Ultimate Guide To Pussers Bones




The Ultimate Guide to Pussers Bones


Webmaster's Notes


Matelots are notorious for adopting, then bastardising them to suit, selected various cultural activities, language and recreational pursuits from the countries they would travel to most frequently. It then comes as no surprise, given the British Navy's presence in the Far East in years past, that Mah-jongg was adopted by British sailors as another game to fulfil their recreational and gambling needs at sea. Mah-jongg was played nightly at sea on most Pussers Warships, more often for harmless recreation but then again for gambling purposes. Pussers nicknamed the game of Mah Jongg"Bones" for originally the sets of tiles themselves were made of bone.


Mah-jongg was played in the ship's messdecks and cafes but since the noise associated with 'shuffling' the Bones and the players need to call out loudly during the game many mess members would object, so the game would be shifted to the Ship's Company Cafe.


The 'Gun' Players and the serious gamblers would always play in the cafe. Mah-jongg requires a fair amount of space to play comfortably and it was often difficult to play in a cramped Destroyer messdeck.


Mah Jongg attracted the big punters and books were kept, where for the day, big money often changed hands. Playing for ¢1 ( One Cent) per point over a period of 6 months or more could certainly add up.


Anyone who is a purist when it comes to playing the ancient game of Mah Jongg should leave this webpage now for this is the way it was played in the Royal Australian Navy along with all its unique jargon we make no apologies for hacking it to pieces.


You will see at first glance that it looks very complicated and I remember when I first went to sea and saw the Old Hands playing that I stood in awe and marvelled at what I thought were a group of geniuses! It is actually not that hard, although there were many who were competent players but were unable to keep score properly, not unlike 10 Pin Bowling! No problems we hope by using this webpage we can teach all young Matelots the ancient art of Pussers Bones.


I take this opportunity in thanking all those who had input into preserving this unique piece of pusser's seagoing folklore. Particulary all those Gun Plot Mesageboard and Forum Contributors such as - POETC 'Choco' Munday (who provided this excellently presented description and reference guide) & Jace, because, YOU ASKED FOR IT!


Author's Preface


'Bull' May taught me how to play bones when I was a kellick greeny on the Ibis in 1975. I had seen it played before, but didn't take much notice as it looked too hard for me to pick up easily. Long nights at sea on a mine sweeper and a 'pro' bones player on your watch quickly had me hooked. I asked Bull where he learnt to play. His reply was something like, "Arrrr, Knocker White on Curlew taught me a couple a years ago".


So I asked Knocker next time I saw him.


"Arrrr, learnt it on me first trip up top on the Queen Bee, Windy Hill taught me" and so it went. I reckon if I found 'Windy Hill' he would say something like, "Arrr, Spider Webb got me hooked when it was too rough to lash me hammock". My theory is that you will never find the origins of Pussers Bones gameplay resting with any one individual. Instead, you will see that the rules, the scoring, the terminology and the rate of play evolved from a standard form of Mah Jong and was polluted by the things that make being in pussers unique. Handed down by sailors who went from one ship to another, the rules were surprisingly standard across the fleet, but were never officially documented. There were rarely any arguments about their interpretation, because the rules made a sort of 'sense' when you looked closely. Why?


Well, for starters, pussers bones acquired the following attributes:


  • The game is fast paced, which sorts the salts from the maccas.
  • Playing requires its own language, like all pussers talk.
  • Playing for money (or a facsimile of money) is compulsory.


Little wonder, then, that pussers bones took the form that we enjoy today. The rules are simple, the game is fast and fun, and it fits hand in glove with the things that make all pussers, past and present, what they are.


This document was conceived by members of the Gun Plot message board, and is destined for the Gun Plot web site. Contributions have come from many individuals, and while I claim the right to be recognised as the author of this document, it is 'owned' by anyone who ever spent time at sea on the 'Grey Funnel Line'.


So grab a goffa and some maccas, or a brew if you like, and learn how to play the timeless game of pussers bones.


Yours Aye - Frank 'Choco' Mundy


Dem Bones


We won't dick around with the difference between 'real' bones and pussers bones. Let's just say that you make a set of pussers bones by discarding the unwanted items from a set of store bought Mah Jong tiles. You don't want the dice, you don't want the little stick things and there are some tiles that are used for variations of Mah Jong that we are not interested in. We will only concern ourselves with the tiles needed for pussers bones.


Note: Some bones have rounded bamboo backs. These are not recommended, as they make for unstable walls in 'roughers'. (Heavy Seas)


Minor Bones


There are three suits of Minor Bones:

  • Ricks
  • Balls
  • Sticks


Each suit has four each of nine bones, numbered one to nine, in other words, each suit has four ones, four twos, four threes, etc. The suits are known generally as Minor Bones, but the ones and nines have a higher score than the rest.


In addition to the minor bones are Major Bones and Pretties.


Major Bones


As you can guess, major bones score higher than minor bones. In addition, major bones can be mixed in with the suits without risk of a shit tie-up. Major bones feature heavily in high scoring hands, so expect a degree of difficulty in playing for majors. Essentially, majors come in two groups:


  • Winds. East (Eddie), West (Wally), North (Normie), South (Sammy).
  • Dragons. Red (Blood), Green (Cabbage), White (Blanket).


There are four of each major bone in the game.




Another set of bones are the Pretties (or Pretty Bones). Pretties are few and far between, and score accordingly. They are treated slightly differently to major bones in that they don't form part of your playing strategy. Rather, they are the 'icing on the cake' should you pluck the right pretties. Pretties are divided into groups:


  • Flowers.
  • Seasons.


Each group of pretties have four bones, a set of which is known as Squints. Collect both sets and you have Double Squints.


Each of the pretty bones corresponds to a breeze, as follows:





Corresponding Breeze














Therefore, Eddie's pretties are Plum and Spring.


Names That Jack Gave (of the Bones)


The Left hand Column in the table below denotes the "pussers mixed company and politically correct name" for the Tile or Bone - The center column denotes Jack's more colourful and risque´ verbal form of ID.



Sticks or Chips

1 Stick


2 Stick

Cock Bone or Slug

3 Stick

Y Bone or Jesse

4 Stick

Box or Box of Shit

5 Stick


6 Stick


7 Stick


8 Stick


9 Stick

Top Wood or All the Wood

Nuts or Balls

I Ball

Bum Nut

2 Balls


3 Balls

Traffic Lights

4 Balls


5 Balls

Spare or Spare Tire

6 Balls


7 Balls

Dockyard Crane

8 Balls

Trolley Bus

9 Balls

Top Hole or All the Balls/holes


1 Rick

Jimmy Rick

2 Rick

2 Rick

3 Rick

3 Rick

4 Rick


5 Rick

Five Rick

6 Rick

Six Rick

7 Rick

Lucky Rick

8 Rick

Eight Rick

9 Rick

Top Rick or All The Ricks





Cabbage or Green Bone



Winds or Breezes


Normie or Noar me


Sammy or Suck me


Eddy or Eat me


Wally or Wank me