(non-Platonic!) d14 of Korean Hard-Partying

Update (17 Nov. 2014): You, too, can enjoy this wonderful die… if you use an Android device and can read Korean, anyway, or if you visit Insadong (and can read hanja). See the update at the end of the post for more details.

Original Post: As promised the other day: the Korean d14 from the Shilla Dynasty, used for drinking games.

(Yeah, given the popularity even now of group drinking games in South Korea, that’s hardly a surprise.)

But the d14 is unusual: it’s a rather bizarre polyhedral die called the 주령구 (Juryeonggu), which I first ran across during a visit to the Anapji palace in Kyeongju. Here’s the crappy photo I took then, in the dark of night:

Crazy Ancient Korean Polyhedral Party Dice

… and here’s what I wrote back when I posted the photo to Flickr (where it still is, click above and you’ll see):

The die on this image was used at parties. Each side had a command inscribed in Chinese characters, with possibilities like, “call upon anyone of your choice to recite a poem,” or “song a song,” or “guzzle down some liquor” (big surprise, I know).

I’m pretty sure it’s a d14, by the way, but I’m not 100% sure. This was on display at one of the palace sites in Gyeongju, Anapji.

You can read more about these dice, called 주령구, on this website. That is, if you can read Korean. (The autotranslations still come out wacky, but less so on this page (dead link) where someone is explaining the misunderstandings of the various results on each face of the die.)

One of the original pages I linked is gone, obviously, but there’s a much better set of photos (along with  some information) over on this blog over at tistory anyway; the only problem is that it’s all in Korean. So here I am, disseminating a bit, for the edification of those whose korean is even worse than mine!

Here are a couple of pics and a rough stab at translating the meaning of each face of the die:


Most of the post over at tistory (where the picture directly above, and most of the pictures below, are from) is about the discovery and preservation of the die during excavations in the 1970s.

There is also an index of facets and what they meant. However, the translations of the dice faces are pretty horrible, apparently. This blog post claims to be more accurate, and certainly some of the interpretations there make more sense, so my wife and I have based the following on its translations instead (though, note, some of the meanings are simply unclear, since the rules were never written down and scholars have had to guess from the vague instructions on the dice):

Square Faces:

1. 금성작무(禁聲作舞, square face) : Dance to no music or singing. 

2. 중인타비(衆人打鼻, square face) : Your nose will get smacked by a bunch of people. 

3. 음진대소(飮盡大笑, square face) : Drink all the booze and and laugh! (Meaning uncertain, but probably means drink the rest of the liquor on the table. Or maybe finish your glass. Not sure.)

4. 삼잔일거(三盞一去, square face) : Chug three shots of liquor at a time. (Literally, drink three glasses of liquor holding them all together the same time.)

5. 유범공과(有犯空過, square face) : Stay still no matter what! (ie. Flinch test: others will tease or move to strike you)

6. 자창자음(自唱自飮, square face) : Drink and sing “straight.” (I think, in contrast to #13.)

“Triangular” (actually 6-Edged) Faces:

7. 곡비즉진(曲臂則盡, 6-edged face) : Put one glass on the palm of your hand, and hold another glass with your other hand. Then move your hand holding the glass under your other arm and drink it. (?!?!?)

8. 농면공과(弄面孔過, 6-edged face) : Stay perfectly still and don’t blink while someone tickles your face!

9. 임의청가(任意請歌, 6-edged face) : Sing a song that the others request you to sing.

10. 월경일곡(月鏡一曲, 6-edged face) : Sing a weolgyeong song. (Which seems to be a song about the moon, though here “moon” might be a metaphor for a women, or a woman in the group.)

11. 공영시과(空詠詩過, 6-edged face) : Translate a poem aloud.

12. 양잔즉방(兩盞則放, 6-edged face) : Drink two shots. 

13. 추물막방(醜物莫放, 6-edged face) : Don’t let it go when it’s not clean. (Unclear meaning, but probably you’re on cleanup duty.)

14. 자창괴래만(自唱怪來晩, 6-edged face) : Sing a song while playing drunk. (ie. Pretend to be really drunk while you sing a song.)

This following image looks like another museum piece, probably a recreation since the original dice were in rough shape when they were found:

주령구 picture
I would totally buy one of these 주령구, if someone manufactured them!

The geometry of the die is actually kind of interesting, as it’s a hybrid of two more-familiar polyhedral dice known to gamers today:


Yep, it’s a hybrid of a d6 and a d8: six sides have four edges, and eight sides have 6 edges (though, note, this is to make the geometry work: a regular d8’s sides have only three edges). I’m sure the more mathematically inclined would be able to work out the effect of this on the probability of the different-sized faces coming up in any given role, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that each square face, being smaller, was slightly less likely to show up, although perhaps not a lot less likely.

This die is not readily available (in mass commercial manufacture) as far as I can tell, which is funny since I suspect–aside form the fact it’s all in difficult-to-read hanja–that a modernized version would be popular at drinking sessions, especially with college kids and middle-aged men. However, there are two forms in which you can buy it. There’s an apparently wooden version that costs almost fifty bucks (!):


… or a massive build-your-own paper version, at a size of approximately 10 cubic centimeters, that’s closer to fifteen bucks:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.23.48 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.23.29 PM

The cutesy animal number die version isn’t a big surprise, by the way. Over the years, getting gaming dice has gotten easier, but the price of standard six-sided dice in Korea seems to be higher than it is in the West, as I learned when trying to buy a large set of d6s for a game a few years ago. lots of the dice sets commercially available online in Korea are conceived as pedagogical tools, either for math or for language (here are some used in English teaching). One example is the alphabet dice I was using with students a while back, and which are pictured in this post.

Still, no affordable plastic 주령구 for grownups… for now, anyway!

Update: Courtesy of Stephen Robertson, in a Facebook discussion of the post, there seems to be an app on Google Play, for those who use Android! (I don’t, so I can’t try it out, but I’d love to hear how people find it.)

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.03.23 AM


Check it out here.

Also, according to other comments on Facebook, there are physical dice available in Insadong, a tourist trap district in Seoul. I’ll have to go have a look for them when I’m next in Korea, as I’d love to have one. (Hint, hint.)


9 thoughts on “(non-Platonic!) d14 of Korean Hard-Partying

  1. I find it sad that Korea’s proud drinking culture of antiquity has been corrupted into a joyless and stilted affair by the country’s modern military influences. Or is it possible that the joyous spontaneity I ascribe to pre-occupation Korean culture is mere nostalgia for a reimagined past that is more wishful thinking for our present reality?

    1. Yeah, it’s hard to say, though, as I argued in an recently-reprinted essay, it seems to me that it’s more a case of Korea’s drinking culture being retroactively revised so that it can be pressed into service to fill a void left behind by the collapse of village/community identity and connectedness… ie. it’s the nostalgia combined with the top-down enforcement of what is imagined to have come naturally that probably makes drinking such a joyless, stilted ritual so much of the time. Well, that and a degree of nouveaux-riche emulation of what was is imagined to be high-class, dignified, etc.

      (Not coincidentally the same kind of thing that made so much of middle class life in Georgian London so awful, when London was becoming one of the first great frontier outposts on the way to modernity.)

  2. As a side note, I realize now maybe it wasn’t clear from the context: I meant to be tongue-in-cheek when I called the drinking culture “proud” :)

    1. Ha, sure, I got that. I don’t know: Mrs. Jiwaku and I were laughing because some of the die roll outcomes looked childish to us, but sounded like they’d be a big hit with a lot of groups of ajeoshis… but it does at least sound like more fun than the drear drinking rites I’ve endured countless times in Korea (until I finally managed to convince people that no, I don’t like soju and won’t drink it).

    1. Really? Then it’s missing from both the sites I used to assemble this post, seemingly. (Though I’d wager one was based on the other to begin with, so that’s hardly a surprise.) What’s the hanja supposed to say, then?

      Oh, and your blog (which new to me) is hilarious.

  3. Hello!

    My wife and i visited Wolji Pond today and there was a vendor selling wooden ones for ₩8000 (about 8 dollars). I stumbled across your blog trying to find out more about them and thought you’d like to know!

    1. Wow! That’s cool. I’m not sure I’d make the trip down just to get one, but it’s heartening to know that it’s at least possible. (If you are still in Kyeongju tomorrow and see someone selling them, I’d totally pay you back for it and the postal expense, and of course send you something nice for your trouble too!)

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