Fun with a Pocket Knife: How to Play Mumbley Peg

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 7, 2011 · 114 comments

in Gamesmanship, Manly Skills

Every man should carry a pocketknife. It’s handy for cutting open packages, severing twine, and, of course, eating an apple like a bad ass.

But it can also be a source of instant, anywhere entertainment. Because it’s all you need to play the game of mumbley peg.

Never heard of the game? Don’t worry. Today we’ll give you the scoop on how to play this knife throwing pastime that was once popular among 19th century schoolboys, Wild West cowboys, and World War II soldiers. All you need to play mumbley peg is a friend, a couple of pocket knives, and a bit of skill. It’s the perfect way to pass the time when hanging outside with your friends, relaxing around the fire on a camping trip, and bonding with your son.

The History of Mumbley Peg

Versions of mumbley peg (also known as mumblety-peg, mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg or mumble-de-peg) have been around as long as jackknives have been in the pockets of boys and men who had time to kill. The game gets its name from a stick driven into the ground by the winner of the game, which the loser must pull out of the ground with his teeth. Mumbley peg was an insanely popular schoolyard game in the 19th century among boys. It was right up there with marbles and jacks. In fact, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Detective, mentions “mumbletypeg” as being a favorite game with the children at old Tom’s school.

The game continued in popularity well into the first half of the 20th century. If you’re an old timer who participated in Boy Scouts or went to summer camp, there’s a chance you played a version of mumbley peg.

Mumbley peg wasn’t just popular with boys. Men played the game, too. Cowboys would often circle around the campfire after a night of calf wrestling and play a few rounds of mumbley peg. Soldiers in both World Wars also passed the time throwing their knives in the ground.

The game waned in popularity starting in the 1970s as over-protective adults put a kibosh on the game at summer camps and as pocket knife-carrying became less prevalent among the male population.

How to Play Mumbley Peg

There are different variations of Mumbley Peg. One version involves two opponents who stand opposite from one another, feet shoulder-width apart. The first player takes his pocket knife and throws it at the ground, so that it sticks into the ground as close as possible to his own foot. The second player take his knife and does the same. The player who sticks his knife closest to his own foot wins. A player could automatically win if he purposely stuck his knife into his own foot. What can we say, this was a time before Xbox 360. Kids needed something do.

Mumbley Peg: American Boy’s Book of Sport Edition

A much more complicated and, I think, more fun (i.e., less likely to end in a tetanus shot) version of Mumbley Peg can be found in the American Boy’s Book of Sport, from 1896. Instead of trying to get the knife to stick as close to your foot as possible, the aim is simply to get the knife to stick in the ground. What makes this version tricky is that it involves progressively more difficult trick tosses. The first man to successfully perform all the trick tosses wins and gets to drive the mumbley peg into the ground with the handle of his pocket knife. The loser has to pull the mumbley peg out of the ground with his teeth. While mumbling curses at the winner, naturally.

In the American Boy’s Book of Sport, there are 24 different trick tosses that must be performed correctly to win. Players take turns doing the throws. A player that completes a throw successfully can move on to the next. So it’s possible to have one player breeze through all the throws while the other guy is still stuck on the first throw. Got the basic gist? On to the throws!

1. Hold your right fist with the back of your hand to the ground and with the blade of the knife pointing to the right, resting on top of the closed fingers. Like so:

The hand is swung to the right, up and over, in a semicircle, so that the knife falls point downward and sticks, or should stick, upright in the ground. Like this:

2. Same as the first toss, except done with the left hand.

3. Take the point of the blade between the first and second fingers of the right hand, and flip it with a jerk so that the knife turns once around in the air and strikes the point into the ground.

Throw #3

4. Same as #3, except done with the left hand.

5. Hold the knife as in the third and fourth positions, and bring the arm across the chest so that the knife-handle touches the left ear. Take hold of the right ear with the left hand like so:

How to hold the knife for throw #5

Flip the knife so that it turns once or twice in the air and strikes on its point in the earth.

6. Same as #5, except done with the left hand. Take hold of the left ear with the right hand.

7. Still holding the knife in the same manner, bring the handle up to the nose and flip it over through the air, so that it sticks in the ground.

Throw #7

8. Same as #7, except bring the handle up to the right eye before flipping it.

9. Same as #7, except bring the handle up to the left eye before flipping it.

10. Place the point of the blade on top of the head. Hold it in place with the forefinger, and with a downward push send it towards the earth, where it must stick with the point of the blade in the earth.

Throw #10

11-15. Hold the left hand with the fingers pointing up. Place the point of the knife on the tip of your thumb. Hold the knife in place with your right forefinger holding the handle like so:

With a downward motion with your right forefinger, throw the knife revolving through the air so that the knife point lands in the grass. Repeat this throw with the left index finger, the left middle finger, the left ring finger, and the left pinky.

16-20. Repeat what you did in throws 11-15, except reverse your hands.

21. Sit down with your knees up. Place the knife point on your right knee and hold it in place with your right forefinger. With a downward motion with your right forefinger, throw the knife revolving through the air so that the knife point lands in the grass.

22. Repeat with the left knee and left forefinger.

23. Hold the point of the blade between the first and second fingers and, holding the hand near the forehead, flip the knife back over the head, so that it sticks in the ground behind you. Like so:

Throw #23. Behind the back throw.

Basically, you’re doing a behind the back toss. Very tricky.

24. “Ploughing the field.” After the 23rd throw, leave the knife stuck in the ground. Then with the palm of the hand, strike the knife handle a smart blow that will send it revolving over the ground for a yard, more or less, and cause it to stick in the ground where it stops.

Ploughing the field

Winner gets mumbley peg bragging rights. Loser gets to chew on a stick.

Did you play mumbley peg growing up? Still play? Share your stories with us in the comments.

{ 114 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marky Mark June 7, 2011 at 1:35 am

Great article! Can’t wait to try it out with my boy, haha!

2 Andrew June 7, 2011 at 3:17 am

I was taught something like this by the head youth minister I was training under at church when I was ~17. Drawing from faint memories, this is the best I can recall:
The aim was to throw the knife as far away as possible, while still reaching it. You would stand facing each other with feet about shoulder width apart, then the first guy would throw his knife into the ground on one side and move his foot out to be against it and pull it out. The other guy would then throw his knife further away on the same side and put his foot against it and retrieve it. This would continue until someone either moved his other foot, couldn’t reach his knife, or touched the ground with something other than his feet.
As young guys in suburban Sydney (Australia) we thought this game was pretty cool.
We were told it was a lumberjack game.

3 David Y June 7, 2011 at 7:16 am

Boy does this bring back memories. We used to play mumbley peg when I was a kid. Our version was similar to the one shown, but not as elaborate. No specific set of throws, just more difficult each time. Players would be eliminated when they missed a throw. Winner was the last one to miss.

4 Phil E. June 7, 2011 at 7:27 am

I remember doing some of these tosses with my older brother back in the seventies. We were not even teenagers. I thought he was do cool. Now, after all these years, I know what we were doing. Thanks!

5 Tyler June 7, 2011 at 7:52 am

We used to play a variation of this when I was in Boy Scouts (late ’80′s); you’d scratch out a square on the ground, and throw the knife into the ground, drawing a line in the direction the blade ran, dividing the square. The next player would have to throw their knife into the larger part of the remaining area, which they would then divide by drawing a line in the direction their blade ran. Repeat, shrinking the area you could throw into each time. Loser is the first person to miss the target or have their knife not stick into the ground.

Probably a bit safer than throwing a knife towards your foot.

6 Chompa June 7, 2011 at 7:59 am

My dad told me about him and his brothers playing mumbly peg in the log cabin they grew up in. The thing is they were throwing the pocket knives to stick them in the ceiling. One of the knives came loose and lodged itself in the top of my uncle’s head and he apparently ran around screaming, “There’s a knife in my head!” til one of my grandparents pulled it out.

That uncle never was exactly right.

7 John June 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

The version we used to play was to stand opposite each other, and toss the knife at the other person’s foot, getting the knife to Stick into the ground as close to their foot without hitting them as possible. As the rounds progressed, your feet got closer and closer together, making it more and more dificult to not hit the other person’s foot.

8 Sigfus June 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

I remember playing the exact same version as Andrew here mentions above, and I come from the opposite side of the world (Iceland). I was taught this by a couple of my older cousins, where we spent summers at my great-grandparents farm in the West-fjords of Iceland. I also remember losing a couple of my knives doing this, when someone threw it too far into deep grass

9 Bill June 7, 2011 at 8:09 am

The way we played it in the 60s, two guys would face each other with their feet together, starting out. With your dominant hand, we would take turns trowing the knife as close to our foot as possible, then move the foot to the knife. The loser was the first to fall over from having to stretch so far to reach the knife.

10 roadbelow June 7, 2011 at 8:15 am

Andrew-That’s the version/game I remember growing up in WV. A different slant on it was to hit the ground as close to the outside of your throwing arm foot as you could and then move that foot to touch the knife before extracting it and repeating in turn so the more brave/dumb you were you wouldn’t have to move your foot much. The loser was the guy who moved the off-side foot first, couldn’t reach the knife, fell over, or bloodied his own foot. Another version was the same except you threw the knife at the other guys foot and tried to stretch him out. If you stuck it in between his feet he had to turn around and face away from you and continue at as close to the same stretch as when he was facing you as we could manage to tell. This could only be used once per game, not per person, and was considered a bit of a chump move/last resort but added to the fun of losing toes on the schoolyard. Thanks guys! I had forgotten all about this one.

11 roadbelow June 7, 2011 at 8:19 am

So from Australia to Appalachia to Iceland….the same game. I’m waiting for the group that played it with live chainsaws. Now THAT is manly. :)

12 Adam June 7, 2011 at 8:25 am

@raodbelow – ‘Manly’ and ‘stupid’ are not always synonymous.

13 George June 7, 2011 at 8:27 am

I can’t imagine a dumber game: both for the obvious safety reasons but also because it’s so ruinous for a knife. I have more respect for myself and my equipment than that.

14 Eric June 7, 2011 at 8:38 am

I am with George on this one guys. I would not throw my knife into the ground and I have seen first hand someones foot get stuck with a knife while playing this game. Crosses the line from brave to, well not so smart.

15 gcb June 7, 2011 at 8:40 am

Hmm, yeah, not really recommended unless you like sharpening your knife a lot – depending on the mineral content in the soil, you might just be taking your knife on a short trip to dullsville. A lot of “dirt” is actually tiny bits of quartz, which is harder than steel, and thus can ruin that edge you spent hours honing.

16 Ben June 7, 2011 at 8:47 am

@George get a cheap knife and loosen up a bit. Respect for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun now and again.

17 Ed June 7, 2011 at 8:50 am

When I was 13 and living in Canada, I ran with a group of guys in the neighborhood and we got in lot’s of trouble. But we had a great version of mumblety peg we used to play. We started out facing each other with feet together. The first person would throw the knife to make it stick in the ground blade first. If it stuck the other person had to stretch his legs until his foot was next to the knife. The rule was you couldn’t make the person stretch more than one or two feet at a time. It had to be reasonable and of course there was lots of disagreement. The loser was the one who could no longer stretch and reach the knife.

By the end of the summer, we had a long distance variation where we stood about 20 or 30 feet from each other and threw the knife to make each other stretch for it according to the rules above. That was the summer I got a knife stuck in my shin bone!!

18 Steve June 7, 2011 at 8:50 am

We used to play a version of this game with screwdrivers. I can’t recall the exact rules, but I know we used to throw it between each others’ legs standing up. I totally forgot about this pastime until you posted this article.

19 Tom Alegar June 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

I remember my uncle showing me how to play, until my mom freaked out.

20 Greg June 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

I’m sorta with George too. My first reaction was, I would never do that to my kershaw…all that dirt stuck in the knife? No thanks. That said, it still sounds fun and I’m gonna dig up an older knife to do it with!

21 John Eric June 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

That is a great article. Unfortunately, the first thing I thought was “Yeah, But how many guys would be willing to play Mumbley Peg with their Sebenza or Strider knives they EDC?” Then my second thought was “Would I be willing to play Mumbley Peg with my Spydercos?”

Most of the guys that I know who EDC a knife wouldn’t do this with our knives. I’m seriously wondering…Are we prima donnas? Are we too worried about our stuff? Are we using knives as merely manly fashion accessories instead of tools? Should I only be willing to carry a knife that I would play Mumbley Peg with? Why the change from what our fathers and grandfathers did?

This is probably making much more concerned than I need to be.

22 Dean Mehrkens June 7, 2011 at 9:21 am

I had done something similar with my boys last summer, only we used screwdrivers and just aimed at a leaf. I hadn’t thought of trying trick shots, and I sure the heck didn’t know it had a name. Looks like my afternoon just filled up. Now, to find a few extra knives…

23 2buttonswag June 7, 2011 at 9:23 am

See, just the other day I was on another blog and every picture had a pocket knife in it. i felt like the only man in the world that did not carry one. I spent the last week trying to figure out why I needed a pocket knife…and now I know why…for eating apples like a bad ass! So I am now going to carry 2 additional things with me every day. A pocket knife and an apple.

24 Stark June 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

@John Eric, great point.

My dad taught me a version of this game when I was a boy (late 70′s & early 80′s) , called it “splits”. We used knives or screwdrivers he had in the garage, sharp but not special, fancy knives. It was no big deal. Mom didn’t like it, Dad thought it was just kinda funny and nostalgic.

Great point about being overly sensitive about our “stuff”. If you don’t want to play this game, fine. Really not a big deal, minor moment in the symphony of life. If you’d rather not use your expensive, very fine knife for it- sure, makes sense. But a question: is that the only knife you have? Do we only buy and carry “fine” gear now? Remember a knife’s purpose is to cut, and maybe stab. Men have carried pocketknives for a long time, because they actually used them. Perhaps like John Eric, I don’t really get the fascination with having fine tools and gear but never putting them to use! And when you use something, it gets worn, dirty, etc. That’s actually normal. Not that the guy with the muddy truck, worn out knife, and ripped, dirty jeans is inherently more manly or more idyllic than the opposite, but let’s not lose focus on the practicality of manliness.

Quick further thoughts: I’ve long witnessed the glorification and fancification of knives in the law enforcement, military, and paramilitary communities. Too bad. KA-bars used to be just fine. Also recently heard a comedian joke about how people overdo the outdoor gear. Do I need a technical NorthFace jacket and Spyderco knife to go grocery shopping with my family? Probably not. Lastly, good gear is important, but also out to be practical and actually needed. I got in on some of the messenger bag contests on this site, but stopped when it started to feel like it was all just way too much emphasis on the savvy, fancy bags. We are supposed to be men, not dandies.

25 Chad Smith June 7, 2011 at 9:46 am

@Andrew, I thought my friends and I were the only ones to play it that way. This was when I was living in Halifax, and as I had been in Tae Kwon Do from the ago 5 no one really liked playing me, I could easily do the splits, so winning was’nt a problem! Dont know how I would do now, that’s for sure!!

26 Mr Maigo June 7, 2011 at 10:04 am

Try that with one of my knives and there’ll be blood, either from a failed trick shot or from my other knife after I see you do it. Probably both.

27 Ilija June 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

think a version i played was you stand face to face with your challenger with both of you having your feet shoulder width apart. you then throw the knife point first in to the ground. then you slide your right foot up the the knife. you keep going until your feet are together or until one of you chicken out. when your feet are together your keep dropping the knife in-between your feet. whoever gives up first loses.

28 Mark June 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

My brother and I used to get into big trouble for playing this game. My grandpa showed it to us.

29 pepe June 7, 2011 at 10:23 am

I´m from Valencia, in the East of Spain, only a few kilometer beside the Mediterranean sea. We use to play a similar game with pocket knifes, we name it “territory” in the field, you draw a square withe the knife, big enough to play, and one player throw in the knife from stand up position (with trick or without) and if he can stick it in the marked area he draw a line part to part of the square, starting in the place qhere the knife is, so the small part of the square belongs to him, everybody throws in his turn and in the end who has conquer more space wins. To decide who starts you can do a tricks competition.
Love the blog, and I´ve buy the book in spanish.

30 grouchybastid June 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

@John Eric: “Are we using knives as merely manly fashion accessories instead of tools?”

The answer would appear to be yes.

31 Cass June 7, 2011 at 10:35 am

We played a version in Iraq where all would stand in a circle and throw it as close to another foot as possible. We called it some variation of don’t be a B#$th.Not smart but fun, and we where all pretty good at it.

32 Steve June 7, 2011 at 10:48 am

This was a great game when i was a kid, and we played many versions of it. Most we just made up on the spot, and all of them would have freaked out our parents. One version involved 2 Coca-Cola glass bottles placed between each others legs, closest to the bottle without hitting it wins. The thing i liked best about the article was remembering why i carry my knife to this day. As a kid, and because of this game having your BSA knife with you was always the first thing you checked before leaving the house.

As for the sensitivity about our gear, I agree wholeheartedly with Stark….I was taught that “Stuff” is meant to be used, it was built with the intent to serve you. My knife is sharp because i keep it that way, and i have chucked it in the dirt plenty of times. “Taking care” of your gear to me means cleaning it, mending it, and keeping it useful. Not saving it for some magical day when you will need a pristine precision cutting tool to perform roadside surgery.

33 Theseus June 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

When I was a kid, we played a version of this with those dart guns with the rubber darts. We would run aneedle through the dart and aim at the other persons bare foot. You had to get as close as possible without sticking the dart into the other persons foot. If you moved your foot you automatically lost and had to take a dart to the foot. Not a smart game but it was fun.

34 John C June 7, 2011 at 11:07 am

I played a similar version to that referenced above where you try to make the other player do the splits by progressively sticking the knife farther from his foot. I played with my brother and father while growing up. We always played with several old butterknives my dad had in the garage for digging/cutting dandelion roots. That always seemed to make the arduous task of cutting dandelions a little more enjoyable!

35 2buttonswag June 7, 2011 at 11:30 am

@grouchybastid

I feel the same exact way. I can’t remember the last time I had a spur of the moment package dropped off to me at some random location and thought “CRAP! I don’t have a knife to open this incredibly tough tape and cardboard box!”. Now, twine, I can see, but if I was going to be doing something that required the cutting of twine, I would know to have a knife, or I’m sure there would be one nearby. The only thing I could really give a nod to would be protection, but personally, I think defending myself with a car key would be much cooler if the story showed up in the local paper. That being said….fashion statement it is.

Using it to shave was left out though….definitely more bad ass than eating an apple.

36 Grant June 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

@Andrew

That’s more of the variation I was taught. We played it mostly in Boy Scouts, but otherwise generally any time we were out in the woods backpacking and had nothing else to do around a campfire. We called it ‘stretch’ though.

Standing feet shoulder width apart, facing each other about 6-8 feet away from each other, you throw the knife away from your opponent in line with his/her feet. They much then put their foot where the knife sticks in the ground (if it doesn’t stick, it doesn’t count, naturally.). This repeats until one of the two cannot stretch far enough to reach where the knife stuck or when someone moves a foot. You can throw to either side of your opponent. It works best with a fixed-blade knife. If you’re too much of a ninny to use your knife in such fashion (obviously not great for the sharpness of your knives), a machete works as well, and can potentially be trickier to stick into the ground without a sharp point.

37 2buttonswag June 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Dangerous = Manly without a doubt!

My variation that I played was blindfolded, sitting down, and the object was to aim for the empty space on the chair in front of the crotch. The knife was also soaked in gas and lit on fire prior to each throw. The individuals playing would soak their clothes in kerosene the night before, and each chair was strategically placed on top of an ant hill. This caused a lot of squirming and made the game more interesting.

38 Ernie June 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

In the 50′s I played the same version as John and Llija where you keep moving your foot in until someone chickens out or sticks their knife in your foot. We also played the follow the leader version but it was always more fun to throw your knife at someone elses feet.

39 Harry June 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

This is very dangerous, and now banned by the Boy Scouts. It’s also a really dumb idea in the sense that you will ruin the edge of the blade and, if it’s a folding knife, get dirt in the pivot so it doesn’t open smooth any more. There is taking a calculated risk, there is showing bravery, and there is stupid. This is the latter.

40 Tim June 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I also played this in the Boy Scouts, and it is a shame that it isn’t allowed any more, because there is nothing more fun than sticking knives, axes or tomahawks. By the way, you always have a committed mumbley peg knife that was somewhat dull, not the one you would use for cutting and food prep. I was playing mumbley peg one time when I was in the Army, when the Sargent Major walked up, watching us play. He then asked me if I remembered the “Daniel Boone” show, I told he, I did. He then asked if I remember the part at the beginning when, Daniel Boone through the axe that split the tree in half. Once again I told him, I did. He asked if I could split a tree with my Big Ass Knife like that? I told him, No Sergeant Major I can’t. He the said to me, ” Until you can split a tree like Daniel Boone put the F’n Knife away, which I promptly did. No one messed with SMG Brown, you see he was one of our many Vietnam Vets, member of the Ranger Company and we all looked on those guys in like the bad asses they were.

41 Josh June 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm

When I was a kid I played a version of this involving a swing. We had a tire-swing outside my house that would swing right up next to, but never touch, a big hill on our property. We would get on the swing with a knife, swing up against the hill and try to stick the knife as high up on the hill as we could. The hardest part was that the next person had to pull the knife back out of the hill mid swing and then try and stick it back in again higher up before they swung back too far. It’s kind of amazing no one ever got hurt.

42 Scott June 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Thanks so much for posting this. I remember playing mum-the-peg with older boys when I was little. As I got older I could never remember the rules, whenever I asked people about it they looked at me like I had made it up – for a while I thought it must of just been a game local to south Alabama. Great to see the rules and great to have proof that I didn’t make this up.
Of course when I suggest that children play with knives I also get strange looks and am usually reminded of some zero tolerance policy towards “weapons”.

43 Tyler June 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Bad advice. Kids and little teenagers could be reading this and decide to start carrying a pocket knife everywhere they go (that includes school) and as soon as some accidents happen, they become the first and most suspicious suspect and cops are all over them. We don’t live in the wild west anymore, you can’t just carry a pocket knife with you and not look suspicious. Maybe a little rewording would be good Artofmanlinesss…

44 Joe June 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I remember doing something like this as a little boy, only with one of my Dad’s screwdrivers. The last time I did it was when I missed the ground and it went through the top of my shoe. Fortunately it only nicked my toe and my Dad didn’t kill me.

45 Dave H June 8, 2011 at 12:22 am

I’m 52 years old, and we played the chicken version of mumbly peg during our Jr. High School recesses (like the version described above by Ilija). I remember one kid ended up getting stabbed in the foot (I think I may have been the thrower…) No big deal was made out of it by the teachers, although he did get bandaged up. We also played a version where we would (starting with our shoes touching each other) stick the knife about six inches from the other person’s foot to the outside of the foot, then the opponent would have to move his foot to the knife’s position. Turns alternated until someone couldn’t reach the knife doing the splits and fell over, losing the round. I’m still bothered by the fact that it is a cardinal sin for a kid to bring a knife onto school grounds. It was all a part of growing up for us.

46 Charles June 8, 2011 at 6:01 am

You said: “Mumbley peg wasn’t just popular with boys. Men played the game, too. Cowboys would often circle around the campfire after a night of calf wrestling and play a few rounds of mumbley peg. ”

I’d like to hear more about the manly art of night-time “calf” wresting.

47 David Martin June 8, 2011 at 7:10 am

I’m glad to see someone strike a blow for the trusty old pocket knife in the midst of our fear-based society. Mine has come in handy lots of times, but it has also caused problems for me that it would not have 20 years ago, especially living and working in the Washington, DC, area as I do. Twice I have had to hide it outside the Library of Congress before I could get inside to do research. I guess you could say that I’m a slow learner, but the circumstances were quite different. In the first instance I was stretching my lunch hour and I had absent-mindedly slipped my tomato-slicing knife into my pocket instead of back into the drawer where I keep it. In the other case it was a weekend and it was a key-chain knife, the one I have attached to the car keys. That is the same one I had to mail back to myself for $20 in order to get on an airplane recently and the same one that prevented me from seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. I didn’t see any good hiding places around there, and they didn’t offer the mail-back option.

48 Mick June 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

I used to play this game, except with a fixed blade knife and we used to try and get as close to our partners foot as possible, not our own. I was never overly concerned about the edge of my knife getting dull, as it was never (and still isn’t) a problem for me to put a keen edge back on the blade. I was also pretty damn good at hitting my mark with a knife throw back then too, I would need to get that target practise back up to par before I tried this game with any confidence again. I used to practice by throwing at things like leaves and bits of bark on the ground (no set distances, guaged the throw by eye) that I had to make smaller and smaller as I improved my throws. My mates used to practise in the same way.

49 daf June 8, 2011 at 8:22 am

We used to play a version in scouts, but with sheath knives. Player one stands on a log, player two tosses a large knife at player one’s feet, aiming to stick said knife in the log, as close to player one’s foot as possible. We all wore stout leather boots, but on one memorable occasion the knife got stuck in the lad’s shin.
This was the 80s, the days before knife crime was daily headline news, and we learnt how to safely carry and use a fixed blade knife. And then chose to ignore that training by chucking large knives at each other. Never mind.

50 Mike June 8, 2011 at 9:02 am

Growing up in Kansas in the Fifties we called the game “Stretch ‘Em.” I’d never heard of the loser having to pull a peg with his teeth. That sounds kind of nasty. We didn’t worry about dulling our knives, but we knew a bit about germs back then.

51 Don E. Chute June 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

I loved Mumbley Peg as a kid and carried a pocket knife where-ever I went. Course I also loved Dodge Ball…I guess I’m just a sick freak!

Great post.
Aloha From Sunny South Florida!

52 Peter Hefner June 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

We played a much simpler version called “mumbledy peg”. I vaguely recall another pocket knife game, called “land”, in which areas within a smooth dirt circle of 3-4 feet were carved off by throwing and sticking the knife in the circle.

53 James June 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

My god, if I tried #10 with my knife, I’d need stitches!

54 Howard Parks June 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm

My brothers and I played this as kids. Our source for the different tricks, complete with their names, was a great book called “How to Do Nothing with Nobody, All Alone by Yourself” by Robert Paul Smith. We had more fun with the handkerchief blackjack, tho.

55 Paul June 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm

A version of this is in the original “Scouting for Boys” manual from 1910. We weren’t allowed to play with knives in scouts (yeah I’m much younger than a lot of you), so we’d use a screwdriver. Another screwdriver game we’d play was called stretch.

56 Alex M June 8, 2011 at 5:46 pm

I use my pocket knife daily. Its just a cheap buck folding jobby, a canoe. I think it cost me about £30, so its by no means an expensive blade, it is my EDC.The smaller pen knife blade, I use it upwards of 20 times a day in my work, (not bad for a 4 hour per day part time job in a phone shop.) The spear blade I use for those manly cutting fruit moments. I like to keep that one sharp, not dulled by plastic packets, packing tape, and cardboard boxes.

So thats how I use my cheap beater knife. That said, There’s no damn way I’d use it for balancing on my knee and flicking it off, or throwing it into dirt. Thats what a rusty garage knife is for, not the knife I put in my pocket and rely on everyday! I liked the article, a nice read, and I liked John Erics comment of are we prima doonas with our stuff? I think maybe I am. But my knife has a purpose, and that purpose is not being thrown randomly into dirt!

For a fun distraction, I always carry dice. Dice are an overlooked manly staple. kids have as much fun playing poker dice as adults do.

57 Don June 8, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I played this a few times when I was a little kid no more than 5 or 6. And though we called it mumbley peg, it was really just sitting on the grass under a shade tree and sticking our knives in the ground.

One day I was just leaning on my hand watching when one of the kids managed to stick my hand. I ran screaming for Mom, sure I was dying because, well, I’d just been stabbed!, while my friends scattered in every direction. Mom was running water over the little puncture when suddenly her ears overflowed with my screaming and she slapped me hard across the face. And immediately I understood. It really didn’t even hurt. I’ve got the little scar to this day :)

58 Craig June 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm

We played a version but we called it “Stretch”. You throw your knife towards your opponent’s feet – about 3 feet away was the maximum allowed. The opponent then had to widen out his stance to where your knife stuck in the ground. He would then throw at you so you would have to widen out. The first one who fell over lost.

59 david June 8, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Whenever I think of mumbley-peg I think of the teenager on our block (kind of a Fonzie type) who impressed all us 10-year-olds by sticking the knife between his big and second toes. Cool! :-)

So–all the overprotective BS started in the ’70′s, eh? I’ve been wondering. A few years back I made a pilgrimage to the area I grew up in. It was winter, and it snows a lot there. For four weeks I saw NOT ONE SINGLE KID OUT PLAYING IN THE SNOW. This is more than strange, it’s bizarre. I think we ought to just blow it all up and start over.

60 brian June 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

Love the idea, but the reality is simple if I were to let my boys get back into carrying a knife (even a small pocket knife) in their pocket inevitably it would make it’s way to school at which point the kid would be suspended, I would be called and possibly a report would be sent to child protective services.

I kinda like davids thought of blow it all up and start over, but where I am we still play in the snow, hike in the mountains – only now dad (me) carries the knife and teaches the kids to use it respectfully when they are old enough that they may be allowed to head out hiking on their own..

Maybe I don’t have the nostalgia for the practice of carrying a knife having been born mid 70′s, although my brother and I did on camping trips, the simple fact is that sending your kids around with a pocket knife will get him labeled either as a bad ass, or as the loser with the potential to go all Columbine. At least in my day when I did get caught sneaking my knife to school to show off, they just took it away, and gave it back at the end of the day telling you to not bring it again.

Hell the more I think on this the more frustrated I get – I can only imagine what the other parents think who see my kids playing with the old school lawn darts (with the pointed metal tips) nowadays you can only find lawn darts with stupid bean bags on the nose.

61 BR June 9, 2011 at 8:54 am

I started carrying a pocketknife in my youth and now thirty years later I still carry one. Albeit a much nice and somewhat more expensive one than my teen counterpart could afford. It does not matter if I am in formal wear, casual wear, fatigues or dress blues; I have my trusty pocketknife on hand. Thing that gets me is how whenever someone sees it they ask in a shocked, almost horrified voice, “why are you carrying a knife”. I even get it from some of my military counterparts. Everyone questions its existence until they need it. Then they ask in a humbled voice “Can I borrow your knife?”

62 RR June 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

“Tyler June 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm
Bad advice. Kids and little teenagers could be reading this and decide to start carrying a pocket knife everywhere they go (that includes school) and as soon as some accidents happen, they become the first and most suspicious suspect and cops are all over them.”

Really? Its people with that attitude who cause the overblown reaction your so worried about. This society is becoming so concerned with protecting ourselves from every conceivable danger that people like you are sucking the life out of… well life. If you don’t like the behavior don’t do it. I for one will be buying my nephews pocketknives ASAP and teaching them this game, the same one I played as a kid and when no one thought it was unusual. By the way, is that dress your wearing comfortable?

63 Kait June 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Needless to say, I will be grabbing my knife and sprinting into my yard to try this ASAP.

64 Clay June 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I can tell you all, as a Cub Scout leader, this would NEVER fly today. Cubs, in order to EARN the privilege of carrying a pocketknife, must take the Pocketknife Pledge. One of the lines is “I promise to never throw my pocketknife for any reason.” I don’t want to seem like a killjoy, but this game is irresponsible, damned stupid, and a great way to get hurt. Being manly doesn’t require oneself to remove a toe. Just my two cents. . . .

65 Levi June 9, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I’ve already started practicing. Toes be danged!

66 Levi June 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I’ll give it to them, though, the knives do come off as scary in a post-911 world. When boxcutters (which, for the record, I still can’t successfully change a blade in and still get use out of them) can take down a plane, pocketknives are mini-machine guns. I took out my pocketknife in a college class once and people tensed up noticeably. I was just trying to take care of a rogue fingernail, and people nearly lost it.

67 Tyler S June 10, 2011 at 7:14 am

@RR, look, it’s called parenting. Kids need to be taught responsibility. The sight is also called “The Art of Manliness.” Kids are not men and by no means should be carrying knives unless they are responsible. Parent the kids, teach them responsibility, and carrying pocket knives, and not bringing them to school won’t be an issue.

Someone who is reckless and has no idea what responsibility is has no reason to be doing such things. Great post though, and it is a great game that everyone should try. Play it with your son first, strengthen bonds, and use this game as a way of teaching responsibility…problem solved.

68 Jim Peplinski June 12, 2011 at 12:45 am

WOW! Thank you for the memory shock! Growing up on a farm in the 50′s this was one of our favorite pastime games. I can’t believe that I had forgotten about mumbley-pegs, considering that I and a few other friends had been stuck more than once!
Great Job and thanks again!

69 Stephen June 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You know, I can actually see why you might ban that game.

70 Fred June 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

In my neighborhood we played the version where you try to get it closest to the other guys foot, and also the version Craig mentioned called “Stretch”.

Needless to say, It all ended in our neighborhood when one of the kids took it upon himself to take one of his dad’s fishing Bowie knives, and well, he nailed the runt of our pack right in the foot, and sent him to the hospital. He was a really good aim, so perhaps it was some warning shot. No one else wanted to loose any toes so that was that.

We all still carried pocket knives, but no one flung them around anymore after that.

71 matwhited June 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

hey i like you guys… im only seventeen but you all have the right idea about how things are done

72 Thomas June 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

The reports of injuries in the comments from the other readers who played the game – come on ! There’s nothing manly about fiddling with a blade and at some point cutting the other “player”, especially if the players are children. Sure, it reminds us of many other, interesting, things man do to one another, and in that sense, maybe, well, it just might be. Manly.

As for the father-son bonding : guys, you do the explaining to mum (and in some countries: the law) why you thought it clever to bond with your son “by blade” when you have cut him in the foot.
I dare you to post that explanation on youtube.
Now THAT surely would be. Manly.

73 Aaron E. Umberson June 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm

It’s all about developing boundaries. My son is 1 1/2. I’d love to teach him to play this game when he’s older, but not until, by my estimation, he’s mature enough to handle the responsibility of a knife. This game seems like one of the fun pasttimes that need to not die with this generations overprotectiveness.

74 Brucifer June 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I’ve carried a pocketknife well, literally ever since I’ve been old enough to have pockets! Like BR, I even have a thin, sleek “full dress” knife I wear with suits and my tux. Funny how some folks can sense ‘something’ about one though. Last year, I was escorting a lovely lass half my age to the Opera. Our first date, mind you. At intermission, she says to me, “Lend me your pocketknife, I’ve a loose thread on my dress I need to cut off.” I surreptitiously retrieved the knife from a tux pocket and placed in in her gloved hand, and she went off to the Lady’s Room to remedy. I had neither shown nor told her of the knife, she just *knew* I’d be to sort of chap to have one at ALL times.

But yes, Clay. These games would NEVER fly in today’s Scouting, mere Cubs or even older scouts. Perhaps it is this, that is contributory to why the scouting movement has lost so much appeal these days, alas.

75 Steve June 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I never realized until just now how bad our society has slipped sideways. I’m 43, and grew up with knives, playing mumbley-peg, and whittling. I spent my adult life in the military where I carried two or more knives to work everyday. I can’t believe all the men that are complaining about how dangerous or stupid this type of activity is. Maybe the fact that my father, and my friends’ fathers’, taught us to be careful and to respect the dangers of a knife as well as their utility is the difference. Maybe more fathers need to step up and teach their sons to be men. Of course, maybe more fathers today need to become men first themselves .

76 Steve June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Oh, and by the way…I’ve never known anyone who was seriously (or even minorly) hurt playing mubley peg or whittling. It’s a tool like a hammer or any other.

77 Corvus June 22, 2011 at 10:19 am

As a kid we played it a little differently. I can’t remember what we called it either, but growing up in South Africa I never heard of the name mumbley-peg.

Here’s how we did it:
1. The players stand facing each other about a metre apart. Feet together.
2. Players throw the knife at their opponent’s feet. Yes!
3. If you actually hit your buddy’s foot, the throw doesn’t count. (Which is an incentive to not actually hit his foot).
4. If the knife doesn’t stick, the throw also doesn’t count (Obviously).
5. If the knife lands further than a hands-length away from your buddy’s foot, the throw doesn’t count.
6. Where your knife sticks, your buddy must place his foot so that the outer sole of his shoe touches the knife.
7. If the throw doesn’t count, your buddy needn’t move his foot.
8. Jerking your foot away from the incoming knife results in a penalty. (see below)

So, basically you need to get the knife as far as possible away from your buddy’s foot, but within a hands length and then the game works a bit like twister. Successful throws mean your feet move further and further apart. It becomes tricky because the more your legs stretch balance and throwing becomes challlenging. Your worst opponent is someone who is an accurate thrower and can do the splits, basically.

The first one to either lose balance and touch the ground with their hands, or fail to stretch far enough to reach the knife, loses the game. Moving a foot while your buddy throws, outomatically means you must move your foot a full hands distance (penalty). So, pretending your going to hit the guy’s foot, or throwing aggressively can be very strategic. :)

This is a rather dangerous version of the game so use lightweight knifes and thick shoes. Kombat knifes and sandals are a serious no-no.

Oh, and if your opponent really sucks at throwing knifes, ninja stars work well and offer a bit of a handicap.

78 Brandon June 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Kids are supposed to get hurt and eat dirt. That’s how they grow. That’s how they learn. Burn your hand sanitizer and your participation trophies. Be a dad and teach your kid. They’re going to do this kind of stuff with or without you.

79 Doug June 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I remember playing this as a kid with my dad and my little brothers when we went camping. And i also played this as recently as a couple of years ago when i was in the Marine Corps infantry to pass some of the time.

80 Nick June 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

It’s really good to see that there is some resistance still left to the politically correct mimsy world we’ve to live in.
I used to play this game in my room with my friends, using darts until I hit one of them in the hand (yeah, I know that IS bad aim!). It was taken as a mistake by my parents and the parents of my friend, and I was asked to discontinue the game. I did. But I had learned a lot about mistakes, the agony of waiting for the reaction, the desire to be able to change the past…. etc. It’s called growing up.

81 Noelle June 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I’m a girl but my sister and I used to play Mumbley Peg, our Mom taught us!

82 Frank M. September 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm

63 year old guy…

I’ve carried a pocketknife in my pocket for the past 56 years, my 3-1/4″ 3-blade stock knife for everyday use, and my smaller 3-blade stock knife for church and weddings.

I clean fish and open potato chips with the same blade I scrape tar from my bumper with.

If you’re afraid to use your knife or get it dirty, leave it home on the bureau… You wouldn’t want to spill your latte on it now, would you?

It’s a tool – Not a showpiece!
Get over it and have a little fun… Just be sure where the band-aids are kept.

83 Maureen October 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm

When I was growing up mumblety peg was also played by girls.

84 Tom October 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I used to play this game with my dad with another little twist. Forgive me if I’m repeating something somebody’s already said, but at this late stage in the thread I’m not going to read EVERY post. Anyway, we would start by sitting in a chair and holding our hand out palm-up. Then we would close every finger but our index finger of our left hand and placing the tip of the blade on the tip of the finger. Then with our right index finger on the end of the handle we would flick it into the ground. And so it would continue through all fingers, the elbows, the shoulders and eventually the top of the head. The loser would have to pull the peg out with his teeth but here’s the twist: it was usually sunk into a pile of dog poop or something else disgusting. My dad was easy on me, it was usually just mud or deep grass. Where he grew up in Texas it was usually a cow patty. Ah, the good ol’ days!

85 Colburn October 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm

throws 10-20 would cut me to ribbons if I played with my pocket knife. What a terrible game. I like to carry a sharp knife. After all, what good is a dull knife but to play mumbley peg. I will not be joining you folks, I will be vindicated when you ask to borrow my knife because you cant cut anything with your own knife.

86 Bo the Iceman November 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Just FYI fellow scouts and manly men….about 6 years ago I took a group of scouts to Boundary Waters for two weeks. The last day, we screwed up and had to sit for 8 hours, waiting for check in time. My boys were very bored and to amuse them, I taught them all three games discussed here. Mumbly peg, like some basketball games, where each guy tries to do a certain special flip/throw correctly and move on the the next throw…fingers, head, shoulder, etc. Then we did “Stretch”…where you start with feet together and make opponent stretch foot to correct throw. And finally, Chicken…where you start with feet apart and make throw between feet and slide foot in…til one chickens out. My boys were amazed (they were 15-17 and I was 50′s) that they could be amused for hours with just a pocket knife…..and I trust that someday, they will teach their kids.

87 Debbie Wade December 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

For some reason I mentioned Mumbly Peg to my niece who had never heard of it. It’s been 40 years since I played it with my Dad so I had to look up the rules (that’s how I ended up here), but it all came back. When you grew up in the country, that’s the kind of stuff you did. I was probably 5 or 6 when I first played it but I didn’t get hurt. My dad taught me how to handle a knife (and a gun by the way) and to always be careful. Of course I was driving a tractor by then too, something people wouldn’t dream of today. I think we treat our kids like babies and never give them any responsibilities and that’s why kids have nothing to do today except computer games and tv. I had the BEST childhood, playing Daniel Boone with my dog (who was pretending to be Mingo, by the way) and I was carrying a bb gun and a mother of pearl handled hunting knife. Never got hurt, never hurt anyone or anything else….that’s responsibility.

88 j sawyer December 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm

19th century and first half of the 20th….suites me fine. my last game was around 1955 when i was 13 yrs old. we played the game where you tried to stretch the other guy out until he fell over or failed to stick his knife….burying the peg for the loser to dig out with his teeth sounds like a fitting reward for superior skill, but i missed out on it probably because i was from southern california, and we were just biginning to temper our fun with rules like…..” no bloody feet.or septic mouthfulls of carefully chosen turf “……cheated again ! ….over the last 2 days i have asked a half dozen people of various ages if they have ever heard of the game and have had no takers which led me too this very enjoyable bit of history THANK YOU!

89 j sawyer December 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

this is a really fun website. i enjoyed reading many of the comments that were offered. THANKS !

90 Len H January 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Growing up in the 30′s as I did, kids had to amuse themselves with games of this type as there were no other forms of intertainment other than what you created yourselves.We had no formal rules other than you had to match all of the throws made by the first player in order to procede.I never know how wide spread ,and how many different forms of the game there were until I came accross this page.Many an hour was spent playing this game. .We never threw the knifes at other people nor was there a peg to pull out of the ground or other places.
we just made up the hardest throws to match. There wereother games we played . ,Lame duck which was a game played by hopping on one leg from one point to another without the other leg touching the ground.If it did the rest of the guys playing could whip you with a belt until you made it to the finish line,not a game for the tender skinned.Many other activities that were germane to the 30′s kept us busy.

91 Spike February 9, 2013 at 6:41 am

We played this game all thru school in the 50′s and then in Vietnam in the 60′s. In school we used an EDC pocket knife and in Nam we used our K-bar. As I remember the rules we would stand facing each other about 4 or 5 feet apart and take turns throwing the knife to the outside of our own feet. The game would continue until one could not make the stretch or touched the ground with his hand or backside. The closer you could throw to your own foot meant the less you had to stretch, so every so often you might hit your own foot. I don’t recall any serious injuries. It was a great way to pass the time.
I would also comment that today I work for a govt. agency and it is against the rules to carry anything but a so called safety knife yet, everyone is always asking those few who ignore the rule if they can borrow their pocket knife.
Enjoyed reading this article and the comments.

92 Brad February 11, 2013 at 11:26 am

We played it all summer long (1948) and used the awl blade of my Scout Knife. The originally sharp awl point got rounded nicely but still stuck in the ground easily. We all got so skilled at around the horn that the last throw – plowing the ground – was the usual decider. We never had anyone pull a rod out of the ground with their teeth.

93 Wasim March 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm

So, people were so bored in the old days that they would throw knive at their feet and hope they don’t get an infection?

94 Michael Kenny March 18, 2013 at 9:23 am

The version we played was a might bit different. Two players would stand facing each other, feet shoulder width apart. The first player would throw his knife, point first into the ground, between his opponent’s feet. His opponent would then move one of his feet until it was touching the knife, shortening the distance between his feet and shrinking the target area. Game play would continue like this, each player alternating steadily decreasing the target area between their opponent’s feet until…bloodshed or ‘chicken.’

95 J Barnes March 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

An acquaintance of mine who carried a knife religiously once said “Oh, I don’t use this knife”. My thoughtful reply was “huh”, cocking my head to the right like a dog in wonderment. Apparently his knife was only to be used as a secondary lint collector.

96 S Powell March 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

I grew up in a camp full of tree planters and the guys used to play a version with shovels. They’d toss ‘em as high as they could, the winner being the one who got it to rotate the most times before sticking in the ground. My dad cut the handle down on one so I could play too, but at 10 years old I could only heft it far enough up to get one circle and I never did get very good at the sticking in the ground part.

97 Barry March 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm

As kids in the early 1950s in the far west Chicago suburbs, we played this game at school during recess. Most of us had hightops with a knife pocket in the side of the boot to put your knife. we either had a Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers pocket knife. No one ever got hurt playing that I remember. We were all in 3rd or 4th grade. I’m certainly glad I’m not a kid today. No cap guns, pocket knives or outdoor fun like we had. The best part was that we never even thought of doing any harm to ourselves or others.

98 AD Graves April 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

I remember my older cousin and I playing this when I was around 9 or 10. We used his dad’s pocket knife, my dad didn’t let me near his knife without supervision. One day, my cousin lodged the knife right in his foot. Never played it again after that! Uncle got into a lot of trouble from my dad. Maybe it’s a good idea that this game isn’t often played.

99 Spencer Allen April 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Ive played another version where the players begin with their feet together, about 5 or 6 feet apart. The object here is to throw the knife so that it sticks in the ground within a knifes distance from the outside edge of the other players foot. Once the knife is stuck into the ground, the non throwing player has to move his foot out so that it touches the edge of the knife. This is repeated until the player can extend his legs no farther. If the opponent throws the knife so that it sticks in the ground between the other players feet, the non throwing player has to turn his back to his opponent, and make his subsequent throws that way

100 Jack Kardic April 15, 2013 at 7:13 am

I’ve carried a knife every day since fourth or fifth grade, including to school. I never had any problems with it because I didn’t behave like a jackass. My school had a zero tolerance policy, but on the few occasions it left my pocket, it proved incredibly useful and nobody, teachers included, reacted negatively. I’m from a fairly rural area, and nearly all the boys and some of the girls carried knives or multitools regularly. I was involved in several fistfights, and witnesses many more, and not once did anyone decide to use one of those knives violently. It goes to show that violence and crime follow population density, not weapon density.

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