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My brain is domino dancing – and it’s starting to add up

PUBLISHED: 18:41 09 January 2019

Games like dominoes are great for mental arithmetic - a skill that seems to be less in demand in the 21st century

Games like dominoes are great for mental arithmetic - a skill that seems to be less in demand in the 21st century

Archant

Modern life doesn’t always call for us to work our sums in our head - but David Clayton has found a way to get those numbers crunching once again

When was the last time you played dominoes? I mean proper, serious dominoes. Playing with the kids or grandkids, which is all I’ve done in the last few decades, doesn’t count. I was convinced dominoes had coloured spots. Of course, the “grown-up” ones don’t, which proves it’s a long time since I played the traditional game, properly.

I was persuaded to join an annual village gathering with a hall full of people. The rudiments of the game came back to me but not the system where players moved on around the tables depending on their scores. I was forever moving when I shouldn’t have done, however opponents were constantly changing and for that reason it was huge fun and a joyful social occasion. I’m still trying to work out whether its all about skill or luck. I appeared to have had neither in abundance!

I soon realised how off the pace I was in terms of quick mental arithmetic. Before ever I could tot up the dots on the dominoes left in my hand, (I often had dominoes left in my hand) the regular players around me had it all worked out at a glance. I kept marvelling at this skill. One lady I talked to said she always persuaded her daughters to come along and play, especially when they were younger. She was adamant it was an important part of their growing up. “It taught them to add up in their head, and quickly,” she said, “Because nothing much else does these days.”

She has a point. My wife reminded me that our two sons were forever playing darts in the garage and they also had a small snooker table, so they developed an ability to make lightening calculations as to who had scored what, and never with the aid of a blackboard and chalk. I hope that mental agility has stood them in good stead.

Thinking back to my own childhood we were always playing card games where totting up scores was second nature. We even had a roulette wheel and a mat with the numbers and sections on which you could bet with plastic counters. When taking my turn to be the croupier, I prided myself on swift calculations for all the varying odds around the table, and then making the correct pay-outs. It was all mental arithmetic and I 
could do it with confidence. Then, don’t get me started on the interminable family games of Monopoly with the hissy fits around who’d successfully developed Mayfair and Park Lane, but again, it was all about calculating in your head.

That’s why I was a bit rusty with the dominoes because I’m not sure I have reason to wrestle with much mental arithmetic these days. My phone is a calculator and I always have it with me. We all use less cash these days, so the mental agility of shuffling through a few coins to pay for something is rare. When I am paying for something with real money, the till does all the calculating.

My first job was an articled clerk to a long-established accountancy firm in Norwich. I was rather lured into the profession simply because my older cousin in London was an accountant and he had plenty of money and a flash sports car. For me, it was destined to be a long, tedious journey towards both, because on my first day, I was given a Norwich and District telephone directory (remember those?) and told to add up all the telephone numbers from the top to the bottom of each page – in my head! This, I was told, was an essential skill for an articled clerk. I couldn’t do it, or 
more to the point I couldn’t be bothered to do it. I lasted barely a couple of years in accountancy.

But I’m looking forward to my next game of dominoes!

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