joker by matt cauley

The Joker is a special type of playing card found in most modern decks, or else a type of tile in some Mahjong game sets, specifically used in the American version of Mahjong. It is believed that the term ‘Joker’ comes from ‘Jucker,’ the original German spelling of ‘Euchre,’ (a trick-taking card game for which the Joker card was invented).

The card was originally introduced in about 1860 to be used as the highest trump. Catherine Perry Hargrave documents jokers from 1862 and 1865 in her book ‘A History of Playing Cards.’ The 1862 card has a tiger on it and the label ‘Highest Trump,’ while the one from 1865 is inscribed ‘This card takes either Bower’ and ‘Imperial Bower,’ or ‘Highest Trump Card.’

The Joker can be an extremely beneficial, or an extremely harmful, card. In Euchre it is often used to represent ‘Benny,’ the highest trump. However, in the children’s game named Old Maid, a solitary joker represents the Maid, a card that is to be avoided. The Joker is also sometimes used as a wild card in Poker, which like Euchre spread northward on the Mississippi. The Joker came to be represented as a clown or court jester by the 1880s, due to its assumed name and also probably borrowing from ‘The Fool’ in tarot cards (predecessors to the French ‘Tarot Nouveau’ (a popular Tarot deck), which depict The Fool as a lute-playing jester, were becoming popular in Europe around the same time). The Fool is often the highest trump, or else an ‘excuse’ that can be played at any time but cannot win.

Practitioners of cartomancy often include a Joker in the standard 52-card deck, with a meaning similar to the Fool card of Tarot. Sometimes the two Jokers are used: one approach is to identify the ‘black’ Joker with the Fool and the ‘red’ Joker with ‘the Magician,’ also known as ‘the Juggler,’ a card which is somewhat similar in interpretation and is considered the first step in the ‘Fool’s Journey.’ In many esoteric systems of interpretation, the Fool is usually interpreted as the protagonist of a story, and the Major Arcana (a suit of 22 Tarot trump cards) is the path the Fool takes through the great mysteries of life and the main human archetypes (The Fool himself is considered either the XXII or the 0 card, the highest trump or the lowest).

There are usually two Jokers per deck, often noticeably different. For instance, Bicycle Playing Cards prints their company’s guarantee claim on only one. More common traits are the appearance of colored and black/non-colored Jokers. At times, the Jokers will each be colored to match the colors used for suits; there will be a red Joker, and a black Joker. In games where the jokers may need to be compared, the red, full-color, or larger-graphic Joker usually outranks the black, monochrome, or smaller-graphic one. If the joker colors are similar, the joker without a guarantee will outrank the guaranteed one. With the red and black jokers, the red one can alternately be counted as a heart/diamond and the black is used to substitute clubs/spades.

The publishers of playing cards trademark their jokers, which have unique artwork that can reflect contemporary culture. In the USA-Produced Bicycle brand of playing cards, the Joker sometimes bears an S superimposed over a U as its index symbol. This is a trademark of the U.S. Playing Card Company. In Canada, the US monogram is replaced by a star. When Club Nintendo released the Platinum Playing Cards, Bowser is served as the Joker.

In Australia, the Joker in the ‘Queen’s Slipper’ brand of playing cards depicts a Kookaburra, a bird native to Australia with a call which resembles human laughter. In Australian games of 500 (an extension of Euchre which incorporates the basic principles of Bridge), the Joker is often referred to colloquially as ‘The Bird.’ Most other decks simply use a stylized ‘J’ or the word ‘JOKER’ in the corner index. In Portugal, Litografia Maia has printed French decks where the Joker figure is substituted by a donkey head. It is intended to be used in a Spanish card game ‘Burro em pé’ (‘standing donkey’).

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