Thursday, April 28, 2011

More whistled language: Pirahã

It's been a long time since I've posted anything about whistled language and palatal whistling; I managed to do some basic palatal whistling, but my skill plateaued at a very rudimentary level.

Recently, though, I was reminded of this old discussion of Pirahã channels on LanguageLog, which has recordings of musical and whistled modes of Pirahã, among many other posts on the language (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Daniel Everett has a collection of Pirahã audio and video at his old Web page at Illinois State University.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Snippets: "Battle Cry of Freedom" - Pro-War, Pro-Horsemen

I've been reading James M. McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" (Oxford UP, 1988) as a review to begin my sesquicentennial homework. I'm only a couple of chapters in, and it's great. In the second chapter, he overviews the impact of the Mexican War: in the late 1840s and 1850s, the political parties divided along sectional lines over whether to allow slavery to expand into into the territory acquired in the war. The Whigs had opposed the war, and broke up in the domestic aftermath of the conflict. Here's McPherson citing a Whig congressman ironically expressing his feelings on the Mexican War:
"Mr. Polk's War" evoked opposition from Whigs in Congress, who voted against the resolution affirming a state of war with Mexico in May 1846. After the Democratic majority passed this resolution, however, however, most Whigs supported appropriations for the armies confronting enemy forces. Having witnessed the disappearance of the Federalist party after it opposed the War of 1812, a Whig congressman said sardonically that he now favored "war, pestilence, and famine." (47)
Like any patriotic and loyal American, he favors the war. As he favors the plague, the famine, and the death. Brilliant.

Book Snippets: "The Sumerians"—Enki, Nin-ti, and Eve

Samuel Noah Kramer, in "The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character" (U of Chicago P, 1964), makes occasional connections between Sumerian and Biblical mythology, citing for example a connection between Dumuzi and the Tammuz mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14-15. Another is an interesting similarity between the Sumerian and Biblical creation myth:
One of the more detailed and revealing of the Sumerian myths concerns the organization of the universe by Enki, the Sumerian water-god and god of wisdom... Another Enki myth tells an intricate and as yet somewhat obscure tale involving the paradise-land Dilmun, perhaps to be identified with ancient India. Very briefly sketched, the plot of this Sumerian "paradise" myth, which treats of gods, not humans, runs as follows:

Dilmun is a land that is "pure," clean," and bright," a "land of the living" which knows neither sickness nor death. What is lacking, however, is the fresh water so essential to animal and plant life. The great Sumerian water-god, Enki, therefore orders Utu, the sun-god, to fill it with fresh water brought up from the earth. Dilmun is thus turned into a divine garden, green with fruit-laden fields and meadows.

In this paradise of the gods eight plants are made to sprout by Ninhursag, the great mother-goddess of the Sumerians, perhaps originally Mother Earth. She succeeds in bringing these plants into being only after an intricate process involving three generations of goddesses, all conceived by the water-god and born—so our poem repeatedly underlines—without the slightest pain or travail. But probably because Enki wanted to taste them, his messenger, the two-faced god Isimud, plucks these precious plants one by one and gives them to his master, who proceeds to eat them each in turn. Whereupon the angered Ninhursag pronounces the curse of death upon him. Then, evidently to make sure she will not change her mind and relent, she disappears from among the gods.

Enki's health begins to fail; eight of his organs become sick. As Enki sinks fast, the great gods sit in the dust. Enlil, the air-god, the king of the Sumerian gods, seems unable to cope with the situation when a fox speaks up. If properly rewarded, the fox will bring Ninhursag back. As good as his word, the fox succeeds in some way—the relevant passage is unfortunately destroyed—in having the mother-goddess return to the gods and heal the dying water-god. She seats him by her vulva, and after inquiring which eight organs of his body ache, she brings into existence eight corresponding healing deities, and Enki is brought back to life and health.

Although our myth deals with a divine, rather than a human, paradise, it has numerous parallels with the Biblical paradise story. In fact, there is some reason to believe that the very idea of a paradise, a garden of the gods, originated with the Sumerians. ...perhaps the most interesting result of our comparative analysis of the Sumerian poem is the explanation which it provides for one of the most puzzling motifs in the Biblical paradise story, the famous passage describing the fashioning of Eve, "the mother of all living," from the rib of Adam—for why a rib? Why did the Hebrew storyteller find it more fitting to choose a rib rather than any other organ of the body for the fashioning of the woman whose name, Eve, according to the Biblical notion, means approximately "she who makes live." The reason becomes quite clear if we assume a Sumerian literary background, such as that represented by our Dilmun poem, to underly the Biblical paradise tale; for in our Sumerian poem, one of Enki's sick organs is the rib. Now the Sumerian word for rib is ti (pronounced tee); the goddess created for the healing of Enki's rib was therefore called in Sumerian Nin-ti, "the Lady of the rib." But the Sumerian word ti also means "to make live." The name Nin-ti may thus mean "the Lady who makes live" as well as "the Lady of the rib." In Sumerian literature, therefore, "the Lady of the rib" came to be identified with "the Lady who makes live" through what may be termed a play on words. It was this, one of the most ancient of literary puns, which was carried over and perpetuated in the Biblical paradise story, although there, of course, the pun loses its validity, since the Hebrew words for "rib" and "who makes live" have nothing in common. (147-149)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Commemorating the Civil War

There are times, when traveling, that we must fly in to a city, spend a few days there, and depart. But when you see a place in this way, the sense you get of that place is disconnected from the space that it inhabits. You don't get a sense of how far the place is from its neighbors, from its rivals, from its mountains or rivers or coasts. I prefer a mode of travel that is itself a journey: fly into a city if necessary, but travel from there to another place, and depart. To travel overland, be it by train, by car, by ferry, on the surface of the Earth gives you a much deeper appreciation for the context of a place, and how it fits into the space of the world, in relationship to other places.

As with space, so with time. This commemoration of the American Civil War should not be a sudden occasional glimpse of some stuff that happened an arbitrary amount of time ago, but a way to understand the context of the unfolding events of the past, and their relationships to each other, by making an analogy to the timestream that we experience every day. It's low-bandwidth approach to appreciating history: rather than observing deeply for a short period of time, observe shallowly for a long period of time.

Five months and 150 years ago, in November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, and beginning in December, led by South Carolina, the Deep South seceded and seized local federal bases and depots. In the uncertain months of early 1861, South Carolina repeatedly called for the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and the first shots of the war were fired in January to drive off a steamer attempting to resupply the fort. Lincoln took office on March 4, and eventually sent ships to resupply the fort. The morning after the first ships arrived on April 11, Confederate batteries opened fire, and the Civil War began. Virginia seceded on April 17; Robert E. Lee resigned on April 20 to go south; and a week later West Virginia seceded from Virginia. In May, Arkansas and Tennessee seceded, and Kentucky declared neutrality. Not until July was the first major battle of the war fought, at Bull Run, as Washingtonians picnicked.

In the western theater, Kentucky's neutrality would hold until September, when Confederate and Union forces attempted to secure the Ohio River valley at the river's mouth. But the major battles of Kentucky and Tennessee happened in 1862, when the Union captured Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in February, pushing the front south to the Tennessee River, and the Confederacy was turned back from the Kentucky campaign at the Battle of Perryville in October.

In November 2010, by contrast, the Republicans made significant gains in the House in the midterm elections, and the country's political attention has been focused on conflicts over government spending, federal debt, and military action in the Maghreb. Months will trickle by in the ongoing debates, as the country drifts closer to the 2012 presidential elections, already underway. It's been a similar amount of time from the 2010 elections as from Lincoln's election to Fort Sumter.

So, there are a couple of blogs launched to overview the commemoration of the Civil War as it proceeds: The Long Recall, a period blog of the Civil War, A House Divided at the Washington Post, and Disunion at the New York Times (timeline). A snippet:
Charleston Harbor, S.C., April 9, 1861
After months of anxiety and expectation, there came at last a day of terrible clarity. For months, a single question had preoccupied the men of Fort Sumter’s beleaguered Union garrison, from their commander down to the lowliest private: what would the Lincoln administration do? Would it yield to Southern coercion and evacuate the fort, sending a signal to the world that it was ready to negotiate with the secessionists, and perhaps even let the slave states go in peace? Or would it send reinforcements and supplies to Charleston Harbor — and in so doing, quite possibly touch off civil war?

...the garrison had remained in a bizarre position of both power and powerlessness. One the one hand, as [fort surgeon Samuel Wylie] Crawford realized, they could at will change the course of American history, with a single cannon shot from one. On the other hand, Fort Sumter, which had looked so commanding and impregnable on their first arrival, was beginning to feel less so. On all sides of the harbor, they could see new artillery platforms under construction, cannons being wheeled into place, and in the distance bayonets flashing like a heliographed message, as recruits marched and counter-marched on the beach. Major Robert Anderson, the Union garrison’s commander, expressed it for most in the garrison when he wrote that he felt like “a sheep tied watching the butcher sharpening a knife to cut his throat.”
The Civil War Trust has an animated map of the battle of Fort Sumter, among others. Public, professional, and amateur historians are writing many other blogs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) and lists ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ).

Images: National Park Service Fort Sumter Historic Images

In Why They Fight: Civil War Re-enactors and the Battle over Historic Sites (Time), Gregg Segal has a series of photos of Civil War re-enactors in the modern locations of battles.

Baylor University has a digital version of the War of the Rebellion Atlas.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Muddy water taking back the land

Continental drift (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) isn't the only way the shape of landforms will change. Coastlines vary a great deal with sea level, as well. Climate change predicts at least a certain amount of change in sea levels. The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007, Working Group II, predicts less than a meter of sea level rise over the next century or so.

The most extreme speculations about rising sea levels have to do with the melting of all the ice trapped in Greenland and Antarctica, which could cause sea levels to rise 60 or 70 meters. Of course, that's nothing more than informed speculation: people just don't know enough about the the Antarctic ice sheet to predict how it will behave in the future. The current arrangement of the continents means that ocean currents are very different from the ancient worlds that had well-mixed oceans and ice-free poles, and as long as Antarctica is located over the South Pole, keeping the ice from floating off, a great deal of ice may be parked there.

But, speculation is fun! According to the USGS, even a 10-m rise would displace 25% of the US population. Sea Level Explorer shows height above sea level using Google Maps. Flood Maps uses Google Maps to show sea level rise from 7 meters to over 60 meters. At 13 meters, Shanghai and Tianjin in China are completely flooded, and much of Bangladesh and Calcutta in India are flooded. Not to mention Miami and New Orleans. At 60 meters, huge population centers in Bangladesh, China, coastal Europe, and the southern U.S. are under water. Johnston's Archive has some neat pictures of a 66-meter rise in sea level.

The 100-meter maps are the most fun. Maps for "An End to Global Warming" has maps of North America with a 100-meter rise (also here), released by Dave Pape under a CC-Attribution license.

New England is an island, stretching from the Hudson Straits to New Brunswick.Below its cataracts, the Ohio River flows through the tidewater directly into the huge Mississippi Sea.In the Greater Antilles, Cuba is a much-reduced archipelago, while Jamaica and Hispaniola mostly retain their shapes.
With Dubia, Chris Wayan speculates on an Earth after a thousand years of unrestrained carbon pollution and global warming:
That world heats up. Climate zones move north until the poles thaw. Greenland and Antarctica melt. Coastal nations are drowned. In the end, the sea rises some 110 meters. Global hothouse! It's happened before, of course, on this scale, but not in the last 50 million years or so.

...we shouldn't be surprised to find that Florida now has no governor—or voters. It's a scuba paradise rivaling Australia's Barrier Reef, but there's no dry land at all. Louisiana was doomed too, of course, but I was startled to find that the sea swallows half Alabama too—south of Tuscaloosa, only Red and Grove Islands and the small Troy Peninsula are left. Mississippi is even worse off—the Gulf chews inland to Tupelo and Mantee, leaving only the Jackson Peninsula and Brookhaven Island, and a jungly strip up at the Tennessee border. Mississippi Bay nibbles all the way up into Illinois, though it's broken up on the west side by long Crowley Island and the Spring and Pleasant Isles. Further south, in Texas, fishermen avoid the rotting, polluted Houston Reefs. But Austin survives—with a steamy coastal climate, flora, and culture resembling lost New Orleans.

Unfortunately, Dallas survives too.

...For, by definition, most readers will be from our world's high-population zones. Random changes will, on average, degrade them. And the lands that improve, that become the heartlands of Randomia's civilizations, are likely to be barren obscure lands in our world, mere names (if that) to non-Randomian readers. The great European cities are all flooded on Dubia (millions of European readers groan), while the green Sahara nurtures great civilizations (a handful of Saharan readers cheer). If you love civilization, Randomia will probably kill or cripple the ones you love, and plant its greatest civilizations in places you associate with backwardness.

So the grass always looks browner in a parallel world--because what you value most, what you KNOW to value, is generally lost. This principle makes it hard to see alternate worlds fairly.
His Planetocopia has all sorts of images of speculative versions of Earth and other planets. There's also some interesting discussion at the Randi forums.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The history of tarot, in brief

Playing cards were probably invented in Asia and first came to Europe in the 1300s CE through the Arabic world. Few historical decks remain from the Arabic world, but one 15th-century Mamluk deck, preserved in Istabul, featured four suits of polo-sticks, swords, cups, and coins; each suit had ten pip cards and four court cards, and there may have been a joker. Playing cards, intricately painted or cheaply block printed, rapidly spread through Europe from the south, and a variety of designs and games proliferated.

In general, though, there were three main families of card designs. In the Romance world, around Italy and Spain, playing cards maintained the oldest division of the suits: Swords, Staves, Coins, and Cups. Over the Swiss Alps into the German-speaking world, the suits evolved: Leaves, Acorns, Bells, and Hearts. And in France, the suits developed into Spades (from Italian spada or Spanish espada, "swords", taking its shape from the German Leaves), Clubs (from Italian bastone, "sticks, staves", taking its shape from German Acorns), Diamonds (from Coins), and Hearts (from Cups). These stamped French-suited decks were simpler in design and thus cheaper to manufacture in the era of woodblock printing, and so spread through England and western Europe.

In the early 1400s in northern Italy, a new game developed that focused on taking tricks and capturing valuable cards with a group of trump cards. These decks had four suits of ten numbered cards and four face cards, plus a group of about 21 unsuited trumps with allegorical illustrations, as well as an unnumbered trump card used as a wild card. These Tarot card games became enormously influential, and variations of them are still played as games across Europe, especially in France, Italy, and the regions formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the 1500s, it seems likely that the French trick-taking game Triumph or Trump, adapted for a standard 52-card deck, developed into the English game Ruff and Honors. In the early 1700s, this game developed into Whist, one of the most popular games in Europe for more than a century. Whist began as a plain-trick game in which the trump suit varied from hand to hand, and the goal was to collect as many tricks as possible. As the game diversified into the whist family of games, many common variations began to emerge, such as bidding on the number of tricks players will take in the hand. From bid whist variants came Bridge, Spades, and similar games like Hearts, while games like Euchre developed separately in parallel from similar sources. Modern collections of card games follow Edmond Hoyle's 1742 treatise on the whist, and gamblers and mathematicians were soon to develop probability and statistics.

Meanwhile, in the 1700s, various practitioners began to develop the use of playing cards as symbolic system for a divinatory or occult practice. Tarot cards, with their colorful trump illustrations, became a natural focus for this. Parallel to the Enlightenment of rationalists and philosophers, the undercurrents of occultism and mysticism were seething, soon to break out in the Romantic era. Franz Anton Mesmer mesmerized Paris. Isaac Newton wrote more on the occult and alchemy than mathematics and physics. Logicians and mathematicians speculated on a theoretical "universal language", a symbolic system that could encapsulate all knowledge in an algebra of thought. This never really panned out, except to give us thesauruses.In some ways, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment were periods of separating rationalism from superstition, astronomy from astrology, chemistry from alchemy, which implies an investigation of both. In 1781, Antoine Court de Gébelin published a theory that held the tarot cards to be the distillation of ancient Egyptian civil and religious philosophy, brought to Europe by Roma peoples (popularly called "Gypsies"). This was totally wrong. His speculation came almost 20 years before the Rosetta Stone was discovered and 40 years before it was deciphered; he was speculating at a time when Egyptian hieroglyphs were completely mysterious to the people of Europe. But his theory contributed to the development of occult use of tarot by emphasizing and expanding the allegorical interpretations of the cards. Court de Gébelin says, for example:
Ces quatre Couleurs sont relatives aux quatre Etats entre lesquels étoient divisés les Egyptiens. L'Épée désignoit le Souverain & la Noblesse toute Militaire. La Coupe, le Clergé ou le Sacerdoce. Le Bâton, ou Massue d'Hercule, l'Agriculture. Le Denier, le Commerce dont l'argent est le signe.
In other words, the four suits represent the four Estates of ancient Egyptian society: the sword represents the sovereign, military, and nobility; the chalice represents the priesthood; the staff represents farmers and the peasantry; and the coin represents merchants and commerce.

Then in 1785, occultist and cartomancer Jean-Baptiste Alliette produced a manual on divination with tarot cards. Marie Anne Lenormand was the next famous cartomancer, and Eliphas Levi incorporated Tarot-based cartomancy into his occult system, from where it went into the Golden Dawn and eventually into every modern Borders and Books-a-Million "Spirituality" section. And we come to where we are today, where few Americans know that the Tarot deck is based on an old and still-popular game. The familiar 52-card deck has accreted layers of symbolism, too, over centuries of play: look at Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts or the Ace of Spades' association with victory or death. But with the tarot deck, this was more extreme.

Many people like their board games to have a strong theme, aside from the abstract mechanics of the game, be it commercial real estate in Monopoly or colonization and urban development in Settlers of Cataan. It's on this level that I enjoy the quaint metaphors of Tarot: If each suit represents a social class, then the game reflects the vicious social striving of individual members of society for one-upmanship or material advancement, who are only to be frustrated or trumped by a host of random disasters, external forces, unpredictable circumstances, or merely the vicissitudes of fortune. It's a dark, satirical, and pessimistic vision of life, quite medieval in a way. But to treat tarot as wholly other than a game would be like pondering the mystical import of Blackjack, or contemplating the Jungian symbolism of Druidic Seven-Card Flop Poker, without appreciating the game's more worldly appeal. Some people may be enjoy that, but probably more people enjoy playing them with friends and family as games of skill and chance, that have brought some joy to people for centuries.

How to play Tarot (for beginners)

Some time ago, I became interested enough in the history of tarot games to get my family to try one. But our first attempt to muddle our way through some online rules failed miserably: we broke down laughing and gave up when we came to the formula for scoring the game. Tarot has some quirky rules that aren't necessarily intuitive for American players of simple plain-trick games. I ended up writing extensive notes on the rules in an effort to understand how to play the game, and for people with no basic familiarity with these games at all, hopefully this account may make the game somewhat clearer. If you are not familiar with the basic concepts of trick-taking games (hands, tricks, trump cards, following suit), it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with a simpler or more common trick-taking game, such as Euchre, Whist, or Spades, before playing Tarot.

This is a description of French Tarot for people who have no familiarity at all with tarot games, drawn from the descriptions at's Tarot games and French Tarot pages, Wikipedia, and Philebus's book Tarocchi: Introducing Card Games for Tarot, available online at I've also referred to the rules at the Fédération Française de Tarot and French Wikipedia, through my weak French and machine translation, especially to clear up any ambiguities. The American Tarot Game Association has an English translation, and there are some videos at FFT as well as here, here, and here (seemingly using VASSAL). Also here. More information is also available at,, the Association for Tarot Studies, and BoardGameGeek.

French Tarot is one of the few games that still use the full 78-card deck (so you can use a French deck to play other games by removing extraneous cards), and it preserves the historic role of the 'Scuse. I have a French Piatnik Jeu de Tarot deck I bought online; French decks occasionally pop up at Internet retailers, as here. It would be better to use an Anglo-American 78-card tarot deck, either purchased online or printed at home using images like these.

I. The Deck

Tarot is played with a French tarot deck of 78 cards, such as a Tarot Nouveau with corner indices to make playing easier. There are four suits (Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts), each of which have ten numbered pip cards and four face cards: Jack (Valet), Knight (Cavalier), Queen (Dame), and King (Roi). These rank, from lowest to highest, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 V C D R. (Or, if you can find an Anglo-American Tarot deck, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J C Q K).

In addition, there is a special suit of 21 trump cards (a.k.a. tarots), I-XXI. These function like the trump suit in Whist, Spades, or Bridge. The highest trump (XXI) is called the Mond ("the World"), while the lowest trump (I) is called the Pagat (i.e., "the Magician").

Finally, there is an unsuited Joker, known as the 'Scuse, which is sort of like a wild card and allows a player to avoid playing a card that the rules would normally require them to play. The Joker can excuse a player from the normal requirement to follow suit, for example.

Together, the 'Scuse (the Joker), the Pagat (Trump I), and the Mond (Trump XXI) form a trio of cards called the Ends. The three Ends are particularly valuable, since the more Ends you hold, the easier it is to win the hand.

II. Overview of the Game

Tarot is a point-trick game in which the object is to win tricks tricks containing valuable cards. In each hand, the four players break into two ad-hoc teams: one team consists of a single player, the Declarer, who attempts to win the game by accumulating sufficient card points, while the other three, the Defenders, attempt to win enough points to stop him.

Each hand consists of about six phases: the deal, bidding, optional announcements, playing cards and winning tricks, winning the hand, and scoring the hand. The dealer deals a hand of 18 cards to each of four players, as well as a face-down stock of six cards to the table, known as the talon or kitty. After examining their hands, the players bid to become the Declarer. The remaining three players array against him as the Defenders. Depending on the bid, the Declarer may or may not add cards from the talon to his hand at the beginning, and the cards from the talon may be counted as part of the Declarer's tricks or the Defenders' tricks at the end.

Actual card play is similar to Whist or Spades, although scoring and other elements are quite different. Moving counterclockwise, players play cards one at a time, attempting to capture tricks with higher-ranking cards while following suit or by playing trump cards. Once all the cards in a hand have been played, the players count up their card points to determine the winner.

Tarot has a very distinctive method of adding up the card points. There are several ways of going about this, but each system leads to the same result. The probably-original way of counting is slower, but easier to understand, so that's what I describe here. For more information see "Counting card points in Tarot games" at First, you win one point for every two cards you take. Certain valuable cards are worth additional points, as follows: The Ends ('Scuse, Mond, Pagat) are worth 4 points each; Kings are worth 4 points each; Queens are worth 3 points each; Knights are worth 2 points each; and Jacks are worth 1 point each. For example, if a player took a trick with a King, a Jack, a 10, and a 3, these cards would be worth 7 points: That's 2 points for four cards, plus 4 points for the King, plus 1 point for the Jack. There are a total of 91 card points in a full deck, of which 52 points comes from face cards and the three Ends. Each trick of four cards is worth at least 2 card points, and the six cards in the talon are worth at least 3 card points.

After determining the winner, the players score the hand in game points that the loser(s) pay to the winner. Since losers pay the score to the winner, it may be easier to keep track of it with poker chips rather than pencil and paper. It's not necessary to play for money instead of game points or chips, but for conceptual clarity, here I'll just describe game points as money. One game point is $0.01, for the purposes of this description.

A tarot game usually consists of a number of hands equal to the number of players, usually four, although five may play by having the dealer sit out the hand that he deals. All play moves counterclockwise, rather than clockwise as is common in the U.S.

III. Playing a Hand

A. The Deal

The first dealer is chosen at random, by a card draw: low card deals. The player opposite the dealer shuffles the deck and hands it to the player to the left of the dealer, who cuts it. The dealer deals out 18 cards to each player in packets of three, and deals 6 cards face down to the talon. The first or last card cannot be dealt to the talon.

A player who has only the Pagat, and who has neither any other trumps nor the 'Scuse, declares this. This cancels the hand, the players discard their cards, and the next dealer deals a new hand.

B. Bidding

Beginning with the player to the dealer's right, players either pass or bid to become the declarer. Rather than bidding on how many tricks they will take, players bid on whether they will become the dealer. In order to outbid previous bidders, they have to take higher stakes and more difficult conditions, such as not adding the cards in the talon to their hand, or giving the points in the talon to the Defenders.

Bidding goes counterclockwise beginning with the player to the dealer's right. Each player has one chance to either bid on the hand or pass. If every player passes, the hand is cancelled, the players discard their cards, and the next dealer deals a new hand. Each player has only one chance to bid.

There are four basic bids. In ascending order of priority, they are:

1. Take

The player says "I'll take it," announcing that he'll take up the role of the Declarer if no-one outbids him. This is also known as a "small bid". If he wins with this bid, the Declarer turns over the six cards of the talon, showing them to the other players, then adds them to his hand. He then discards six cards from his hand face down, which may not include any trumps, any Kings, or the 'Scuse. If necessary, the Declarer can discard trumps if he has no other cards, but he must show them to the other players, and cannot discard any of the three Ends.

When counting points at the end of the hand, the cards discarded by the Declarer count as part of his tricks. A take bid does not multiply the winner's score when scoring the hand.

The FFT explains that this is usually an opening bid with an average hand with the hope of perhaps a 50% chance of success, and often relies on the hope of finding good cards in the talon. However, it's more common to open with a keep bid in tournament play.

2. Keep

A player says "I'll keep it," to outbid a player who has bid "take". It works the same as a take bid, but the stakes are twice as high. This is also known as a "guard bid". As with a take bid, the Declarer adds the talon to his hand and discards six cards, which count as part of his tricks. When scoring the hand, a keep bid doubles the winner's score. See "Scoring the hand", below.

3. Keep without the talon

A player says "I'll keep it without the talon," to outbid a player who has bid keep. The stakes are even higher, and the conditions of victory are more difficult.

When bidding keep without the talon, the Declarer does not add the cards from the talon to his hand, no-one looks at them, and they remain on the table. But when counting card points at the end of the hand, they are turned over and counted as part of the Declarer's tricks. When scoring the hand, this bid quadruples the winner's score.

4. Keep against the talon

A player says "I'll keep it against the talon," to outbid a player who has bid keep without the talon. These are the highest and most difficult stakes.

With this bid, the talon is added to the Defenders' tricks. Nobody looks at it until points are counted at the end of the hand, but the Declarer does not get the benefit of the talon: instead, it counts against him. When counting points at the end of the hand, the talon is counted among the Defenders' tricks rather than the Declarer's tricks. When scoring the hand, this bid sextuples the winner's score.

C. Announcements and Bonuses

If this is the first time you're playing, skip this step. At this stage, players have an opportunity to announce certain bonuses: Pagat Ultimo, a Slam, or a Handful of Trumps. There is no obligation to do so, but an announced bonus is worth twice as much when scoring the hand.

These bonuses do not affect who wins the hand, but only affect the scoring of the hand. See "Scoring the hand", below.

1. Handful of Trumps

A Handful bonus occurs when a player announces that more than half of the cards in his hand are trumps. Before playing the first trick, the player reveals the trumps that he wishes to declare as part of his Handful.

The player only needs to reveal the minimum number of trumps to demonstrate the announcement. For example, if a player has 12 trump cards and declares a Single Handful, he only needs to reveal 10 trump cards to the other players, and can conceal the other two. The 'Scuse can count as a trump for the purpose of declaring a Handful, but if the player uses the 'Scuse in this way, he must reveal all of his trumps.

The Handful provides a bonus to the score only when it is announced beforehand, and the bonus accrues to the team that wins the hand. So it may be beneficial for a player to not announce the Handful if he thinks his team will not win.

There are three kinds of Handful bonuses, depending on how many trumps the player holds. A Single Handful consists of at least 10 trump cards, and gives a $0.20 bonus to the score. A Double Handful consists of at least 13 trump cards, and gives a $0.30 bonus to the score. A Triple Handful consists of at least 15 trump cards, and gives a $0.40 bonus to the score.

The bonus for a Handful is the same regardless of the bid. That is, the bonus for a Handful is applied to the score after the base score has been multiplied by the bid factor. The Handful bonus is not multiplied by the bid factor.

2. Slam

A Slam is a bonus for winning every trick in the hand. A Slam doesn't need to be announced in advance, but the bonus is significantly larger if it is. An Announced Slam must be declared before the first trick is played.

An Unannounced Slam gives the winner a bonus of $2.00 when the hand is scored. An Announced Slam gives the announcing team a bonus of $4.00 if they succeed in taking every trick, but if the announcing team fails, it takes a penalty of -$2.00.

The bonus for a Slam is the same regardless of the bid. That is, the bonus for a Slam is applied to the score after the base score has been multiplied by the bid factor. The Slam bonus is not multiplied by the bid factor.

3. Pagat Ultimo

Pagat Ultimo is a bonus for winning the last trick when it includes the lowest trump, the Pagat. It doesn't need to be declared, it's just added if the last trick includes the Pagat, but it's listed here with the other bonuses for convenience.

The Pagat Ultimo bonus modifies the score by $0.10, which benefits whichever team won the trick (even if it didn't win the hand). For example, if the Declarer won the hand and won the final trick with the Pagat, $0.10 is added to the score. But if the Declarer won the hand while the Defenders won the final trick with the Pagat, then $0.10 is subtracted from the score.

Unlike the other bonuses, the bonus for Pagat Ultimo depends on the bid. That is, Pagat Ultimo is added to the base score before the base score is multiplied by the bid factor.

D. Playing Cards, Winning Tricks

Once bidding and announcements are complete, the Declarer says "Play", and card play begins. The player to the dealer's right leads the first trick: he plays a card by laying it face up in the center of the table. Moving counterclockwise, the other players play a single card each. They must follow suit if they can, playing a card from the same suit that led the trick. Otherwise, they must play a trump. If a trump as already been played to a trick, they must play a higher trump, if possible. If a trump leads the suit, each player must play a trump. If a player has neither a card of that suit nor a trump, he can throw off (discard) a card from another suit, but it cannot win.

The trick is won by the player who played the highest-ranked trump card, or otherwise who played the highest-ranked card in the suit that led. He adds the cards to his pile of tricks captured.

The 'Scuse is so named because it excuses a player from the normal requirement to follow suit or play a trump. A player can play the 'Scuse to any trick, regardless of whether the player the player has cards in the lead suit or trumps. With one exception, the 'Scuse cannot win a trick, but the player who played it does not lose it. Whoever wins the trick must return the 'Scuse to the player who played it, who adds the 'Scuse to his pile of captured tricks. In compensation, the player who played the 'Scuse must then pay a numbered pip card to the player who won the trick. If the 'Scuse-player doesn't have one yet to pay, he must pay it later.

A player can lead the 'Scuse, in which case the next card played is considered to lead the trick for purposes of following suit.

If the Pagat is played in the last trick, the team that wins that trick gets the Pagat Ultimo bonus of 10 points when scoring the hand.

Normally, if the 'Scuse is played to the last trick, it switches sides. For example, if one of the Defenders plays the 'Scuse on the last trick, the Declarer wins the 'Scuse even if he does not win the trick, although he must compensate the Defenders (as above). However, if one team has won every trick in the hand, and leads the 'Scuse on the last hand, then the 'Scuse wins the trick. This rare case is the only time that the 'Scuse can win a trick.

E. Winning the Hand

Once all the tricks have been played, the Declarer and the Defenders count their card points. If the Declarer bids keep against the talon, then the talon is added to the Defenders' tricks. Otherwise, it is added to the Declarer's tricks.

As noted above, a team gets one card point for every two cards it has captured. The team also gets card points for capturing face cards and the three Ends, as follows.

Ends ('Scuse, Mond, Pagat) 4 points
Kings (R) 4 points
Queens (D) 3 points
Knights (C) 2 points
Jacks (V) 1 points

For example, if a player won a single trick containing the Queen of Hearts, the Knight of Hearts, the 8 of Hearts, and the Pagat, then those four cards would be worth a total of 11 points.

To win, the Declarer needs to accumulate a target number of card points that varies depending on how many of the three Ends he has in his pile of captured tricks.
With no Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 56 card points to win.
With 1 End, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 51 card points to win.
With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 41 card points to win.
With 3 Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 36 card points to win.

If the Declarer has the minimum number of card points, then he wins, and each of the Defenders must pay him. If the Declarer does not have the minimum number of card points, then he loses, and must pay each of the Defenders.

F. Scoring the Hand

Whoever loses must pay the winner(s). The amount to be paid is determined by calculating how well the Declarer won or lost, adding the Pagat Ultimo bonus if necessary, and multiplying the score by a factor determined by the bid. Then bonuses for a Slam or Handful are added to the score, which is then paid to the winner(s). See also "Announcements and bonuses", above, or "Examples of scoring", below.

The base score for a game is $0.25. To this, add the difference between the Declarer's target and the number of card points he captured. For example, if the Declarer has 2 Ends, then he needs 41 card points to win; if he captures 56 card points, then add $0.15 to the base score. On the other hand, if he captures 40 card points, then instead add $0.01 to the base score.

Next, add the Pagat Ultimo bonus if applicable. Winning the Pagat in the final trick benefits whoever won the trick, giving a $0.10 bonus. If the winner of this trick won the hand, then add $0.10 to the base score. If the winner of this trick lost the hand, then subtract $0.10 from the base score.

Then, multiply the base score according to the Declarer's bid. Take bids do not modify the score. If the Declarer bid keep, multiply the base score by 2. If the Declarer bid keep without the talon, multiply the base score by 4. If the Declarer bid keep against the talon, multiply the base score by 6.

To this modified score, add bonuses for an Handful or a Slam, as described in the Announcements phase of the hand. A Slam is when a team wins every trick in the hand; this adds $2.00 to the score. An Announced Slam, announced before the first trick is played, adds $4.00 to the score if the announcer's team succeeds at winning every trick, and subtracts $2.00 from the score if the team fails to take every trick. A Single Handful adds $0.20 to the score; a Double Handful adds $0.30 to the score; and a Triple Handful adds $0.40 to the score. The Handful and Slam bonuses are not multiplied, but added to the score after this multiplication has taken place.

After the final score is calculated, every member of the losing team pays every member of the winning team that amount, and a new hand begins. The player to the dealer's right becomes the dealer of the next hand.

IV. Examples of Scoring

North deals. West bids take and South, East, and North pass, so West becomes the Declarer. At the end of the hand, the Declarer needs 36 points to win with 3 Ends, and South has 36 points, so South wins. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus nothing for card points, plus nothing for the bid or bonuses. Each of the Defenders pays West $0.25.

West deals. South bids keep, and East, North, and West pass, so South becomes the Declarer. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 points to win, and South has 40 points, so South loses. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.01 for card points, times 2 for the bid. South pays the Defenders $0.52 each.

South deals. East bids take. North bids keep, West passes, and South passes, so North is the declarer. There are no announcements. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 card points and North wins 56 card points. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.15 for card points, times 2 for the bid. Each of the Defenders pays North $0.80.

East deals. South bids keep, becomes the Declarer, and the Defenders win the final trick with the Pagat. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 points, but South only has 40 points, so he loses. The final score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.01 for card points, plus $0.10 for Pagat Ultimo, times 2 for the bid. Having lost, South pays $0.72 to each of the Defenders.

North deals. West bids keep and becomes the Declarer, and wins the final trick with the Pagat. With 3 Ends, he needs 36 card points and wins 49. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.13 for card points, plus $0.10 for Pagat Ultimo, times 2 for the bid. Each of the Defenders pays West $0.96.

South deals. East bids take. North passes. West bids keep against the talon. South passes, so West is the declarer. West declares a Triple Handful and a Slam, and succeeds, taking the final trick with the 'Scuse. With all three Ends, the Declarer needs 36 points and takes 88 points (since the talon is counted as the Defenders' tricks), so he wins. The base score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.52 for card points, times 6 for the bid, plus $4.00 for the announced Slam and $0.40 for the Triple Handful. Each of the Defenders pays the Declarer the final score, $9.02.

Interestingly, it looks like the maximum score is the same if West had taken the last trick with the Pagat instead of the 'Scuse: although West would get the Pagat Ultimo bonus, the Defenders would get the card points for the 'Scuse if West is to get a Slam.


In this description of the French game, I've used English terms as well as terms from Austrian Tarock and other tarot games, since this may make it easier for Anglophone novices. In France, of course, French terms are used.

trump atout
trick la levée
Ends bouts, "ends"; oudlers
the Mond le mond, "the World"
the Pagat le petit
the 'Scuse l'excuse, "the Excuse"
Declarer le preneur, "the taker"
Defender défenseur
the talon le chien, "the dog"
Take (bid) Je prise, la petite
Keep (bid) Je garde
keep without the talon garde sans le chien
keep against the talon garde contre le chien
Handful poignée
Slam chelem
Pagat Ultimo petit au bout

There are several main ways to count card points in tarot games. As explained here, you can count 1 point for every two cards, plus additional points for valuable cards, so a pip card and a King (worth 4 points) are together worth 5 points. It's more common in descriptions of French Tarot to describe pip cards as worth 0.5 points and Kings as worth 4.5 points, so that a pip card and a King are together worth 5 points. Another way is to count pip cards as worth 1 point and Kings as worth 5 points, but subtract 1 point from each pair of cards, so that a pip card and a King are together worth 5 points. These all yield the same result, and just offer a tradeoff between speed of counting and ease of understanding.