The Game of Pencils

As I was showing my collection of pencils from the 1990s to a friend the other day, he reminded me of a game he used to play in middle school. I went to middle school four years later and halfway across the country from him, and I vaguely remember it, too.

It was called “pencils” (great name, right?), and involved two players. They took turns flicking their pencils at the other player, damaging the wooden barrel of the pencil on defense. After each hit, they’d switch roles and the defense pencil went on the offense. The pencil that broke first lost.

As a collector and user of fine graphite-based writing instruments, I now feel that this is just a bit of wanton destruction for the same of destruction—something middle-school-aged kids love, right? But then I got to thinking. Could this be a good test of the durability and strength of a pencil? Would, say, a glossy lacquered, fine incense cedar Palomino demolish, say, the cheap generic Office Depot pencil?

I sort of want to put this to the test. Stay tuned in the future for some wanton destruction of pencils.

A cursory Google search reveals the Tradition Mexican Pencil Game, pencil and paper games (which looks kind of fun, actually), and how to score baseball games with a pencil (which our California Cedar friends Chuck and Joey might like). But I can’t seem to find a reference for a game of pencils.

Meanwhile, do you remember this game? Any rules or subtleties I’m missing? Let me know what you think.

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20 thoughts on “The Game of Pencils

  1. I remember playing this game. We used to play it until there was no way to break the tiny piece that you had left. If your pencil broke in half, then you had to use that half to keep playing until that broke. Guys would pull off the eraser and bite the metal that held the eraser in so that it was almost a blade. That way, every hit would actually chip away at your pencil, not just dent it. That made for a quick game. But, once you got to only holding half of a pencil, when they miss, it hurts!!!

  2. Oh, I remember this game too but I don’t remember what we called it. Two techniques employed consisted of “cocking” the pencil back with the index finger of the left hand while standing straight over the opponent’s pencil (which was held length-wise, resting under the thumbs of outstretched hands). So it wasn’t like you swung the pencil in your hand, instead it sprung downward like a catapult would. Holding the pencil softly tended to mitigate the opponents blow as it was absorbed a little, but this was usually seen as a kind of “foul”. But then there was always those who removed their erasers, pinched the ferrule together to make a kind of axe or cleaver out of the pencil. Regardless of that modification, the trick was to have the ferrule strike the pencil because of the metal, and because it contained most of the centrifugal force.

    “Rubber” pencils were, or course, not allowed. Some tried increasing the mass of the ferrule with tape, but that only softened the impact.

    The best, though, was when the person who was the striker cocked-back the pencil, and it broke under the pressure.

    Good times.

  3. Unfortunately, I grew up in California Andy.

    Sean, I remember guys leaning directly over the opponents pencil pulling back as hard as they could to make the strongest impact and, because their pencil had taken some damage as well, it broke under the pressure. That was funny. That break was more like the pic on this post. The cleaner break came when those with the “pinched” ferrule would actually connect and almost slice through the opponents pencil. That’s how we could then move on to the “next level” where you had to use the half that you were left with.

  4. I never played that, but did play a game called ‘tanks’ where taking a shot a your opponents tank involved pressing down on your pencil very hard until the tip shot off in the (hopefully) intended direction. If the resulting mark tocuhed the opponent’s tank – a kill.

    this game certainly improved our sharpening techniques – to use maximum pressure, you needed a very short, very rounded ‘point’ extending as little as possible from the wooden case.

  5. We called it a “pencil fight” in Baltimore. I found an old box of Staedtler film pencils once and became champion — those things were indestructible. I’ve long wondered with a triangular pencil could do? If the point hit correctly, wow. A Dixon Triwrite (not the fat black one) could level some Staples-brand crap any day. : )

    • LOL, y’know, John, I was wondering about that, too. There weren’t a lot of triangular pencils around Fort Wayne when I played pencils (except for my Yikes, and I would never risk breaking those), but now that they’re more common, I feel like that acute angle could really pierce a plain barrel.

    • You beat me to it…I just recalled today that’s what we called it too (even during the 2 short years I lived in Towson).

      “Pencil Fight Club” — I can see an SNL short being done about that. Can you imagine the parodies? The equipment…techniques…trash-talking….

  6. I do remember it vaguely. I seem to recall that I often was injured during this game, and that the super soft yellow No. 2 pencils, with a bit of flex, always held up better than hardier models.

    • the best, the softest pencils, were Choice, bright yellow and amazingly bendable. Unfortunately, after you “won,” all the inflexible lead inside of your pencil was completely shattered, making them impossible to resharpen. For pencils, though, Choice were best (circa 1982), Herald Square were super stiff, and had a tendency to shatter

  7. I wonder how the recycled paper pencils would stand up? You could have a heavy weight class where a Spangle Jumbo could face off with a My first Ticonderoga.

    • Eric,

      Good question! I thought about that. I imagine what would be good would be that they don’t shatter like a traditional wood pencil, but given enough of an impact, they might just bend and snap. Ive also wondered about the pencils made from recycled denim. We’ve gotten such a good response to this post, we may need to do some kind of pencil tournament!

  8. Thanks for the link; I’ll have to try them. I think John from Pencil Revolution would beat everyone as a buddy of his made him a pencil out of steel!

  9. I played this all threw out middle school and into high school. I grew up in Florida. I’m 32 now so not really sure what years that was anyways. We just called it pencils and every boy played it. I would get 5 dollars a day in pencils at 25cents from the school book store. They must of made a small fortune .This game was played before and after school and in between classes. Rules are one person holds other is a striker and turns flip every time. Defender could arc the pencil towards the strike point a bit to help lessen the blow, it was called bracing. You could opt for a no bracing game which usually lead to a quick game. Typically bracing would be the standard rule and a definite allowance if you were using a rubber pencil vs a standard wood. Rubber pencil vs wood would be a under dog match and takes the proper finesse to win. If you hit the players hand while striking, the defender gets a automatic 2 hits on his striking turn. If you miss the pencil all together both players would say licks, first person to call licks would take next strike. Hatchets or axes were where you took the eraser out and bit the metal to make the hatchet. It was an handicap so a better player would let a lesser opponent use a hatchet. However two equal opponents would not let either have a hatchet. Some tips would be if the opponent was bracing and new you could hit the pencil from a different and to negate the brace. There was a lot of skill involved, believe it or not. The guys I played with were true champions and we honed our skills for 4 years. In high school pencils was used to settle high priority arguments. Think of it as the next step above Rock Paper Scissors. There are some more technical aspects to pencils however they are a bit complex to describe. I would equate the techniques of a good pencil player to a amateur golfer. I got to a level of pencils where I could use one pencil vs 30 opponents or even beat a multiple players with my pencil that was about to break.

    If you have questions let me know.

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