good Domino's players. And I always kind of thought that was weird. And now I look back and I'm like,


Fryda: [00:13:46] yeah, it's called like sexism. Yeah.

Carmen: [00:13:51] Yeah. and it’s rampant. yeah, That sucks. That sucks a lot. Not gonna lie. When we were doing research for this episode, we came across some archival Articles in various different reputable news sources, such as the New York Times where several women were interviewed about dominoes.


These are articles that are published in the seventies, for example. So like, a while ago, but like a lot of women have regarded Domino's to be a low class thing. High class women do not participate in Domino's games this whole like it's a men's game. Even to this day, it might be residual from some old school ways of thinking


Fryda: [00:14:32] Teresa Mendez, who was a woman interviewed by a New York Times journalist George Wolski in 1977, said “A decent woman shouldn't play the game. If someone were to ask me whether I do, I would regard it as an insult” an insult!


Carmen: [00:14:51] well, and this is a, this is a problem across the board. I observe in the Cuban community where there are decent things for decent women and decent men to do. And there are indecent and insulting things that people can participate in and yeah, and this is one of them, uh, you know, according to I'm in this in 1977. I would argue that the sentiment has softened, but considering that women aren't calling each other up to be like, oye, el sabado, quieres hechar un juegito de fichas. think that this is still something. Alive in some way.


Fryda: [00:15:32] When I think about women of our, of our mothers and our grandmothers generation, do you envision them ever? And at least for my family, I do not envision them ever relaxing. And getting together to do something casual and just for a drink, because even women of my mother's generation are cleaning the house on a Saturday. They're getting everything together. Like they've got lots of responsibilities and if they're going to be meeting up it’s to have like a conversation, but it's not to kind of like lay back after work. You know, that's a thing that men get to do, whether I'm right or wrong about that. It just, it feels like it fits into the picture.


Carmen: [00:16:11] I don't remember seeing women ever getting together to have a drink or in that. And then, okay. And I say drink, I don't mean like a beer because. I know a lot of Cuban women who think that even having a beer, unless it's like a special occasion, like a party is not like a thing a woman should do.


Fryda: [00:16:29] women don't drink and men drink a lot. I'm aware that one of the only reasons I think my mom drinks pretty comfortably and like, likes to drink just recreationally is because when she did, and this is a side note when she did trabajo voluntario, like, after graduating, where she did, had to do some mandatory work where she was in charge of a factory, she worked with a lot of factory workers.


And so the way she connected with them was like going to the bar. That's how she became like one of the guys. And so unless you're in, like one of those, Particularly special situation, I don't think it's like that common. And in Cuban Cuban-American culture for women from a past generation to be drinking, no, let's not talk about this generation where everything is different. Yeah.


Carmen: [00:17:12] My mom would be mortified if she knew how much I drank.


Fryda: [00:17:16] Anyway, I think that Dominoes fit into, they don't exist in a vacuum. They're not just a game. No, no, absolutely. How did it even reach us?


Carmen: [00:17:27] Yeah. Okay. So let's go. Let's just rewind a lot, actually. A lot of it,


Fryda: years, decades.


Carmen: Yeah. So, all right, so here's the thing guys, There is no confirmed date or country or culture or peoples that can take credit for the game of dominoes as we're describing it. We know that there was something akin to it Uh, that came up in the song dynasty China. We know that something entirely different, but still related to it, I cannot even tell you how it's related to it because it's very murky to find details about this, but we know that something akin to that also appeared in Italy at some point, but how it got to Cuba is a big fat question mark. And most importantly, how it came to be known as Dominoes like that as a name is also a big fat question mark. And we found a lot of research and books on specifically the yoruba culture getting involved in Domino's in divination.


Fryda: [00:18:35] Yeah. So we found, and definitely went on a rabbit hole of like, there was an entire instructional book that describes how you might be able to tell fortunes using Dominoes


Carmen: [00:18:46] it's called the,yoruba domino oraclel by Carlos G Y Poena. And it's basically a manual on how to read a person's fate based on Basically turning Domino's over in the same way that you would read tarot cards, but they're using Domino's. I didn't read the whole thing very similar.


Fryda: [00:19:10] And when we say culture, the culture of Yoruba, which is a ethnic group in Nigeria also has a huge influence in Cuban culture. A lot of Afro-Cubans are also Yoruban. Santeria, which is a Afro-Cuban religion and there's many Afro-Cuban religions, but one of the Afro-Cuban religions, Santeria is also connected to Yoruba gods.


So finding that Dominoes is used as part of like, Santeria is really interesting because finding dominoes like being integrated into another part of Cuban society. So a question of whether it came from European Chinese people or from Africa, I don't know. We don't know. We really weren't able to figure it out.


Carmen: [00:19:52] The thing about all of this is that it's incredibly difficult to know what is truly like natively Cuban due to colonialism. It's difficult to even know who brought what, when it was brought and how it morphed once it got to Cuba, but we can't say, but we know that Domino's has been around for as long as we can remember generationally.


Fryda: [00:20:14] And if you know, the origin of dominoes in Cuba hit us up, like if you know any, please let us know. And I think the most interesting thing to find is if there were various different origins, It became like really popular. And I'd like to actually know if there's any reasoning on how it became so popular, how it became So prominent,


Carmen: [00:20:33] well, fryda, so one interesting point that I would love to mention is that, so I spent some time living abroad specifically in Southeast Asia. I saw a lot of domino games happen. Granted, I didn't speak the language. I did see very similar styles of games using the same pieces happening, whether or not they're called dominoes whether or not the rules are the same. The point is that I saw it happen a lot and it was always men. It was always late in the evening. And there was always beer involved


Fryda: [00:20:59] just like cubans


Carmen: [00:21:00] exactly. It's exactly what I'm saying. So. I don't know exactly where it came from, but I feel like this is something that is not uniquely Cuban. It's just one of those factors of Cuban culture that is so strong and such a common denominator against all of us that it's worth it to own it in some capacity.


Fryda: [00:21:23] A lot of people from the Caribbean overall play dominoes. And it's a big part of their culture too, from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, at the very least, it would be cool to learn from all of you. If you have any particular like version of Domino's that you like to play, if in any way, the way that you play dominoes is different from the rules we described.


If you want to hit us up and play a virtual domino game. We are actually figuring out the logistics of that.


Carmen: [00:21:49] pivoting away from all of them. You know, we're talking about all of the fichas, having a different name about all of these phrases, let's get into some of them.


Fryda: [00:21:59] Yeah. So if you want to be in the in group, which is the group that's somehow that knows what to say, knows what to call different things.

Sometimes. Like when you're first playing, you're just like, what the hell is everyone saying? Like, what does this mean? Then you eventually, you know, you catch it. So, I on the one hand recorded my grandfather when I visited Miami and I asked him to walk me through what he would call all of the different fichas in dominoes, in different regions of Cuba, in different neighborhoods, just different groups of people. They're going to have a lot of different names for every single one of the fichas, but a ton of them are super recognizable and there's enough in common that people know what different things mean. Yeah. We have, my grandfather as reference, we have our own memories. And we also have the internet, the internet, where we were able to compile a couple of things, thanks to some bloggers out there that put some things together.So we can have some examples .


Carmen: [00:22:56] Let’s start off with zero. So the double zero is la Blanca. And that's because there's nothing there. It's just blank on one side and blank on the others.


Fryda: [00:23:07] Yeah. And Blanca means white because when you don't have anything on it, the fichas are usually white.


Carmen: [00:23:13] It's just white, yeah. And then the next one is the one,


Fryda: [00:23:18] la puntilla. the puntilla is a nail or a tack. And that makes sense, because you have one dot on one side and that's kind of like the nail going through. There's a couple of other names, which we found online. el unicorniio who's just the unicorn, la uña, el solitario, which is solitary. Because, you know, it's all there on its own.


Carmen: [00:23:37] el lunar de Lola, which is the beauty mark of Lola.

Fryda: [00:23:41] I like that. next is two.


Abuelo Emilio: [00:23:43] y cuando viene el dos dice el duque.


Fryda: [00:23:46] number two is in honor of el duque hernandez, Who is the Cuban born Yankees player? el Duque. duque sounds like two in Spanish.


Abuelo Emilio: [00:23:55] trillo el amallin. means


Fryda: [00:24:00] trio la mallin, trio means 3 but la mallin. que se yo.


Carmen: [00:24:04] yeah, the Rio Matamoros, which is a really popular Cuban trova group during like the 1920s and thirties. el trieste. la tripa which is also really funny, tripa is your gut. So I really have no idea.


Fryda: [00:24:15] carmen It's three,


Carmen: [00:24:21] three, is tribilin.


Fryda: [00:24:24] That was the name of my old dog. When I was in cuba.


Carmen: [00:24:27] that’s the one i’ve heard a lot I've heard that a lot. Actually. That's the three that I know and be like, you, you put down a three and there like a three,


Fryda: [00:24:33] three wheeling. He protected me so much when I was little baby number four,


Abuelo Emilio: [00:24:41] quartel de bomberos.


Fryda: [00:24:44] So that means four you know, for firefighters


Abuelo Emilio: cuatro mil patos solos quedaron.

oh my God. That's what 4 thousand ducks remained


Carmen: [00:24:56] el cuarto de tula which is actually one of the most popular songs of cuban music


Fryda: [00:25:00] el cuarto de tula


Abuelo Emilio: [00:25:04] quintin el amargado que siempre estaba bravo


Fryda: [00:25:08] we have quintin , which is literally some guy's name. So this means Quentin, the bitter one.


Carmen: [00:25:18] Yeah. Or actually I have here according to the internet, Quintin, the flag, I don't know that is Quintin bandera.


Fryda: [00:25:25] there's a, some guy in history who's known for being like some asshole. And so he ends up being a domino.


Carmen: [00:25:31] We also have, according to the internet, sin comer no se puede vivir.


Fryda: [00:25:35] sin co-mer, cinco is five. So clever. I love that stuff.


Carmen: [00:25:44] sin queno plato y plomo. what the heck? I don't know, but those are some for five. Let's keep going. Number six


Abuelo Emilio: [00:25:53] viene el seis dices sesto, sesteto nacional. sei va mo chi y carolina..


Fryda: [00:25:59] your grandfather say this and you're like, yeah. Okay. Okay. But I like this one on the internet se hizo el loco. sies is how you say six. Se hico el loco. I love the play on what made


Carmen: [00:26:09] he made believe that he was crazy. sixto Battista, which is not to be confused with fulgencio batista. sixto batista t was a Cuban military officer and politician But alongside fidel Castro and his name is used by elderly players who lift the revolution.


Abuelo Emilio: [00:26:32] septiembre el mes de las calabazas


Fryda: [00:26:33] September the month of pumpkins.


Carmen: [00:26:35] We also have el honor de un hombre, y siete mil y mas murieron.


Fryda: [00:26:42] 7,000 or more died. It's like an announcement that you make. So when you're playing it, you're like basically making the announcement


Carmen: is also known as la peste or the plague or the stench. for some reason and Cuban culture it is thought that the number seven can be unlucky, especially in dominoes.


Fryda: Maybe that's why you say siete mil y mas murieron


Carmen: [00:27:03] maybe that is why you say siete mil y mas murieron. I don't know.


Abuelo Emilio: [00:27:06] octavio ruben, ochoa el muerto


Fryda: [00:27:08] on to eight, We have ochoa el muerto. So Ochoa is a figure in Cuban history. It refers to Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, who was a prominent Cuban general executed by the government of Fidel Castro after he was found guilty of a variety of crimes.


Carmen: [00:27:25] Yep. Including drug smuggling and treason. So