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July 27th, 2011 Games

Now a staple in the online gaming world, mah-jongg has been captivating players since before the internet even existed. The history of mah-jongg is pretty mysterious, as no one really knows when it was invented. Some Chinese players believe it was created by Confucius, but this theory is unlikely, as there's no evidence of it existing earlier than 1880. The game was exclusively played in China before the 1920s, when it was discovered and popularized by other nations like the U.S. and Britain.

A standard mah-jongg tile set, which was originally created from bamboo, ivory or bone, is made of the following suits:

36 Bamboo tiles 36 Circle tiles 36 Character tiles 16 Wind tiles 12 Dragon tiles 8 bonus tiles (4 Flowers and 4 Seasons).

Similar to gin rummy, the object of mah-jongg is to collect sets of tiles based on their number and suit. The game is pretty straightforward, but the rituals and scoring can make it somewhat confusing to those undertaking the activity for the first time. One of these traditions involves shuffling the tiles before playing - this process is known as "the twittering of the sparrows," most likely because of the noise that goes along with it (another interesting tidbit - mah-jongg means "the game of the sparrows" or "sparrow tiles" in Chinese, and some myths claim this name came from Confucius, who adored birds).

In addition to shuffling, some rituals include using the tiles to build four walls and then splitting them to form what is called a Kong box. These practices may seem unnecessary for most players, but it's important to remember that Mah-jongg was originally a gambling game and a lot of thought was put into the process in order to prevent cheating.

When mah-jongg became popular in the Western hemisphere in the 1920s, the British, American and Japanese started making up their own rules. Joseph Babcock brought the game to the U.S. and simplified it in order to make it more popular, which worked for a while before Americans started getting bored. People began to add rules to make playing the game more interesting, but eventually interest began to diminish once again. In 1935, the game regained popularity when The National Mah-Jongg League Incorporated published "official" rules. Although this helped pique the public's interest, the guidelines still weren't anywhere close to the original Chinese version.

Mah-jongg was banned in the late 1940s in China because people viewed it as a capitalist game that encouraged gambling. People were not allowed to play it again until the Cultural Revolution 20 years later. Mah-jongg is still popular worldwide and can be enjoyed in clubs or online forums.

Recently, many mah-jongg spinoffs have popped up online. Mah-jongg solitaire is among the most popular and has many different versions that have the same rules. The object of mah-jongg solitaire is to remove all the tiles from the board in sets of two. Essentially, it's a matching game. Games like Mom-jongg have specially designed tiles, and Mahjongg Dimensions is a 3D version in which the tiles are arranged in 3D shapes, like cubes.

No matter which version you play or whatever country's rules you want to follow, mah-jongg is an entertaining way to challenge your brain and pass the time. Go online or coordinate a group with close friends and feel free to while the hours away.