Pick-up sticks

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Mikado pick-up sticks

Pick-up sticks or pick-a-stick is a game of physical and mental skill in which a bundle of "sticks", between 8 and 20 centimeters long, are dropped as a loose bunch onto a table top, jumbling into a random pile. Each player in turn tries to remove a stick from the pile without disturbing any of the others. The game has spawned several variants including jackstraws (or jack straws), spellicans, and spillikins.

The game is believed to have developed from the yarrow stalks used for divination with the Chinese I Ching. It was first published in Germany about 1850. The sticks may be made of almost any material, such as ivory, bone, wood, bamboo, straw, reed, rush, yarrow, or plastics. Some Haida First Nation pick-up sticks are plain maple wood decorated with abalone shell and copper.

Today, the most common pick-up sticks game is Mikado. It remains difficult in all variations.


The object of the game is to pick up the most sticks. At the begin of game play, a bundle of sticks is randomly distributed or dropped so that the sticks end up in a tangled pile. The more tangled the resulting disarray, the more challenging the game. In some versions of the game, any isolated sticks, or sticks lying alone, are removed. The players attempt to remove a single stick at a time, without moving any other stick. In some versions of the game, players use a tool to move the stick away from the pile; this "tool" may be one of the sticks, held aside before the game begins. In other versions, players must pick up the sticks by hand. In either case, players must not move any other thing while attempting to remove said stick; if any other stick moves, their turn immediately ends and they lose a turn. A player who successfully "picks-up sticks" keeps removing sticks until they cause a secondary stick to move, ending their turn.

In some versions of the game, different-coloured sticks are worth different numbers of points, and the winner is the person with the highest score.



Mikado is a pick-up sticks game originating in Europe, played with a set of same-length sticks which can measure between 17 centimetres (6.7 in) and 20 centimetres (7.9 in). The game is named for the highest scoring (blue) stick "Mikado" (Emperor of Japan).


Name Traditional wood type Coding Point value Number of sticks
Mikado walnut blue 20 pts 1
Mandarin cherry yellow/black, middle wide two narrow stripes on the ends 10 pts 5
Bonzen (jp. bouzu) oak orange, five stripes 5 pts 5
Samurai beech green, three stripes 3 pts 15
Kuli (cn. guli) / Worker ash red, two stripes 2 pts 15

Jack Sticks or jack straw[edit]

The pieces in a jackstraw set are often thematically related to farmyard tools, such as ladders, rakes, shovels, and hoes. There are typically around 45 pieces in a set and made of wood, plastic, bone, or ivory. In addition to the Jack Sticks themselves, there is typically a helper piece with a hooked end for use in snagging and manipulating pieces. Each piece has a point value, with more challenging pieces being worth more points. Jack sticks varies from pick-up sticks in points and equipment but not in game play. Players try to win points by removing jackstraws – in the shapes of various tools – from the pile, one at a time.


  • 1 hook
  • approx 45 Jack Straws


At the end of the game, players total the point values of their Jack Straws. The players with the most points wins.

Point Value Items
10 Two-man saw, Gun, Wrench, Ladder, Key-hole saw
5 Shovel, Rake, Sledge, Fork, T-Square, Paddle, Axe, Crutch, Sword
2 Cane, Arrow, Tamper, Baton, Hockey Stick, Pick
1 All other pieces

See also[edit]