Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by WonderTeam. WonderTeam Wonders, “When were playing cards invented?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, WonderTeam!

Do you have any favorite games? Do you like to play hopscotch? How about hide-and-seek? When it comes to games, kids and adults don’t always think alike. However, there’s one type of game that can be fun for all ages: cards! Have you ever stopped to think about how many different games you can play with the same set of cards? It’s amazing!

If you’ve ever played cards, you know that there are 52 cards in a deck. Numbered cards go from 2 through 10, with the 1 card called an ace. There are also three royal character cards called jacks, queens and kings. Decks of cards also often contain a couple of extra “wild” cards called jokers. Jokers were added to playing card decks by Americans just after the Revolutionary War for the game of euchre.

These cards are repeated in four groups called suits. Each suit has its own symbol. The most common suits are hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. However, sometimes decks use different suits. For example, cards in Germany often have hearts, bells, leaves, and acorns.

Experts believe that playing cards were probably first invented in China, since that’s where paper was invented. Historians have found references to playing cards in Europe as far back as the 1300s. They believe playing cards probably came to Italy from the Middle East and spread to the rest of Europe from there. These early Islamic cards featured different suits, including cups, swords, coins and polo sticks.

Card games are popular all over the world. That might make you think that decks of cards look the same everywhere you go. But they don’t! Many countries have their own unique sets of cards. For example, people from Switzerland playing a game called Jass use a deck of 36 cards. Germans who play a game called Skat use 32-card decks. French people who play a game called Tarot use 78 large cards!

The royal cards — jacks, queens and kings — were likely developed in Europe. The monarchies that ruled Europe had a lot of influence over the production of early playing cards. Cards offered an alternative to other popular games at the time, such as chess and dice. They also began to be used for other purposes, like telling fortunes and performing magic tricks.

If you spend some time looking through a deck of cards, you’ll notice a few peculiar details. The Jack of Spades, the Jack of Hearts and the King of Diamonds are all usually drawn in profile rather than from the front. This leads some to call these jacks “one-eyed jacks.” The King of Hearts is also the only king without a moustache!

Today, playing cards can be found in a wide variety of designs. Sometimes, the backs of the cards have pictures of famous TV or movie characters. Other decks are sold as souvenirs and have pictures of the sights and attractions in a particular area. How would you like to design your own deck of cards? What would you put on them?

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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