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Friday, February 5, 2010


Last night was Bingo Night at the Tomakin Sports & Social Club. The wet weather stopped some people from coming but not the 50-or-so regulars some of whom play bingo every night!

They wouldn't be the only ones who have gone mad about bingo: rumour has it that the mathematician Carl Leffler who had the task of creating bingo cards with the least-likely winning combinations had gone mad by the end of the twelve months it took him to invent 6000 different bingo cards. It is estimated that there are over 552,446,474,061,129,000,000,000,000 possible bingo card combinations (you may wish to double-check this).

For those who are not addicted to Bingo and don't even know what it is, here is a brief description of the game:

A typical bingo ticket is shown to the right. It contains twenty-seven spaces, arranged in nine columns by three rows. Each row contains five numbers and four blank spaces. Each column contains either one, two, or very rarely three, numbers:

The first column contains numbers from 1 to 9,
The second column numbers from 10 to 19,
The third 20 to 29 and so on up until the last column, which contains numbers from 80 to 90 (the 90 being placed in this column as well).

The game is presided over by a caller who calls out the numbers, validates winning tickets, and announces the prize for each game before starting. The caller then begins to call numbers as they are randomly selected.

The winning combinations are:
Line — covering a horizontal line of five numbers on the ticket.
Full House — covering all fifteen numbers on the ticket.

As each number is called, players check to see if that number appears on their tickets. If it does, they mark it with a special marker called a "dabber" or a "dauber".

When all the numbers required to win a prize have been marked off, the player shouts in order to attract the caller's attention. There are no formal rules as to what can be shouted, but most players shout "Yes" or "Bingo". (Some players may go completely nutters and jump up and down and go hysterical even though the biggest prize money is just $50 a game!) An official then goes and checks the claim (or carries the by then comatose claimant out on a stretcher).

This official was me!

The other member of the Marine Rescue team was Kingsley Forster who, it turned out, had been a "kiap" in the Sepik District and the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea in the early 60s which meant that we had plenty to talk about in between selling tickets and handing out prize money.