Bagatelle

Bagatelle

[bag-uh-tel]
Bagatelle (from the Château de Bagatelle) is an indoor table game related to billiards, the object of which is to get a number of balls (set at nine in the nineteenth century) past pins (which act as obstacles) into holes. It probably developed from the table made with raised sides for trou madame, which was also played with ivory balls (Gloag 1969 illustrates a London design that was current in 1782) and continued popular into the later nineteenth century. Bagatelle is a precursor of the pinball machine (which is also descended from pachinko), and laterally related to miniature golf.

The game bagatelle evolved from efforts to bring outdoor games, such as croquet and shuffleboard, inside and atop tables. History records the existence of table-based games back to the 15th Century, and a 17th-century table is preserved in the Great Hall at Hatfield House. While some games took the wickets croquet and turned them into the side-rail pockets of modern pocket billiards, some tables became smaller and had the holes placed in strategic areas in the middle of the table.

In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, someone took a billiard table and narrowed it, placing the pins at one end of the table while making the player shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end. Pins took too long to reset when knocked down, so the pins eventually became fixed to the table and holes took the place of targets. Players could ricochet the ball off the pins to achieve the harder, higher-scoring holes.

In 1777 a party was thrown in honor of the Louis XVI and the Queen at the Château de Bagatelle, recently erected at great expense by the king's brother, the Count of Artois. Bagatelle from Italian bagattella, signifies a trifle, a decorative thing. The highlight of the party was a new table game featuring the slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield. The table game was dubbed "Bagatelle" by the Count and shortly after swept through France.

"Bagatelle" in this sense made its debut in English in 1819 (OED), its dimensions soon standardised at 7 feet by 21 inches (GLoag 1969). Bagatelle spread and became so popular in America as well that a political cartoon from 1863 depicts President Abraham Lincoln playing a tabletop bagatelle game.

The Price Is Right TV gameshow sub-game "Plinko", although its name might suggest that it was based on pachinko, bears more resemblance to bagatelle.

See also

References

  • John Gloag, 1969. A Short Dictionary of Furniture, "Troumadam" (London: Allen & Unwin)

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