by Tammy Tillotson

In 1930, Professor Carl Leffler developed a system of 6,000 bingo cards with non-repeating number groups. He later went insane. There are 1,474,200 unique Bingo cards possible, and only a handful of unique things to do for fun in a small town.

Bingo Hall of Fame
Since the last time someone’s unique idea resulted in an array of blue flashing lights, I recently decided that Bingo presented an argument of at least 1,474,197 different possibilities that might prove just as interesting as slow dancing in the median of Hwy 58 at midnight.

Bingo Fever
Within a thirty-mile radius of my hometown, a Bingo game can be found every night of the week, including twice on Sundays. In my area, the volunteer fire departments, Masonic lodges, and the VFW host the most attended games.

Bingo is a game of chance or a lottery, and it is one of the most popular forms of low-priced gambling. Bingo is also quite simple to play. The object of each game is to simply mark numbers that are called out to corresponding numbers on the Bingo card, in an attempt to be the first person to form a specific pattern on the card. The game ends when a person has the pattern and yells “Bingo.”

Due to the game’s simplicity and the fact that there is really nothing else to do in the evening, a small rural Virginian town is an ideal location to observe the Bingo experience, fashion world, and language.

Beginner Bingo
In order to play Bingo, each player must purchase cards that are divided into numbered squares. Bingo cards are generally sold in books that contain 3 cards for each of the bingo games that will be played in that particular setting. Players can decide how many books they want to play. Most people generally play at least 2 books and that is plenty for a beginner until the basics of the game are mastered.

Some people play more books than others, and it is common for people to play 3, 4, or more books. It is important to keep in mind that the numbers are called quickly and must be accurately marked on the cards in order to win. Some patterns are easier to mark than others, and some are more difficult. All of this should be considered in determining how many cards a player decides to play. It is more important to accurately play fewer cards than to struggle to play too many.

Special Bingo Games
In addition to the normal bingo games, there are typically several Bonanza, or Jackpot games, and an Early Bird game. The Bonanza and Jackpot game cards are purchased in addition to the normal game cards, and the prize amount is generally higher in comparison to other games. The Jackpot game is commonly the final game of the evening, while the Early Bird game is played before the regular games start.

Bingo Patterns
There are hundreds of possible bingo patterns, though the most basic patterns are straight lines that appear in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal direction.

A few other patterns that are generally played in my area include crazy kite, small picture frame, large picture frame, postage stamps, B & O Railrows, and Cover All, which is also referred to as Blackout.

Bingo Fashion Cents
Serious Bingo players sport their own unique style and fashion in honor of the game.

Dabbers, also called daubers, are special Bingo markers that are used to mark the numbers that have been called on the bingo cards. Dabbers come in all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes. There are neon colors, as well as dabbers that are shaped like snowmen, monkeys, elephants, sexy men and women, and other lucky symbols. There are double dabbers that have twin marker tops in one so the industrious bingo player can dab more grid spaces in less time. Some dabbers even have flashing blue and red lights when the dabber is used to mark a bingo card!

Dabbers can be carried in special bingo bags that are used for keeping all of a person’s bingo supplies organized. Scotch tape is often kept in the bingo bag too, as it is generally a good idea to tape all the bingo cards to the table so they do not move. The bingo cards are made of thin paper and by taping them down, a dabbing system can more efficiently be maintained throughout the games.

The elite players have special bingo seat cushions, which make sitting for two-hour intervals in an otherwise hard metal folding chair, much more relaxing and sophisticated. The fabric cushions boast designs from simple bingo cards, bingo balls, and dollar signs, to the more fashionable Betty Boop, and more classic Popeye the Sailor Man.

Random Bingo t-shirts are also sported that announce “I Love Bingo,” “I Won Bingo at Post 750,” or “If There’s No Bingo In Heaven, I Ain’t Going.”

An attractive elderly lady displays B13 balls that dangle at her earlobes. She proudly tells people that B13 is her lucky number.

The fashion styles vary among different age groups, ethnicities, gender, and occupation, yet the general consensus is that bingo is an important ritual for most all of the players. It is easy to spot the beginners based on the number of cards they play, as well as by how unprepared, or rather undressed, they are at the bingo tables.

Bingo Lingo
The most important phrase to remember in the entire game of Bingo is “Bingo.” After a player yells bingo, the caller verifies whether or not the player actually has bingo. If the player indeed has bingo the caller says “Good Bingo;” a prize is awarded, and a new game begins.

A player apparently loves to say “bingo,” yet hates to hear someone else yell it first!

After bingo has been called, a colorful array of vocabulary is often heard floating around the bingo hall. There is a controversial mixture of disgruntled losers that either just needed one more number, picked lousy cards tonight, lost five hours of hard earned wages, really need another cigarette, or heartbreakingly wasted the month’s social security check in a vain effort to triple it.

Woes and grievances echo around the room from the voices of the lucky, the unlucky, the retired, the hard working, the gambling addicts, the housewife enjoying a night away from the kids, and the people that have money but no one would ever guess it.

The college student that has just blown twenty-five bucks observing real everyday people chalks up the donation to the volunteer fire department as support for a worthy cause.

Bingo is both fun and hope in a variety of ways for a wide variety of people. Some people come to play hoping to win money and find luck. Some people leave with empty pockets and heavy hearts, while others leave feeling luckier and richer without ever having a turn to yell “bingo.” Either way, everyone leaves with something less or something more than what they had when they first arrived, and that is not a measurement that can necessarily be predicted, as it has to be experienced.

I may never have the right numbers on a bingo card to win a Jackpot game, but I can say that I left with a volunteer fireman’s phone number!

I do not regret exploring one of 1,474,197 different possibilities to have fun in a small town. Though I also do not necessarily encourage slow dancing in the highway median, it is possible that “we were just stretching our legs after driving for hours” has good statistical odds at being a viable and believable alibi.

Would I play either card again?

“Good Bingo.”

Additional Points of Interest
The ABC’s of Bingo: Encyclopedia of Bingo Games

Pattern Lookup – Choose from a list of patterns and see that pattern displayed on a bingo card

Bingo Rules