Saturday, October 10, 2009


Adam Minter just posted a photo and a question about a game he spotted being played in an older Shanghai neighborhood. Since my research turned up a real Shanghai connection I thought it'd be good to put it here and just share the link back.

Photo by Adam Minter.

I replied on his post that I knew the game as Carrom from playing it as a kid in the US, but looking at his photo I suspected something deeper because of the workmanship that went into the board; the ones I'd played had always been flimsy things mounted on tripods (though I'd seen some more durable ones at a park near my grandparents' house in Buena Park, California). Wikipedia has this to say about the history of Carrom:

The origins of carrom are uncertain, although western sources suggest that the game is of Indian, Portugese, or Burmese origin.[1] Variations of the game played with a cue stick similar to those used in billiards-type games may have independently developed in several cases as a mixture of billiards and shuffleboard.

The game is very popular in India, and in Punjabi it is called fatta. Similar games are played throughout the world, and may or may not share common origins with carrom. In Denmark a similar game called bob is played with cues rather than fingers.[citation needed] There is a carrom-like game also played with cues in China. Games similar to carrom appear all over Asia, for example vindi vindi in Fiji and szhe szhe in Israel. Some variants make use of discarded objects instead of fashioned playing pieces; bottle caps are used for games similar to carrom in both Mexico and Java.[citation needed] Various North American games bear a resemblance to (and may be related to) carrom, including crokinole, pitchnut and pichenotte.

The Japanese Wikipedia page for Carrom yielded the Chinese 康乐棋, and googling with that phrase turned up 康乐球. That last variation combined with 上海 turns up a lot of links that suggest that Carrom is embedded in and particular to the local Shanghainese culture. Among the search results was the blog of one 露香园, who had this to say about the history of Carrom in Shanghai:


So it seems likely that the British brought it over to Shanghai from India, either in the form of Carrom or as its predecessor snooker (Wikipedia confirms the Indian origin of the latter). The "Kangle Rd" theory seems like it may hold water, but I'd be interested to know if the game has another name in Shanghainese that might sound closer to the Punjabi "fatta" mentioned by Wikipedia, or some other Indian variant. Another site talks about the rise in popularity of Carrom in Shanghai after the closure of snooker halls in the 1950s, roadside Carrom rentals as sources of income for the unemployed, and the organizing of neighborhood Carroom tournaments during the SARS quarantines.


The site also attributes the 康乐球 name to the English "cornerbool", a word Google says is used exclusively by Chinese manufacturers trying to sell Carrom equipment to English-speakers; so I'm not too sure about that one.

In any case, it appears that Carrom is indeed a Shanghai institution. SMG's Sports TV channel did a short report on it, interviewing a Mr Li who credits it with keeping him healthy and improving his sight to the point where he stopped wearing glasses. The report does note that the average Carrom player is 50 years old, so this is likely an institution in decline. Which means that now is a better time than any to order yourself a custom-built Carrom/康乐球 board, only RMB 1200 and made in Shanghai.


At Feb 3, 2011, 12:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

This seems more like carrom's relative, novuss.


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