A thumb war (also called thumb wrestling, pea-knuckle or pea-knuckle war in New Zealand) is a game played by two players in which the thumbs are used to simulate fighting. The objective of the game is to pin the opponent's thumb, often to a count of three. The San Francisco Chronicle called the game "the miniature golf of martial sports."
The players face each other and each holds out their left hand or right hand in a "thumbs up", and they link hands such that each player's fingers curl around the other player's fingers. Players may not use any of the fingers except the thumb to pin down their opponent's thumb. Gameplay has several tactics such as "playing possum", aiming for the knuckle rather than the nail for a pin, going for a quick strike, and waiting for one's opponent to tire. Variations include making the thumbs "bow", "kiss", or both before warring, and to war with both hands at once; or sneak attacks, which involve using your pointer finger to take over the opponent. Players may also engage in the Rabbit Hole maneuver, or ducking their thumb down into their own palm, to escape imminent defeat. These additions are optional and do not need to be included into the rules of play.
The game is typically initiated with both the players uttering the rhyme "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war", passing their thumbs over each other in time with this rhyme. The rhyme is sometimes extended with "Five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb straight." or "Five, six, seven, eight. Open up your thumb gate." A regional variation in Boston is “five, six, seven, eight, open up the battle gate.” In South America, the starting song is "ésta es la pulseada china", as in France, "un, deux, trois, bras de fer chinois" ("this is the Chinese arm wrestling"), with the same thumb dance as in English.
Competitive matches on thumb wrestling have been held on Long Island and at Lowestoft. The 826 Valencia Foundation holds an annual thumb-wrestling competition, which has been won three times by San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon. There is no leaning nor tilting when thumb wrestling.
Norman Mailer was passionate about thumb wrestling. Author and humorist Paul Davidson claims that his grandfather Bernard Davidson invented the thumb war in the 1940s. American copywriter Julian Koenig claimed to have invented thumb wrestling in 1936 as a boy at Camp Greylock.
A thumb wrestling ring is a toy used for thumb wrestling. The players insert their thumbs in opposite sides and proceed with the thumb war.
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