Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for (Twenty) Questions, and what it has to do with the Jewish-Roman wars

Everyone's familiar with the game known as Twenty Questions, right?
Well, when I first came to the USA, I wasn't. Turns out, I gave the blank stares to all my friends when it came up because I know the same game under a different name.
In Hungary, we call it barkóba.

The world elegantly underlined by Spellcheck above is the simplified version of Bar Kokhba. As in, Simon Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Third Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 132-136 AD.
Wait, what does this have to do with a children's game?

Nothing, if you ask the rest of the world. But in Hungary, for some reason (probably the strong influence of Jewish culture that gave us several writers, poets, and also most of our Nobel prize winners), the game has always been known as barkóba. And there is a story to go with it.

According to legend, one day the Romans captured one of Bar Kokhba's soldiers, and before letting him go to serve as a warning to the rebels, they cut out his tongue and cut off his hands so he would have no way of giving away any information about the Roman camp. But Simon Bar Kokhba, being the leader he was, found a way to interrogate the soldier anyway, by asking him simple yes or no questions that he could answer by nodding or shaking his head.
Ta-da! Twenty Questions.
(Although it probably took more than twenty to get all the military information out, which is why our version of the game is not limited to a certain number of questions at all.)

Happy Sunday break, A to Z people, I'll see you back here on Monday bright and early! I shall tell you about mummified hands, dragons, and more weird Hungarian randomness.


  1. When I came to the part about the tongue and hands cut off I could only think of the scene in Titus where the girl has to tell everyone what happened to her. 20 questions might have been easier.

  2. Actually, it's spelled "barkohba" in Hungarian ("barkóba" is just how it's pronounced). Cf. You're welcome. :)