The Mongolian word for the day is шагай (shagai), which means “ankle.” I mention it, because yesterday Tiffany and I went to the Black Market and bought 50 sheep anklebones to play with. When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got a lot of disgusted reactions, so let me explain a little bit. Anklebones seem to be one of the main playthings of Mongolian children. There are a plethora of games that you can play with them, and they are very inexpensive. I suppose the average Mongolian gets them free from sheep that no longer have use for them. We paid 50 tugrik (about 3 cents) each to an antiques dealer.
One game that you can play is a guessing game. Each player puts a few anklebones in their hand and holds out their closed fist. The players then each guess how many total anklebones are in all of the fists combined. The players open their fists and the player with the correct guess wins all of those anklebones. The process is repeated until all the players have lost their bones to another player.
You can also play jacks with anklebones. You toss one anklebone into the air, try to grab some of those on the table and then catch the one you tossed before it hits the table. If you fail, the turn passes to the next person. It gets really fun when a player tries to pick up all the bones on the table because all of the following players must attempt the same feat.
The most fun games, though, involve flicking the anklebones at each other. Each anklebone has four sides that it can land on; the sides are named sheep, goat, horse and camel. It’s hard to describe the sides to you, but trust me that it’s pretty easy to learn which side is which. In probably the most popular anklebone game, all of the bones are tossed on the table in a random fashion. A player then tries to flick one of the anklebones at another one, but the two anklebones have to be the same side showing; e.g. you can only flick a sheep at another sheep. Only those two bones can touch; if any others are disturbed, the turn is lost. If, however, the player is successful, he may remove either of the two bones from the game. He must do it with his left hand, though, or the turn is lost.
There are other games you can play with anklebones, but if you’re a 4-year-old American, you might just like throwing them at your dad.