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Five Card Nancy is a Dada card game using cut-up panels from Ernie Bushmiller's long-running 20th Century comic strip Nancy. Here are the official rules if you want to make your own deck and try it out. Special thanks to Barry Deutsch whose Usenet post in late ‘98 gave me the jumping off point for the write-up.

You're looking at pictures of fish because I'm too lazy to argue with United Media's lawyers.


1. Making the Deck

Find a reprint book of Nancy comic strips. Photocopy a good portion of the book onto white card-stock (with permission of course), and cut up the copies so that you end up with lots of small rectangles of paper, each containing only one Nancy panel. They should all be the same height. It's a good idea to make a few extra "transition" panels (like a wordless panel of Nancy walking, Nancy smiling, Nancy in silent contemplation, etc...)

Important: Only prime Ernie Bushmiller Nancy strips will do, say from 1946 onward.


2. Beginning the Game

Five Card Nancy can be played with three or more people. Place all the panels face down in a pile in the center of the table. Shuffle and deal (or just let everyone pick) five random panels of varying widths for each player. Pick a single panel from the pile and place it face-up on the playing surface, upper left-hand corner. This is Panel One.


3. Basic Play

Like most card games, play moves clockwise around the table. Each player picks one card from their hand which they think would make a good “next panel” and places it to the right of the panel(s) already on the table. A judge or judges (usually your opponents) will decide if your choice is a good next panel. If it’s judged worthy, the panel stays. If it’s rejected, you must take the panel back. In both cases, the next player then moves (i.e., there are no repeat turns).

In a given turn, if any player feels they have no good next panel they may pass by taking one panel from their hand returning it to the bottom of the pile and choosing one from the top.

At the end of a given round, if one player has gotten rid of all his/her cards, that player is the WINNER.

If two or more players have gotten rid of all their cards, the game is a TIE (see “tie-breaking” in part 5 below.)


4. Judging

Criteria for judging is entirely subjective. A “good” next panel can mean anything you like. Maybe it’s logical. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it reveals hidden secrets of the Universe. Maybe it’s just endearingly lame.

In large groups, the judging may be done by spectators, but often, the players themselves are the judges. Five Card Nancy is as collaborative as it is competitive.

5. Miscellaneous

Tie-breaking can work in various ways. My favorite method (i.e., the only one I can remember just now) is that each tied player takes five new panels from the pile and selects one candidate for the LAST PANEL . The remaining player(s) choose the best panel; its owner is now the WINNER.

Variations abound. We sometimes allow 2 panel bids, but they have to be damned good. Once in a while, a panel is placed that completes the strip so well, the players may vote unanimously to end there, at which point, the player with the fewest panels wins. Multidirectional Nancy strips are a brave new frontier; unfortunately, the varying widths make this a bit awkward. You decide.

Why Nancy?

Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip Nancy is a landmark achievement: A comic so simply drawn it can be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and still be legible; an approach so formulaic as to become the very definition of the "gag-strip"; a sense of humor so obscure, so mute, so without malice as to allow faithful readers to march through whole decades of art and story without ever once cracking a smile.

Nancy is Plato's playground. Ernie Bushmiller didn't draw A tree, A house, A car. Oh, no. Ernie Bushmiller drew THE tree, THE house, THE car. Much has been made of the "three rocks." Art Spiegelman (following Bill Griffith—another Bushmiller aficionado) explained to his SVA students* how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be "some rocks." Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate "some rocks" but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of "some rocks."

A Nancy panel is an irreduceable concept, an atom, and the comic strip is a molecule. With Five Card Nancy we create new molecules out of Ernie's atoms.

Jerry Moriarty, artist of "Jack Survives," says: "I believe there is a formula of Hume, Humor and Humest. Ernie Bushmiller and I are Hume."

*I got to sit in on a few School of Visual Arts classes in the early '80s, having just gotten a job at DC Comics after graduating from Syracuse.

Related Links:

Five-Card Nancy Solitaire. From the brain of Dave "The Knave" White comes this Perl-scripted gem. Dave uses Guy Gilchrist's more recent version of the strip but I think his invention is pretty cool anyway.

Five-Card Story/Five-Card Flickr! A cool recent spin-off invention courtesy of Alan Levine, aka cogdogblog.

Confessions of a Nancy Addict. Yup, there are a lot of us out here. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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