In der Zwickmühle
April 12, 2011
Posted by on
A couple of days I uploaded Carl von Blixen’s Nine Men’s Morris. It occurred to me that this is the only implementation of this board game that I remember coming across. It seems to be surprisingly unpopular with programmers.
Nine Men’s Morris is quite an old game. It is well documented since the twelth century. It is mentioned in Shakespeare’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream, and boards can be found carved into the cloister seats of English cathedrals. The strange name seems to be peculiar to English, in most other European languages it is known simply as
Mill, probably because the board somewhat resembles a windmill.
Until around 1800, it was more popular than chess. Since then, its popularity may have declined more in the English speaking world than it did on the European continent, especially in Germany, where it is usually bundled with checkers, since both games use the same stones. The board will have checkers on one side and Nine Men’s Morris (Mühle) on the other. The German language even has a special term for the (usually) winning configuration where one player can shuttle one piece back and forth between two mills, taking one of the opponent’s stones with each turn. It’s called Zwickmühle (literally, pinching mill).
In the screenshot above, white has built a Zwickmühle and can close a mill each turn by moving the stone from A1 to D1 and back. Black thus is in the Zwickmühle and will lose a stone with each turn.
To be in the Zwickmühle has entered everyday usage in German. It means having to decide between two unpleasant things. The closest English term is probably
caught between a rock and a hard place.