Things could get tense when the dominos came out. The friendly bonhomie from Thanksgiving or Christmas could quickly degenerate into bitter, terse oaths when the serious-as-a-heart-attack game of 42 was underway.
If you grew up in the ’50s and ’60s of rural and urban Texas, 42 was not to be messed with. My father was – and is – a master of the game. More than once, I’ve seen men lose to him, stand up and, steam billowing from their ears, utter burning epithets under their breath as they headed outside to cool off. My dad would even go “84.” If you don’t know what that means, just know it is the domino equivalent of a wrestling cage match: only one comes out alive. It also means the room gets eerily quiet, Ennio Morricone music begins playing and non players stop what they’re doing, holding their breath to watch this feat of death-defying domino derring-do.
If you’re 42 ignorant, you’re missing out on a key component of Texas culture, like Western Swing, rodeo or traffic congestion. The game is somewhat similar to Spades or Hearts, but – of key import – it is played with dominos, not cards, which are a tool used by Satan and his lecherous, whiskey-soaked, hedonistic henchmen and women to deliver your soul into everlasting torment.
The game was born out of that Texas evangelical culture that could paradoxically find store-bought alcohol sinful, but the homemade stuff a gift from the Lord.
Most histories of the game say it began with two teenage boys in the small community of Trapp Springs, northwest of Weatherford and now called Garner. The year was 1887 and the boys – William Thomas, age 12, and Walter Earl, age 14 – were apparently caught playing cards and disciplined by their Baptist parents, said Amanda Edwards, curator of the Doss Heritage and Culture Center in Weatherford. Since domino playing was acceptable to their parents, they got creative and devised a four-player game using double-six dominos that incorporated bidding and trumps, very similar to the game of 42 played throughout Texas today.
“When the game spread, it was looked at as a fun game that promoted good, clean fellowship,” said Edwards. “It was even taken overseas by our troops during World War II and was a favorite game of many famous Texans, including LBJ [President Johnson],” she said.
The game has been designated the State Domino Game of Texas and is now played throughout the state and around the world. When the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series turned out to be – spoiler alert – 42, it was deemed nonsensical by many. Not to anyone who grew up in Texas. It made perfect sense. Of course 42 was the answer.
Now the Doss Heritage and Culture Center is keeping the 42 heritage alive near its birthplace by sponsoring the Twin W Shuffle 42 Tournament on Feb. 24 and 25 in association with the National 42 Players Association. Members of that association will be on hand to teach the game to new players.
“We look forward to hosting a great tournament. It’s an honor to host a tournament in the place where it all began 130 years ago with the National 42 Association. It’s a great opportunity to watch some real masters play the game,” said Dean Hungate, managing director of the Doss.
Check it out and if you find yourself standing up in a huff, steam pouring from your ears, you’ll know you’re part of Texas’ domino culture.
Twin W Shuffle 42 Tournament
Feb. 24, 25
The Doss Heritage and Culture Center
1400 Texas Drive