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The Colorful History of Billiards

Anyone who refuses to leave prison simply because they are having too much fun playing billiards would be considered something more than just a diehard fan. Yet that is exactly what a Captain Mingaud did during the French Revolution. Granted, Mingaud was not only playing billiards, he was busy revolutionizing the game.

Though billiards had already been popular for more than 100 years at that time, Mingaud was the first person to round the end of a pool cue with a file and apply a leather tip to it. After prison, Mingaud promptly proved his invention's superiority over its flat, club-like predecessor in exhibitions throughout France. What the captain had developed was essentially the cue in use today, but the game he generated interest in did not involve shooting balls into pockets.

Pocket billiards such as modern-day pool and snooker were around, but they were considered to be the ill-bred cousins of carom billiards, which used a pocketless table. The name pool was born during the 1840s when billiards was closely identified with gambling parlors, or "pool parlors" in the lexicon of the day. The name stuck, and with more than 40 million people playing in America alone last year, so has the game.

Despite its universal popularity and frequent airtime on ESPN with professionally organized tournaments, billiards has rarely enjoyed universal respect.

Before hitting America, billiards already had a spotty history thanks to the likes of hustlers such as Englishman Jack Carr. Carr, the first person to put chalk on his cue tip, made a fortune peddling his magic "twisting chalk" around France in the 1820s. The "magic" was actually in Carr's wrist; he was the first player to apply spin to a billiards ball, and the term "English" is still used to denote this move.

In America, billiards had a questionable reputation because of its association with gambling. The 20-year rivalry of American pool masters Michael Phelan and Dudley Kavanagh in the late 19th century, however, attracted attention and respect as tournaments became standing-room-only tuxedo affairs. Ironically, the two also started a tradition of conflicting associations governing the game, which now makes all titles suspect, and the Olympics an impossible dream.

Fortunately, legitimacy and success are not invariably linked. When The Hustler, a 1961 movie starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, glamorized the shady underworld of pool sharks, business boomed.

Coin-operated pool tables were born just in time to meet the rising demand. Initially found only in bars and bowling alleys, the new, smaller tables have taken center stage at packed pool halls from Boston to Beijing.

要是有人因为太爱打台球而不肯出狱,那他们绝对不只是球痴而已。而在法国大革命时期,敏高德上尉正是一个顽固的台球迷。他 不仅玩台球,还忙着改革这项运动。

尽管当时,台球已盛行了百余年,而敏高德却是第一个使用锉刀把球杆尾端磨圆,并用皮子包上的人。出狱后,在法 国的多次展览会上,敏高德很快就证明他的新发明比原先那种平头像球棍的球杆好用。上尉发明的球杆沿用至今,然而当时他引发兴趣的游戏,还未发展到将台球击进球袋的阶段。

“球袋台球”(pocket billiards)如花式、英式台球在当时比比皆是,但却被视为是“教养不良的兄弟台球”(carom billiards),它们的球台没有球袋。“弹子”(pool)这个名词 出现在19世纪40年代,当时台球室和赌场是紧密联系在一起的,以当时的辞汇称之即为“弹子房”。这个名称就保留下来,去年,光是美国就有超过四千万人玩台球,这项运动也常盛不衰。



在美国,台球因和赌博相联系,名声仍受到质疑。19世纪末,当台球公开赛成了盛装庆事,只能买到站票的时候,美国台球双雄迈克费兰和杜德利卡文纳长达20年之久的 霸,吸引了众人的目光,赢得了尊敬。具讽刺意味的是,他们 两人也开创了有冲突的台球协会间争相控制这种运动的传统,它使得所有的名次难以确定,列入奥运正式比赛项目仍只是一场梦。

好在,合法与成功并没有必然联系。1961年由保罗·纽曼和贾奇·葛利森主演的电影《江湖浪子》,表现了身处阴暗 下层社会台球高手们的魅力,台球生意兴隆起来。投币式的 台球桌也应运而生。这些新型小球 起初只在酒吧、保龄球馆中能找到;现在,从波士顿到北京,在挤满了人的台球场所 里,它俨然成为了主流。

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