How to roll a die?
Traditional dice are made in the shape of a cube with 6 faces, often with rounded corners and edges. Each face is square and contains a different number of dots. Each side is equal in size, and each corner is the meeting place of three faces. Technically, a die could be referred to as a square prism.
When there is more than one, they are called dice, but a single one is called a die. In more recent times, a single article has become known as “a dice”, but that can be viewed as grammatically incorrect.
The name comes from the Latin word “datum”, meaning “something given or played”. This became the old French word “de”, which led to the Middle English word “die”. To dice something means to cut it into cubes, making it a similar shape to the 6-sided die we are all familiar with.
Dice with other numbers of sides are available, but the 6-sided die is the one we know best. Most often when playing games, each side of the die represents a different value. However, in some games, the sides on the dice may have other meanings. For example, in the game Ludo, there is a globe and a star instead of a value. Other games have different colors on different faces, and so on.
Die throws allow an element of chance and randomness to enter a game. As dice have equal sized faces, the number they show after landing should be completely random. If a die is weighted to heavily on one side, then one number is more prone to come up than any other. It has been known for people to cheat by using this method, which has led to the phrase “weighting the die” to mean setting something up to be in your favor.
In some games, the number you score allows you to move a playing piece a certain number of spaces across a board. In games such as Yahtzee, multiple dice are rolled, and the scoring system is similar to Poker – you must attempt to get matching numbers, a run of numbers from low to high, and so on.
The game is based on probability, as the more difficult it is to theoretically obtain any particular set of results, the more point you score. If you had two dice and tried to roll the same number on both, once one has landed there is a 1 in 6 chance of getting a matching number. If you use three dice, that become 1 in 36. Yahtzee uses five dice!
Some games require 4-sided dice, some require 20-sided dice. Each time the number of sides changes, the shape of the die changes too. Pyramid shapes, diamond shapes, even nearly spherical dice with a hundred sides exist.
Dice have been used for a long time to enable people to play games of chance, and to gamble on the results. You only need look to modern casinos to see how prevalent dice-based gambling is.
How do you play die?
Playing the game of die or dice can mean a number of things. Lots of games are around that involve the use of dice, from Yahtzee to Monopoly. However, you can play games with just a few dice on their own.
A common pure-dice game is Craps, which is played with two dice. The game is played by betting on the result of a roll. Each round of Craps has two phases, named “Come Out” and “Point”.
A round is starter by the dice-roller, known as the “shooter”, making one or more Come Out rolls. If the score is 2, 3 or 12 (scores which are known as “Craps”) the shooter is said to ‘crap out’. This will end the round, and any player who made a “Pass Line” bet will also lose. A Pass Line bet is a bet on the shooter winning their point number – more on that in a moment.
If the Come Out roll scores 7 or 11 (known as a Natural) this is a win for those who made Pass Line bets. After that, the shooter continues to roll until they score 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 – this number becomes the “Point”.
The game then moves to the second stage, and the shooter rolls again. If the point number is rolled, this gives a win to those with Pass Line bets. If a seven is rolled, the pass line loses and the end of the round is reached.
If the shooter does not score the Point, the game moves on to the next player who starts by making a Come Out roll.
In a casino, a full Craps Table is used, with areas for betting, rolling, and so on. If you play at home, or even on the street, all you need is two dice. It’s traditional in a casino for the dice to hit the back wall of the table for a roll to count – you can use a wall or anything you like, or just ignore this rule. The important thing when playing at home is the scores, not exactly how the dice were rolled.
Another pure-dice game is called Cho-Han Bakuchi, where two dice are rolled in a cup. The cup is flipped and placed with the dice underneath it, concealing the result. Players bet on whether the result is odd or even.
Another games is called Under-Over 7, and as the name implies, is based on the score rolled on two dice being over or under 7. The odds or rolling 7 are actually 5 to 1 against, and so 7 is the least likely result in this game. As such, casinos usually offer even money bets on under/over, and 3 or 4 to 1 on rolling 7.
Many other games exist, some with complex rules, some with simple rules. You can even make your own games up – the simplest being two people roll a die each, and the highest score wins.
Playing with dice can be fun, so why don’t you give it a go?
How long have we rolled with die?
Many people think that playing dice games is a modern invention, and the bright lights of the casinos do nothing to dissuade them of this opinion. In fact, it turns out that we have been playing with dice for 5000 years or more!
In the early 2000s, archaeologists were excavating in the Indus Valley in Pakistan, and made a very interesting discovery. Their original intention was to map and learn more about the so-called “Burnt City”, which covered one and a half square kilometers. Founded around 3200BC, this was one of the first cities in the world, that during the course of its history burnt down three times.
While proceeding with their excavations of this city, the archaeologists discovered dice made of animal claws. These dice turned out to have been made around 2800BC, making them around 5,000 years old.
An Egyptian game named Senet was played even longer ago, prior to 3000BC. While no physical discoveries of dice that old have been made, it is clear they have been in use for a very long time indeed.
Even the ancient Romans had a great penchant for rolling dice. As you might expect, they began to wonder if it was possible to influence the outcome of a roll. Some sources say that even during the time of the Romans, people existed who would be identified as professional gamblers today.
The difference between modern gamblers and the Romans was that the ancient players had it in their mind to cheat, and so messed around with the die to make things go in their favor. The die had a tendency to show the outcome that the players predicted – this indicates that they very often used dice they had made themselves.
During the manufacturing process, they would simply make one corner a little bit heavier than any other. This made it more likely that the die would land with this side down. Of course, this wasn’t guaranteed, but it made the outcome much more likely.
They would set up in the marketplace of a city, where they would cheat people out of their money by challenging them to a game of dice. The people would accept in the belief that it would be a fair contest, but history shows us otherwise. This practice goes on until this very day, so be wary of playing dice with people you don’t know, especially if they are in a marketplace!
The famous Roman Emperor Julius Caesar seemed to know of the game of dice. He reportedly said ‘the die is cast’, meaning that an action had been taken and could not be changed, when he crossed the Rubicon river and entered into the Great Roman Civil War of 49BC.
Although he will have used a Latin phrase to express his feelings, we all fully understand what he meant! The war lasted until 45BC, and Julius Caesar became ruler of the Roman Empire for life. Unfortunately, Caesar may have wished he could roll the die again – he was assassinated in 44BC.
How to make a die?
Originally, a die would have been made from the raw materials around. Animal parts were common materials, so claws and bones could be filed down into the right shape.
You may have heard the phrase “rolling the bones”, and this is where it came from, as dice have been made from bones throughout their history. The earliest recorded instance of this term being used is by Geoffrey Chaucer in his story The Pardoner’s Tale, written somewhere between 1387 and 1400AD.
Modern dice are generally made from plastic. Not any plastic will do though, as the use of a die involves it being thrown around and bouncing off of hard surfaces. For a plastic to be suitable to make dice from, it needs to have good impact strength, and be easily colored.
When first manufactured, plastic is often colorless, and so colorants are added to make the dice look nicer. Other things are added to the plastic to make it more suitable for use in play. A plasticizer will be added to make the plastic more flexible, while reinforcement materials may be added to make the dice stronger.
Dice are made in molds, and in order to fit in the mold, the plastic must first be heated. Stabilizer materials must be added to the plastic to prevent an adverse reaction to this heat.
The plastic for modern dice is set up with all these additives, including color, and turned into pellets. The pellets are heated and melted, and then injected into a two piece mold. As the plastic cools, it sets and hardens.
Once fully harden, the mold is removed and the basic die is ready. A lubricant may have been applied in the mold to enable the die to be easily extracted, and so the die is washed before moving on to the next stage.
The cleaned die is painted, usually to colorize the spots, but also potentially for branding purposes. In a factory, quality control inspectors will examine some dice to ensure they are the right shape, appear to roll as randomly as possible, and so on. Nobody wants to buy a badly weighted die unless they are trying to cheat!
The finished die is then packed up for distribution. This can be in sets of multiple dice, or included in boxes of games that have already been put together.
Manufactured dice can be made out of other materials too, including wood and metal. There is a vast range available, and of course, you’re not limited to just six sides.
If you want to make your own 6-sided die, you can do so by using a piece of paper. By making a template in the shape of a cross, with four squares on the vertical and three on the horizontal, you can cut out and fold it up to make a cube. While not necessarily much use for many games, it can be fun to make your own dice just to see what they look like.
How many dots are on a die?
Your first instinct might be to answer with, “6!” – but that’s just the highest number on one face of a standard 6-sided die.
In fact, there are 21 dots altogether on a 6-sided die, but they are not arranged randomly. On opposite faces, the numbers add up to one more than the maximum roll. So on a 6 sided die, opposite sides add up to 7.
The opposing faces are 6 and 1, 2 and 5, and 3 and 4. This is to help prevent any high or low bias on a dice that is imperfectly made – whether it has any impact on the numbers you actually roll is debatable.
The pattern repeats on dice of all kind – even if you only have two sides, like flipping a coin. On a 20 sided die, the opposing sides would be 1 and 20, 2 and 19, 3 and 18, and so on, with the total always being one more than the maximum roll.
To calculate the number of dots on a die is quite simple, assuming there are an even number of faces. Take the maximum roll and add one. Multiple the result by the number of faces, and divide by 2 – and that’s your answer.
So for a 6-sided die, the maximum roll plus 1 is 7. There are 6 faces, so 6 x 7 is 42. Dividing the result by 2 gives 21, which is the actual number of dots on the die.
For a 10-sided die, the maximum roll plus 1 is 11. There are 10 faces, so 11 x 10 is 110. Dividing the result by 2 gives 55.
For a 20-sided die, the maximum roll plus 1 is 21. There are 20 faces, so 21 x 20 is 420. Dividing the result by 2 gives 210, so there are exactly 210 dots on a twenty-sided die…but by the time you get to that many sides, dots are often replaced by printed numbers as there is limited space and they become tricky to count.
For numbers below 7, you will notice that the dots are usually laid out in the same way, no matter where the dice were made. This is because you brain can use a process called subitizing to count things based on patterns. When you brain see the pattern it associates with “6”, it doesn’t need to individually count the dots, because it already knows how many dots there are.
The same applies to every other pattern on a 6-sided die. If you see a die with more sides and it still uses dots, the dots are often laid out in a logical continuation of the pattern, meaning your brain might be able to subitize to 10 or even higher.
This helps you play dice games more quickly, and makes the whole process more fun. Imagine playing a board game and rolling 12 on two dice, and having to sit and count every dot before making your move. Subitizing with patterns is much more fun!