Thumb war

Last updated
A thumb war Two people engaged in a thumb war.jpg
A thumb war

A thumb war (also called thumb wrestling, pea-knuckle or pea-knuckle war in New Zealand) is a game played by two players in which the thumbs are used to simulate fighting. [1] The object of the game is to pin the opponent's thumb, often to a count of three. [2] [3] The San Francisco Chronicle called the game "the miniature golf of martial sports." [2]


The players face each other and each holds out their left hand or right hand in a "thumbs up", [4] and they link hands such that each player's fingers curl around the other player's fingers. Players may not use any of the fingers except the thumb to pin down their opponent’s thumb. Gameplay has several tactics such as "playing possum", aiming for the knuckle rather than the nail for a pin, [3] going for a quick strike, and waiting for one's opponent to tire. [5] Variations include making the thumbs "bow", "kiss", or both before warring, and to war with both hands at once; or sneak attacks, which involve using your pointer finger to take over the opponent. [6] Players may also engage in the Rabbit Hole maneuver, or ducking their thumb down into their own palm, to escape imminent defeat. These additions are optional and do not need to be included into the rules of play.

The game is typically initiated with both the players uttering the rhyme "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war", passing their thumbs over each other in time with this rhyme. [7] The rhyme is sometimes extended with "Five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb straight." or "Five, six, seven, eight. This should be a piece of cake." [8] A regional variation in Boston is “five, six, seven, eight, open up the battle gate.” In South America, the starting song is "ésta es la pulseada china" ("this is the Chinese arm wrestling"), with the same thumb dance as in English.

U.S. Marine playing thumb war with a local boy in Afghanistan U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Abraham Porath, left, assigned to Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, thumb wrestles with an Afghan boy during a joint vehicle checkpoint with Afghan National 130527-M-TQ917-077.jpg
U.S. Marine playing thumb war with a local boy in Afghanistan

Competitive matches on thumb wrestling have been held on Long Island [9] and at Lowestoft. [10] The 826 Valencia Foundation holds an annual thumb-wrestling competition, which has been won three times by San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon. [11] There is no leaning nor tilting when thumb wrestling.


Norman Mailer was passionate about thumb wrestling. [12] Author and humorist Paul Davidson claims that his grandfather Bernard Davidson invented the thumb war in the 1940s. [13] American copywriter Julian Koenig claimed to have invented thumb wrestling in 1936 as a boy at Camp Greylock. [14]

Thumb wrestling ring Thumb Wrestling (5625414817).jpg
Thumb wrestling ring

A thumb wrestling ring is a toy used for thumb wrestling. [15] The players insert their thumbs in opposite sides and proceed with the thumb war.

See also

Related Research Articles


Pankration was a sporting event introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and was an empty-hand submission sport with scarcely any rules. The athletes used boxing and wrestling techniques, but also others, such as kicking and holds, locks and chokes on the ground. The term comes from the Greek παγκράτιον [paŋkrátion], literally meaning "all of power" from πᾶν (pan) "all" and κράτος (kratos) "strength, might, power".

Rock paper scissors Hand game for two players

Rock paper scissors is a hand game usually played between two people, in which each player simultaneously forms one of three shapes with an outstretched hand. These shapes are "rock", "paper", and "scissors". "Scissors" is identical to the two-fingered V sign except that it is pointed horizontally instead of being held upright in the air.


A trackball is a pointing device consisting of a ball held by a socket containing sensors to detect a rotation of the ball about two axes—like an upside-down mouse with an exposed protruding ball. Users roll the ball to position the on-screen pointer, using their thumb, fingers, or commonly the palm of the hand while using the fingertips to press the mouse buttons.

Professional wrestling holds include a number of set moves and pins used by performers to immobilize their opponents or lead to a submission. This article covers the various pins, stretches and transition holds used in the ring. Some wrestlers use these holds as their finishing maneuvers, often nicknaming them to reflect their character or persona. Moves are listed under general categories whenever possible.

Hand game game played using the hands, often exclusively

Hand games are games played using only the hands of the players:

Marble (toy)

A marble is a small spherical toy often made from glass, clay, steel, plastic, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about 13 mm in diameter, but they may range from less than 1 mm to over 8 cm (3 in), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 30 cm (12 in) wide. Marbles can be used for a variety of games called marbles. They are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors. In the North of England the objects and the game are called "taws", with larger taws being called bottle washers after the use of a marble in Codd-neck bottles, which were often collected for play. These toys can be used to make marble runs, a form of art, or they can be used in marble races, a type of race using marbles.

Ernie Ladd American football player and professional wrestler

Ernest Ladd, nicknamed "the Big Cat", was an American professional football player and professional wrestler. A standout athlete in high school, Ladd attended Grambling State University on a basketball scholarship before being drafted in 1961 by the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League (AFL). Ladd found success in the AFL as one of the largest players in professional football history at 6' 9" and 290 pounds.

<i>The Simpsons Wrestling</i> 2001 video game

The Simpsons Wrestling is a sports video game based on the animated television series The Simpsons. Developed by Big Ape Productions and published by Activision for the PlayStation, it was first released in Europe in March 2001, followed by North America a month later. It is also the only Simpsons video game released for the PlayStation.

<i>WWF War Zone</i>

WWF War Zone is a professional wrestling video game developed by Iguana West and released by Acclaim Entertainment in 1998 for the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy. The game features wrestlers from the World Wrestling Federation. It is the first WWF video game to feature fully 3D polygonal graphics.

Penny football Tabletop coin game

Penny football is a coin game played upon a table top. The aim of the game is for a player to score more goals with the pennies ("Spucks") than their opponent. An electronic version of the game has also been produced. The game has been in existence since at least 1959.

A taunt is a battle cry, sarcastic remark, gesture, or insult intended to demoralize the recipient, or to anger them and encourage reactionary behaviors without thinking. Taunting can exist as a form of social competition to gain control of the target's cultural capital. In sociological theory, the control of the three social capitals is used to produce an advantage in the social hierarchy as to enforce one's own position in relation to others. Taunting is committed by either directly, or indirectly encouraging others to taunt the target. The target may give a response in kind to maintain status, as in fighting words and trash-talk.

<i>ECW Hardcore Revolution</i>

ECW Hardcore Revolution is a professional wrestling video game released by Acclaim Entertainment, based on the professional wrestling promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). The game was released for the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, and Dreamcast in 2000. It was the first wrestling game to be based on ECW, as well as the first professional wrestling video game to receive a Mature rating from the ESRB, although the Game Boy Color version was rated Everyone. Acclaim followed this title with the release of a sequel, ECW Anarchy Rulz, in August 2000.

Toe wrestling is a sport involving two opponents who lock feet and attempt to pin each other's foot down with no time limit similar to arm wrestling.

Mercy (or peaknuckle) is a game of strength, skill, endurance, and pain tolerance popular in Britain, Canada, Pakistan, India, the United States, and elsewhere. The game is played by two players who grasp each other's hands. The aim is to twist the opponents hands or bend the fingers until the opponent surrenders.

Ancient Greek boxing

Ancient Greek boxing dates back to at least the 8th century BC, and was practiced in a variety of social contexts in different Greek city-states. Most extant sources about ancient Greek boxing are fragmentary or legendary, making it difficult to reconstruct the rules, customs and history surrounding this activity in great detail. Still, it is clear that gloved boxing bouts were a significant part of ancient Greek athletic culture throughout the early classical period.

Kelly pool Game played on a standard pool table

Kelly pool is a pool game played on a standard pool table using a standard set of sixteen pool balls. Gameplay involves players each drawing one of fifteen numbered markers called peas or pills at random from a shake bottle, which assigns to them the correspondingly numbered pool ball, kept secret from their opponents, but which they must pocket in order to win the game. Kelly pool is a rotation game, which means that players must contact the lowest numbered object ball on each shot first until the opportunity to pocket their own is presented. Two rule variants are set forth under rules promulgated by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA). In the simpler form, the object of play starts and ends with the goal of pocketing one's secret ball. In the second, in addition to the goal of pocketing one's secret ball, points are scored in various ways. In the instance where pills are unavailable, a cloth may be used to cover the balls, which are then chosen blindly, recorded, and replaced for play.

In the sport of ten-pin bowling, there are many different ways in which to deliver the bowling ball in order to advance it toward the pins in an accurate and powerful manner. Generally, there are three basic forms of 10-pin bowling. The most basic form is known as stroking, which is the most classic form. The most powerful form is known as cranking, which imparts great leverage and maximum rotation on the ball, but sacrifices accuracy. In between the two is the domain of the tweener, who has characteristics of both, but does not truly fit into either category. A well-known variant of "tweening" is the power stroker.

Trick bowling is a form of competitive bowling in which unusual and difficult custom setups are used. Trick bowling often involves special pin setup, multiple bowling balls, or obstacles placed on the lane.

Hand Extremity at the end of an arm or forelimb

A hand is a prehensile, multi-fingered appendage located at the end of the forearm or forelimb of primates such as humans, chimpanzees, monkeys, and lemurs. A few other vertebrates such as the koala are often described as having "hands" instead of paws on their front limbs. The raccoon is usually described as having "hands" though opposable thumbs are lacking.

Bloody knuckles

Bloody knuckles is a game in which each player makes a fist with the thumb wrapped around the other fingers. Then each fist punches the other's fist. Players who flinch are out of the game. Whoever lasts the longest before quitting wins the game. The game is played until someone's knuckles are bleeding or they quit due to excessive pain. Variations include simultaneous or alternate punching, and games in which the strike is the loser's punishment/winner's privilege. In the first two ways of playing the game, violence, though essentially consensual, is inherent, not a risk. Almost all ways of playing are dangerous, carrying the risk of injury, scarring, and damage to one's bones and hand. The point is to make them bleed.

The rules of this game are simple: each combatant makes a fist and then the fists punch each other. You flinch, you lose. Whoever lasts the longest before quitting wins.


  1. Dieleman, Hans; Huisingh, Don (2006). "The Potentials of Games in Learning and Teaching About Sustainable Development" (PDF). Journal of Cleaner Production: 18. ISSN   0959-6526.
  2. 1 2 Villalon, Oscar (8 December 2003). "1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a thumb war". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  3. 1 2 Villalon, Oscar (3 December 2006). "THE SEMI-SWEET SCIENCE One, two, three, four. I declare ..." San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  4. Beard, Polly (27 June 2009). "Games to play in your tent on rainy days". The Times. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  5. Orr, Elizabeth (22 November 2006). "THUMBS UP!". Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  6. Collard, Mark (2005). No props: great games with no equipment. Project Adventure, Inc. p. 218. ISBN   0-934387-05-2.
  7. Gunter, Veronika Alice; Meyer, Clay (2005). The Ultimate Indoor Games Book: The 200 Best Boredom Busters Ever!. Lark Books. p. 128. ISBN   1-57990-625-7.
  8. Haslam, Nick (2004). Relational models theory: a contemporary overview. Routledge. p. 374. ISBN   0-8058-5356-1.
  9. Ketcham, Diane (29 November 1987). "LONG ISLAND JOURNAL". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  10. "Thumb wars descend on Lowestoft". The Lowestoft Journal. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  11. Mankiewicz, Josh (26 March 2007). "A real thumbs up for helping kids write well". NBC News. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  12. "A Letter From The Publisher". TIME. 16 July 1973. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  13. "Who Invented The Game Thumb War". Words for my enjoyment. 18 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  14. "This American Life: Origin Story". June 9, 2009.
  15. Tweney, Dylan (30 September 2009). "Pocket Players: 13 Great Portable Games". Retrieved 2009-10-20.

Further reading