Playing cards - Morguefile Four suits.
Fifty-two cards. Twelve face cards. You might take the make-up of a modern deck
of playing cards for granted, but behind its familiar conventions lurk
somewhere around 1,200 years of history -- and plenty of questions. We plumbed
its depths for some answers.
Where does the Joker come from?
If you answered, "He was a small-time criminal who Batman threw into a vat of toxic waste," this is probably not the article for you. And unless you're playing canasta or gin
rummy, you're likely used to discarding these two oddballs without a moment's
So how did the two Jokers -- which don't fit into any of the deck's other conventions -- come to be?
They're by far the newest cards in the deck, invented around 1860 for use in the then-popular card game euchre (hence the "joker" name), where they took the role of the two highest trump cards. More modern euchre versions generally use the jacks
Why is the King of Hearts stabbing himself?
King of Hearts Sometimes called the "Suicide King," the King of Hearts is always depicted stabbing himself through the head with a sword. Is he, as his name might suggest, killing himself over a lost love? Is it a tribute to King Richard I, "the Lionheart,"
conquering hero of the Crusades? Sadly, the reality is more prosaic.
The King of Hearts originally carried an axe over his shoulder, but over centuries of shoddy
copying the axe's head vanished, leaving just the shaft which appears to be sticking into his head. His moustache was a casualty of the same poor workmanship: he's the only king without one.
What's the most popular card game in the
Opinions vary, and your guess is about as good as ours.
One thing's for sure: tastes certainly change over time. A poll back in the 1940s found it was bridge; these days, we suspect the recent surge of interest in poker -- a
comparative newcomer at a mere two centuries old -- has taken it to the top
spot. For computer versions of card games, the answer's more clear-cut: not
only is solitaire game Freecell the most popular digital card game, it's thought to be the most-played computer game, period. And the least popular card game in the world? 52-Card Pickup, for sure. If you've never played it, ask around -- you'll quickly find someone who'll show you the ropes.
Why is the ace the highest card in a suit?
Like many playing card oddities, the true origin of the ace's oddly elevated position is lost in the mists of time. Examples of it taking the top spot from the King can be
found as early as the 15th century, but the practice gained traction during the
French Revolution, when the idea of a lowly common citizen rising above the
monarchy suddenly became rather popular in certain circles. The French
proletariat spared playing-card royalty the tender attentions of the
guillotine, but did replace them for a time with cards representing the ideals
of the Revolution: liberty, egality, and fraternity.
Who are all these kings and queens, anyway?
You may have heard the kings and queens of a standard deck's four suits were named after all sorts of real and/or mythological royalty, but what's the definitive version?
There isn't one, says Snopes. The names -- including King David, Hector of Troy, Charlemange, Roman goddess Juno, and Joan of Arc, to name but a few -- were apparently invented by French card manufacturers around the 15th century, weren't standardized, and died out after the Revolution.