mah jongg (mä jông) [key], four-handed game, probably of Chinese origin, popular in the United States. It is played in many variations throughout China. In 1920, Joseph P. Babcock, an American traveler in China, devised a set of rules for Western play and invented a complete terminology. He patented the game under the trademark Mah Jongg. The game enjoyed a remarkable popularity. The goal of the game, which is similar in principle to rummy, is to accumulate sets. The equipment for the currently popular mah jongg set consists of 152 tiles—small rectangular blocks of wood with ivory or bone faces. There are 108 suit tiles, 16 wind tiles, 12 dragon tiles, 8 flower tiles, and 8 jokers. The three suits are bamboo, or sticks; circles, or dots; and characters, or cracks. Both the distribution of tiles and succeeding play are complicated.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.