“May I ask you a silly question?” said Martha to the shop assistant.

“Of course, Madam. I am at your service.”

Martha relaxed. “Ok then. Why do some people call a dice a die?”

Die is singular, Madam, and dice is plural.”

“Ah!” she said involuntarily. “That solves the mystery. Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” He waited for a further question; when there wasn’t one, he busied himself with arranging figures in a minutely-detailed miniature castle.

Martha realized she had another question. “Excuse me.” The assistant half-turned and looked up. “Is the word for this….er, gambling device,” she flashed a smile, “related to the word for a…. metal mould?” She looked unsure of herself. “The one you use to make models; you know, when they say something is die-cast.”

“I’m sure that it is, Madam. Do you have an interest in models?”

“Not really,” said Martha. “But my brothers used to play fantasy games. I remember their ugly little monsters; they used to scare me.”

“There’s no need to be scared, Madam.” The assistant smiled kindly. “It’s only a game, after all.”

She also wanted to ask if die and dice were related to the word for the end of life, but felt embarrassed. All she wanted was an ordinary die to replace her lost one, so she could play Snakes and Ladders with her husband. Their bedroom routine had been disrupted. Most nights they played quick games of Snakes and Ladders, Chess, Ludo, and Strip-Poker; took all of their clothes off and then put on their pyjamas. On Saturday nights they kept their clothes off. She hadn’t got pregnant in eight years yet. Her husband had given up, but she felt that there was no harm in still trying.

Martha looked at the display case and said, “Could you please tell me about the different dice?”

“Certainly Madam.” The assistant opened the case. “These ones are common Western dice. See how their spots are widely spaced out? These Asian dice are smaller and rounder; their spots are closer together; notice how the ‘one’ and ‘four’ are coloured red for good luck. These clear ones are casino dice. Their markings are drilled, rather than moulded, then filled with similar density paint – so differing number of spots will not affect their performance – then polished and given serial numbers.” He threw the casino dice and scored double-six.

He pointed to some others. “Now these ones you may know already,” Martha nodded. “Role Playing Game dice with ten, twenty, and one hundred sides.” She hadn’t seen the latter before; the assistant passed it to her and said, “It is called a Zocchihedron.”

He indicated what appeared to be mathematical and biological models. “These Platonic dice are collectors’ items; each has a different number of sides. These talus bones from Sudan are the original form of dice used in ancient societies. This set of three, twelve-sided dice – used for astrology – are printed with planets, lunar nodes, and astrological houses. And this single-sided die is a joke die; nothing but a sphere with the number one.”

Martha had never seen so many; she was dazzled by the dice. Knowing their purposes enhanced her fascination, but something was bugging her. This huge variety of dice had one thing in common: their outcome was random. If that was the case then what was the point? She said “Is there any kind of die which is not random?”

The assistant gave her a severe look and said, “There are many kinds of loaded dice – mercury tappers, those with melting resins, and electromagnetic kits – but this is a reputable establishment, Madam. We do not carry any of those.”

“Oh,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to break the bank of Monte Carlo. I was just curious.” She looked around the store and eventually returned to the dice counter. “Ok, I’d better get what I came in for. Just an ordinary dice please, for Snakes and Ladders.”

“An ordinary die?” He reminded her of her grammatical error. “I’m afraid there is no such thing Madam.”

“I mean that one there with six sides, and one to six spots.”

“That is a die, indeed,” he said. “But it is not an ordinary one.”

“What do you mean?” said Martha.

“Madam, every style of die has its own magic. I wasn’t entirely honest with you earlier when you asked about non-random dice. Just take a look at this Western die. See how the spots are arranged? That’s right, numbers on opposite sides always add to seven. That’s because of its internal vertex, where all possible outcomes merge, and are then manifested according to the moment’s needs. There is in truth no randomness in dice.” He stared at her intensely. “Don’t you imagine that Indian and Greek gods, Biblical prophets, and medieval knights used them for a reason? Your Snakes and Ladders, by way of example, is an ancient game revealing the journey of life; each ladder is a virtue and each snake is a vice; which your soul must experience, and learn from, on its royal road to perfection. The outcome of every game is known. The die merely starts the action.”

Martha fingered the dice nervously. He continued, “Take this die as a gift from us, Madam. Use it to play Snakes and Ladders tonight. You may be surprised at the outcome. I think you know already. We look forward to you returning soon to purchase some children’s games.”


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