The most games of cribbage on the Williams campus in a four-year period were probably played between the Fall of 2001 and the Spring of 2005, during which ran a continuous tournament between two students. A concise history of this semi-epic battle, complete with win-loss statistics, is collected in this article.
Rules of the Game
There is little need for this article to enumerate the rules of Cribbage. If you do not know how to play, one of the following sites can teach you. The Williams Cribbage championship was played without the Muggins rule; otherwise all rules were standard.
The 2001 - 2002 Season
In the Fall of 2001, Jonathan Landsman '05 and Zachary McArthur '05 were freshmen living together in East 3. In the first week of school, Jonathan noticed a cribbage board lying on the top shelf of Zach's bookshelf. "You play?" he asked. "Yes," replied Zach. "I'm looking for an opponent." So it began.
Though the spectator base was still fairly small, and confined mostly to the current residents of East 3, the first year of cribbage was considered by some to be most exciting. Of all four years, the 2001-2 season featured the greatest number of changes to the frontrunner. Analysts have since speculated that this was due to the players' slow acclimation to each others' style of play, and some house rules. For example, Zach taught Jonathan the rule that five flushes are the only kind that score in the crib. He also engaged in some head games, claiming that King-7 was the most dangerous throw to your opponent's crib. Jonathan believed this garbage, until Zach's father visited and accidentally disillusioned his son's opponent.
The two players also decided not to play with the optional "Muggins" rule, which penalizes players for miscounted hands. This latter decision was key in ensuring the efficiency of games, and a high game volume in future years, as Zach and Jonathan were able to play games in ten minutes before a shift, a class, a final exam, and other less important engagements. Senior year, they had reached such fluidity as to be able to watch Boiling Points and still hold down a decent game.
The 100th Game of 2001 - 2002
That's right, today at snacks in the East 3 common room, what has been almost two semesters and one winter study in the making is finally coming to a head, when Zach and Jonathan play their 100th game of cribbage. It promises to be an exciting match, as this year has seen hands as big as 28 points, comebacks from 40-point deficits, and even a near miss at that elusive double skunk. What marvellous spectacles will Sunday's game hold? No one knows, but be sure to come to the East 3 Common Room at 10:30 for what is absolutely sure to be a milestone in cribbage history and a roaring good time. These two players have been neck to neck all year, forsaking social lives and academic standing to perfect their game. Come see the masters in action, as Zach "Z-Money" McArthur tries to keep his since-spring-break streak rolling against Jonathan "J-Dawg" Landsman's best efforts to turn the tides. If you see one game of cribbage in your life, THIS is the game to see.
Highlights of 2001 - 2002
- Exactly 100 games are played. So began the tradition of making the 100th game in a year a special event.
- Zach has occassionally made allegations that Jonathan "refused" to play more games after the 100th, in the final two weeks of school, but this seems unlikely for strategic reasons given that Jonathan was losing at game 100. Jonathan claims he had "finals."
- Historic 28-point hand. A 28-point hand is extremely rare, and second in score only to the 29-point hand, which was never attained by Zach or Jonathan.
- In one of only two games ever to occur between Jonathan and Zach's father, Jonathan came back to win from a 25-point deficit in the 3rd stretch when he was dealt all four fives, and a king was cut. The odds of getting a 28-point hand in a 2 player game are 1 in 15,028, so I believe we can attribute this occurence to sheer luck and not Jonathan's skill.
Final Statistics, 2001 - 2002
Zach: 57 (6 skunks) Jonathan: 55 (6 skunks) Total games: 100, including 12 skunks
Note: Tally of games were made on the East 3 quote board, which was a sheet of contact paper stuck to the western wall of the common room and marked with magic markers. No one seems to have recovered the quote board at the end of the year, and the tallies have been long lost, presumed destroyed by a custodian. As a result, the exact sequence of games and skunks are not known.
The 2002 - 2003 Season
A new academic year brought new challenges. The convulsions of an embryonic Anchor Housing movement the prior spring had reduced pick size to 4, thereby scattering the two cribbage titans to opposite sides of campus: Prospect for Zach and Mission for Jonathan. Would the two remain friends? More importantly, would the cribbage series continue?
In fact, the second season of cribbage saw not only a modest increase in the total number of games played, but the longest gaming sessions of any year. Zach's walkthrough double in Prospect housed no fewer than three cribbage boards, and up to four games in a row were played on said boards on some days -- and not just over Winter Study. Somehow, visits later in the day for a second bout of matches were also fairly common, though nearly unheard of in future years, as the more wizened players seemed to opt for a steadier pace.
Williams Cribbage historians, in conjunction with eminent sociologists, have postulated that the great distance between Prospect and Mission was spanned, in part, by Zach's Ms. Pacman habit coupled with the existence of the game on Jonathan's computer. Anecdotes from the time record that Zach could often be found in Jonathan's Pratt room even when he was not there, playing Ms. Pacman in the endless quest for a high score -- perhaps to alleviate his cribbage woes, for Jonathan did well this year. Playing solo, Zach set some impressive high scores, but the highest score in the books at Williams was set by the simultaneous cooperative play of Zach and Jonathan: well over 200,000.
The 100th Game of 2002 - 2003
Out of deference to tradition and a certain homesickness, the common room of East 3 was again chosen as the site for the century match. Dan Krass '05 and Al Gordon '04, were hired to commentate for the event. Latecomers trickled in as Dan and Al interviewed the players on their game plans, and on the season so far. A modest crowd of spectators witnessed Zach's sound defeat.
Occasions of great moment need great events, and so the publicity for the second hundredth game of cribbage (#200) took on a wider scope. Emails were sent to the Bridge and Deviants listservers; the Deviants version, sent 10 April 2003, is reprinted below:
Pop quiz, hotshots: you're sitting at a table across from the smartest, most attractive specimen of your desired sex you have ever dreamed of. What do you do? Normally, an invitation to play bridge would be in order, but there are only two of you. So what, my friend, DO YOU DO?
Whip out that cribbage board, my friend, the one you carry with you everywhere you go. That, a deck of cards, and another human with a modicum of intelligence, as Zach and I demonstrate, is all you need to play.
Zach? Who's that?
Zach McArthur has come to bridge a few times. He lives in Prospect, and is a lover of Deviance; some of you may see him around in Driscoll, and certainly never in class. I know him better as my first real friend freshman year, in my entry of East 3. We met, actually, when I saw he had a cribbage board. Last year we played 100 games, and he won in May with a final score of 57 to 55. This year, we finished our 99th game last Monday.
It is time . . . for ***Zach and Jonathan's Big 100, 2003***
Zach and I will be playing our 100th match in the East 3 common room TONIGHT AT 9:00, for tradition's sake. The frosh there have no idea. We hope they won't beat us up. The score now is Me 58, Zach 55, so Zach can put himself very close with a skunk (win by 31), or take the first 100 with a double skunk (win by 61). This promises to be an exciting match. We are looking for a commentator (only someone with a deep knowledge of the game, please, this is world class stuff here. Yes, I'm kidding) and a pregame and maybe halftime show. Zach and I are a show in ourselves, though. It's going to be lots of fun, everything is in jest. . . except the game, which is for all the marbles, the honor, the glory, the affirmation of our manhoods. If you can't make it at 9, show up as soon as you can. We'll likely be there until 9:30.
And Bridge night will start this week at 9:30 in the usual place, Currier North 3rd floor common room, unless Cribbage spectators, like hungry children asked to wait for the pie to cool on the windowsill before digging in, just cannot bear any delay and break down to get down and dirty, bridge style, right there in the East 3 common room.
Good wishes to you all, my friends.
Some, including Jonathan, probably did not know what lengths Zach had to go to to make the 9pm starting time. A Men's Golf Team dinner at the Williams Inn saw the team sit down at 7pm, get noticed for service at 7:30pm, eat appetizers at 8:15pm, and be served the main course at 8:45pm. After wolfing down lamb chops (ha, ha), Zach turned to the 70-year-old Williams alumnus who was paying for dinner and calmly said, "Thank you so much, but I have to run - I have a big cribbage game." He then literally ran the half-mile across campus to the Odd Quad, arriving in East 3 with a minute to spare.
Highlights of 2002 - 2003
- A special sequence of play is recorded: 4-4-4-3-2-A-3-2. This sequence carries the distinction of having every card after the first score at least two points. Player 2 comes out on top, scoring fifteen to 1's twelve.
- Cribbage communication logistics are tested by the necessity of maintaining two scoreboards on opposite ends of campus. Syncronization proves less of a problem than vandalism, which claims two boards handmade by Zach and posted in the central Prospect vestibule. Only his "Upstate vs. Downstate" themed scoreboard -- a reference to Zach's Rochester and Jonathan's New York City origins -- has survived to date.
Final Statistics, 2002 - 2003
Zach: 62 iissi iiiii iiiii iiiis siiis (8 skunks) sssis siiii iiiii ssssi iissi iiiii iiiii ii Jonathan: 70 iiiii ssiii iiiii iiiss iiiii (7 skunks) iiiii iiiii issis siiii iiiii ssiii ssiii iiiii iissi Total games: 117, including 15 skunks
The 2003 - 2004 Season
When Zach drove down to Queens to pick up Jonathan for the ride up to start junior year, the 2003-4 season was kicked off with the first off-campus face-to-face cribbage match. Besides being a landmark game for this reason, the event also led to the ruling that a new season begins after the previous year's finals, and is not determined by the first day of classes.
By the third year, Zach and Jonathan were essentially cribbage machines, able to play full games in an average of 15 minutes with ease, or as little as 10 when rushing. Distances were again a test to the rivalry: with Jonathan having returned to the Odd Quad on Currier third floor, and Zach perched high in Gladden 5, altitude became a significant factor in addition to distance. Nevertheless, the competition churned onwards.
This year brought a small decline in total number of games played, after a substantial rise from freshman to sophomore year. Scholars explain this by focusing their study on the Winter Study period of this year, during which Zach and Jonathan attended Lessons In Go. Some scholars of this era have offered their Theory of Divertment Dilution to explain this phenomenon. It holds that, with Zach and Jonathan now faced with a choice of how to spend their time together, between playing Go and Cribbage, the overall probability that cribbage is played diminishes when total free time is held constant. This theory has met with stiff resistance from scholars of the Second Year, who assert that, if the theory held, there ought to have been a reduction of cribbage play in year two in light of increased Ms. Pacman play.
Whatever the governing force behind it, the decrease in total games seems not to have impacted total skunks, which went from 15 to 16 this year. From Jonathan's claim of 9 of these to Zach's 7, coupled with similar trends Senior Year and after, analysts mark this year the beginning of a shift in Jonathan's gameplay to follow a more aggressive strategy. A look at all four years shows that this may have been the key to Jonathan's downfall: in every year, the leader in skunks was also the loser of the century match, and the year's series.
The 100th Game of 2003 - 2004
By the third year, the popularity of the Cribbage Series had grown to monumental size, at least in the minds of the two people playing it. Planning for the big 100th game (#317) began in September. The scoreboard this year was finely crafted for display outdoors, and Zach's mother attended the event: a life sized cribbage game in the Odd Quad.
- Date: 10 April 2004
- Subject: The Ultimate Cribbage Game of the Century
You've followed their amazing story for years . . .
You've seen it advertised in the Daily Messages . . .
But nothing can prepare you for what's gonna hit the Odd Quad, this Saturday (tomorrow) at 1 PM:
THE ULTIMATE CRIBBAGE MATCH OF THE CENTURY
Zach McArthur vs. Jonathan Landsman, year three, game 100, for ultimate bragging rights.
Be in the odd quad at 1 pm for an amazing cribbage event to last about 30 minutes -- a little light after-lunch fun, nothing that you can't break from work to do.
For the history of this great tradition, born two and a half years ago in the great entry of EAST 3 and enshrined in its continued hallowed place ever since, show up tomorrow and be regaled with the information live from the famed players themselves, and your commentators, well-versed in the cribbage arts, DAN BURNS (and possibly AL GORDON too).
Hope to see you there. It's gonna be a beautiful day for Cribbage.
* * * CURRENT MEMBERS OF EAST 3 -- come and see what's behind the washable crayon graffiti on your common room wall! The cribbage spirit infusing your entry; it is part of your heritage!
The site was the Odd Quad, a triangle of grass surrounded by concrete sidewalk right in front of Jonathan's dorm of Currier. Before the event, Jonathan and Zach labeled squares of the circuit of sidewalk with numbers from 1 to 30, so that human "pegs" could make the rounds four times to reach victory. Live assistants were needed to play the role of peg for each player; for Jonathan, the lovely Margit Sande-Kerback '05 stepped forth, and for Zach, the enchanting Julia Brown '06 presented herself.
The wood-burned scoreboard was brought from its place in Currier to be displayed on a post, which was actually an ancient sign promoting Amy and Todd, from the CC co-presidential campaign of Spring 2000. The spirit imbuing the wood, the game's excellent placement, and the growing reknown of cribbage all contributed to draw the biggest and most enthusiastic spectatorship yet, at about 20 people. It was a very windy day, and everyone except the pegs huddled around the two players kneeling in the grass, both to share warmth and to protect the game from blowing away.
The result is less important than the historical record of the event itself, but if you must know, Jonathan was thrashed in front of friends, friend's family, and girlfriend.
Highlights of 2003 - 2004
- The year's first on-campus game is played in the East 3 common room. Zach makes a monument to his victory and his maturity on the common room wall by scrawling a boast in washable crayon.
- The year's official tally is burned into a plank of wood, to make the most craftsmanship-intensive cribbage scoreboard of the four years.
Final Statistics, 2003 - 2004
Zach: 66 iiiii ssssi iissi ssiis siiii (7 skunks) iiiii issii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiss i Jonathan: 59 iiiii ssiii iiiii iiiis siiss (9 skunks) iiiss issii ssiss ssiii iiiii iissi iiii Total games: 109, including 16 skunks
The Summer 2004 Season
After a resolution made a year prior to spend a summer together in Williamstown, the friends (and foes) lived for 2 months on bustling Spring Street from mid-June to mid-August 2004. The first 2 weeks of summer found Zach bunking on Jonathanâ€™s floor in Morgan East while Zachâ€™s apartment over Helenâ€™s Place was getting sterilized from the football teamâ€™s contamination the previous year. This situation allowed for the heated rivalry of 2003-2004 to go straight into an overtime, so both players' skills stayed sharp for the real, and final, season senior year.
Games were played both in Morgan East during bridge club nights and at the apartment over Helenâ€™s Place, once Zach had moved in. The combination of enormous amounts of free time (Jonathan frequently did not start work until 2 pm and Zach was largely unemployed) and the presence of cribbage boards in the Helenâ€™s Place apartment drew a few more casual players to the game, especially Emily Russell-Roy â€™06 and Dave Weimer â€™06, who seemed to have a rivalry of their own heating up.
A modest total of 29 games was played over the summer, but looking back it was these games that allowed for the frenzy of senior year games to reach an amazing cribbage milestone. It was agreed before the start of play that the summer would not count toward the â€œyears wonâ€ tally, so Jonathan remained behind 2 years to 1 going into the final year, still with the chance to even the epic struggle. Interestingly, only 2 skunks were recorded, one per man, as it appeared both competitors were happy simply to play cribbage over the summer and less concerned about piling up points at the end of games.
From the point of view of most analysts, this season is the least important, and most overlooked in scholarly writings on the Great Williams Cribbage Series. However, those who scholars who approach their study from a geographical point of view have found this era to be an invaluable source of information for juxtaposition with years in which Zach and Jonathan lived across campus. Studies have sought a relationship between d, the distance between the competitors, and g, games played. With Jonathan and Zach cohabiting a room, the Summer 2004 series has provided an invaluable set of data points in the lower end of the d scale. Though models have been inconclusive, the sheer simplicity of the model has made it good grist for entry-level courses in study on Williams Cribbage. Many freshman a lab report has been written on the trends in d and g.
Whatever their esoteric area of focus, there is one thing on which the scholars all agree: cribbage played with warm summer breezes through open windows is as close to a real sport as golf is.
Final Statistics, 2004 Summer
Zach: 17 (1 skunk) Jonathan: 14 (1 skunk) Total games: 29, including 2 skunks
The 2004-2005 Season
Even Zach and Jonathan would probably have been surprised if they knew in early September 2004 the sheer volume of games they were going to undertake their senior season. Jonathan managed to snag a room in the elite senior year housing of Chadbourne House (pick 84), while Zach was in for another year of survival within the riff raff brick walls of Greylock (pick 110). This was not all for the worst, however, as Greylock and Chadbourneâ€™s doors were but a couple of hundred yards apart -- the closest the friends had lived since freshman year. The number of games reflected this proximity, as an incredible 153 games were played in the ~225 days spent on campus from September through May. All told, probably over 50 cribbage-hours were logged by the friends -- looking back, maybe two or three should have been put towards PSYC 401.
Jonathan continued to have the edge in skunks, collecting 13 to Zachâ€™s 8 as his ever more aggressive play continued to pay off. When a large lead materialized early in the game, double skunks, or winning by 61 points, were often the subject of trash talking, but neither player would amass that large a margin of victory by the end of any match. This saved the two from deciding whether the elusive double skunk would be worth four points, or some other value in the tally.
As the year wore on, it was clear that the training Zach had in early life at the hands of his father and grandfather had paid off handsomely for him, as he waltzed through the season with Jonathan in his rear view mirror. Jonathan trailed by an average of ~10 games throughout the season, coming within one game of Zach only once, and no closer. The frustration, as he began to slip back down to his prior ten-game deficit, was enough to send his will to read Melville's Pierre down the crapper.
Meanwhile, the return to focus on cribbage, leaving distractions such as Go, Ms. Pacman, and term papers, were certainly a factor in Zachâ€™s excellent year. Another possible reason for the seasonâ€™s result was that it was Zachâ€™s second year in a Greylock dorm -â€“ it certainly became a comfort zone for matches and perhaps reached the point of an unfair home-field advantage.
After four years of learning each others' tendencies and styles, the duo could play in almost any environment, maintaining same easy rhythm to the game. Music, especially in Jonathanâ€™s room, was background to almost every contest; Marc Cohnâ€™s Walking in Memphis and Dexy's Midnight Runnersâ€™ Come on Eileen were just two among many favorites. Playing in front of the TV was a new and frequent feature this year, especially if the MTV show Boiling Points happened to be on. To be honest, the friends often scheduled game sessions specifically to coincide with showings of Boiling Points.
To the entire town's surprise, the hours and hours of cribbage somehow did not destroy the duoâ€™s grades. Jonathan got Phi Beta Kappa, and was so surprised at this development he e-mailed the person in charge back to make sure it wasnâ€™t a mistake. Zach wound up graduating cum laude to the shock of his mother and golf coach, among countless others.
The 100th game of 2004-2005
The hundredth game (#455) was played in Fitch Hall on January 9th: by far the earliest 100th game in any season. It was held during Fitch's Sunday Tea and was a low-key matchup played before a group of about 15 odd-quadders, many of whom left for Driscoll dinner before the game was even over, and never knew it was taking place. It isnâ€™t even remembered who won the game --though statistically Zach probably did. The game held less significance than in past years as it was merely a step toward the Big One â€“- the 500th game at Williams.
The 500th Game
Zach and Jonathanâ€™s four years of friendship and cribbage culminated in early April with the 500th game played since that fateful fall day freshmen year when Jonathan saw Zachâ€™s board and inquired â€œYou play?â€ and Zach answered â€œYes.â€ A perfect situation unfolded for the 500th game â€“ Chadbourne resident and cribbage fan Robert Hahn '05 had scheduled a root beer keg party for Saturday April 10th, and welcomed Zach and Jonathan's big game to the festivities. To promote the blockbuster event, the following ad was run in the Daily Messages the week of April 4th:
Cribbage Fan??? Come to the Williams Cribbage Club's annual meeting on Saturday April 9th. The two titans of the college game, Jonathan Landsman '05 and Zach McArthur '05 square off in their 500th game of their career at 1pm on Perry Volleyball Court.
Come learn the game and then cheer on your cribbage stud of choice, Z-money or J-dawg in their 500th clash. Runs, pairs, fifteens,... it's going to be crazy. Don't miss this epic event, or you'll be, like, totally skunked
In addition, Jonathan emailed the bridge and deviant listservers, while Zach composed an email late the night before the contest to the golf team, Gladden, and the pairâ€™s freshman year East Three entrymates. It read,
perry volleyball court Z-$ vs. J-dawg , jonathan landsman baby baby!!!!
OUR FIVE HUNDRETH CRIBBAGE GAME OF OUR CAREERS
all should come -- root beer on tap, it's like tiger. vs. chris dimarco
i'm up about 255-245, holler
Notes Zach: "I am pretty sure I was drinking when I wrote that email. With my insurmountable lead, I was able to drink the night before the big game."
With virtually the entire campus aware of the game, a large bedsheet was converted into recapping the four years of cribbage and hung on the net of Perry Volleyball Court on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. A most special part of the event, noticed by very few attendees other than the contestants, was the intricate ivory board which marked the score. A present from Jonathan's grandfather and never used before, the board dated back to World War II. The atmosphere for the game will probably never be seen for a cribbage match again - dozens of students milled around cheering for both sides as updates were periodically shouted out to the volleyball court and fire escape where an aerial view of the matchup was afforded. The game itself was a rather lopsided affair despite Zach's best efforts to self-handicap the night before. Jonathan probably would have been happier drinking root beer floats with the rest of the crowd, but he gamely stayed at the table enduring yet another thrashing - this a public one.
- Sheer volume. The 153 games played far eclipsed any other year's total. It is even more impressive because 145 were needed to even reach a 500th game, and the vast majority of these were played even before Spring Break started in mid-March. Only 8 games were played after the 500th - a beautiful spring meant volleyball and golf took hold of Jonathan and Zach's afternoons.
- The official scoreboard is crafted the day of the 500th game. Until the 500th game, Jonathan had kept the tally on a sticky note on his computer, with Zach entirely unable to add single digit numbers, and asking Jonathan every few days to remind him what the standings were. After being nagged for seven months to make a scoreboard of similar quality to Jonathan's classy 2003-2004 wood-burned version, Zach took up the task with plenty of time to spare. The morning of April 10th he began thinking of finding a bedsheet to write on. Not wanting to soil his own sheet, he "borrowed" one from Karen Untereker '05. At approximately noon, with the 500th game scheduled for 1pm, Zach found some markers in Chadbourne, spread the sheet out on the common room floor, and created a masterpiece of art. By 12:55pm, tours leaving from the Admissions Office were openly laughing at his struggles duct taping it to the Perry Volleyball net as the wind wrapped it around and around the cords. But for all arriving at the party at 1pm, it appeared the scoreboard had been tended to the whole year - carefully tabulated and color-coded, it rippled in the breeze as a 6 by 8 foot testament to four years of friendship and competition.
Final Statistics, 2004-2005
Zach: 93 issii iiiii sssss siiii iiiis siiii iissi iiiii (9 skunks) iiiii iiiii iiiii issii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiii iiiis siiii iii Jonathan: 82 iiiii sssss siiii issii iiiss issii issss iiiii (13 skunks) iiiss iiiii iiiii issis siiii iissi iiiii iiiii ss Total games: 153, including 22 skunks
Of the 508 games of cribbage played between Fall 2001 and Commencement 2005, Zach was victorious in 264 games, Jonathan in 244. However, only 31 of Zach's victories were skunks, to Jonathan's 36. This accounts for the smaller margin of difference in the final score: Zach 295, Jonathan 280.