Kim’s Game

Friday, July 18th, 2008

I didn’t realize that the jewel game from Kipling’s Kim had been dubbed Kim’s Game and popularized in real life:

Kim, a teenager being trained in secret as a spy, spends a month in Simla, India at the home of Mr. Lurgan, who ostensibly runs a jewel shop but in truth is engaged in espionage for the British against the Russians. Lurgan brings out a copper tray and tosses a handful of jewels onto it; his boy servant explains to Kim:
Look on them as long as thou wilt, stranger. Count and, if need be, handle. One look is enough for me. When thou hast counted and handled and art sure that thou canst remember them all, I cover them with this paper, and thou must tell over the tally to Lurgan Sahib. I will write mine.

They contest the game many times, sometimes with jewels, sometimes with odd objects, and sometimes with photographs of people. It is considered a vital part of training in observation; Lurgan says:

[Do] it many times over till it is done perfectly — for it is worth doing.

In his book Scouting Games, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, names the exercise Kim’s Game and describes it as follows:

The Scoutmaster should collect on a tray a number of articles — knives, spoons, pencil, pen, stones, book and so on — not more than about fifteen for the first few games, and cover the whole over with a cloth. He then makes the others sit round, where they can see the tray, and uncovers it for one minute. Then each of them must make a list on a piece of paper of all the articles he can remember… The one who remembers most wins the game.

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