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Suppose there is a wandering starship that travels between the stars, bringing blackjack and hookers to every wormhole it crosses. This casino is like any other on a planet or station, except it experiences frequent gravity shifts and spends extended periods of time in zero gravity, due to its spacefaring nature and it’s captain’s reluctance to install centrifuges. This presents many problems, but the most notable one is playing cards. Due to the setting’s retro-future aesthetic, digital and holographic cards do not exist, and poker just isn’t the same on a bulky CRT display. With gravity shifting so much, how can the cards (or tables) be modified to allow them to stay put in a manner that preserves its iconic card shape (e.g. no protruding ridges), last a long time (no conventional adhesives), and be easily operable by those under the influence (no special “card slots” on the table)? Can they be lined with ferromagnetic dust for use on magnet-lined tables? Can the tables use active airflow to suck cards onto them? What other creative and elegant solutions would be of use here? Or am I overthinking it?

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    $\begingroup$ Can't imagine dice and dominoes would be any easier! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ How about simple straps on the table. Whenever you want to place a card on the table, find an available strap, and strap it down. Alternatively, the table can be magnetic, and when you put a card on the table, you put a magnet over it to hold it down; just like someone playing outdoors would put a rock on top of a card to shield it from the wind. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jan 28 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Or for that matter the hookers, but this is a family website, so we'll just leave that to everyone's imaginations... $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman --- I'm sure for the less adventuresome there's some sort of strap-in bag that can be attached to a wall that'll kind of keep it all together! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Velcro. Never mind the cards and let's focus on zero g activities with the hookers... $\endgroup$ Jan 29 at 23:29

5 Answers 5

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Magnetic board, metallic cards

Fortunately, you don't need to go further than 1963 to get your solution, when Norman Schuman filed patent 3,194,561 at the US patent office.

By combining a magnetic table top with cards with a ferrous center filler between two paper/plastic faces, you get wind-resistant cards.

enter image description here

Here is a real-world implementation:

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ This of course has the advantage of working even when various ship systems might by non-functional, switched off or under repair. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ And, if the plot goes that direction, being Chekhov's ferromagnetic cards when they are later used to open a locked door/bamboozle a robot/slash an assailant. $\endgroup$
    – dbmag9
    Jan 28 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ That patent expired in 1982, so it was patented just long enough to prevent the Apollo astronauts from using such technology on any of their missions... (yes, I'm aware that weight probably would have prevented it anyway). $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Jan 30 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ I have to wonder whether the cards would become magnetised over time and start sticking to one another. $\endgroup$ Jan 31 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @TimPederick I could imagine that the motion involved during shuffling the cards could be enough to demagnetize them again. $\endgroup$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 31 at 8:52
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When playing card games, the cards are in three situations:

  1. Held in the hand
  2. Being shuffled
  3. Lying on a table (either individually or in stacks)

The first two mostly aren’t affected by freefall, but shuffling will be a problem if the cards stick to one another, magnetically or otherwise. Certain fancy shuffles need gravity, but skilful card-handlers can come up with freefall adaptations so that’s not a problem.

For holding individual cards flat, a vacuum table should work well with normal playing cards. To get a really strong vacuum hold-down, you would need to seal all around each card, but you don’t want them to be held too strongly anyway. If the cards are porous, it will even work for stacked cards, although I’m not sure an unsealed vac table would be strong enough to hold a whole deck of cards.

Realistically, I think you’d just have something like a bungie cord strapped across each edge of the table for players to tuck their cards under, and then some spring-loaded shoes in the middle for piles of cards, which would cover most games I can think of.

(If you google “CNC workholding” you will see a lot of solutions to similar problems, including details on how vacuum tables work)

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    $\begingroup$ I like the vacuum table idea, but having cards which are attracted to magnets without being magnetic themselves allows to sticking them to tables, even in stacks, without interfering with shuffling etc. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ The cards in the 1963 patent are not magnetized, just magnetic, and do not stick together. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 28 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ There would be a risk of them becoming magnetised as they're moved over the magnets on the table though. So you would need some card-shuffling mechanism that demagnetises them... or use magnetising them as an invisible way to 'mark cards' for profit! $\endgroup$
    – JeffUK
    Jan 28 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffUK -- Magnetisation can be easily dealt with by a demagnetiser. Every dealer in the casino should have on on the table. These are already used on a variety of tools to keep them from sticking to things. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ The vacuum table doesn't have to consist of one huge opening. I think the table would be divided into regions supplied by small calibre vacuum tubing. Less volume required. Also, the felt covering of the table should serve to seal the table well enough to allow for sufficient suction power. Also note that the table coverings will have to be laundered every day --- they will attract dust, smoke particles, dander, blood droplets and other assorted bits of nasty. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 16:58
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"Smart" playing cards

We have an accepted answer for the right way to do this. But the nostalgic scenario means that the manufacturers will ask, how would OUR society do this in the near future?

The clear answer is the Smart Playing Card.

Take an ordinary paper card. Add 40 years of Moore's Law. A card is formally a communications device - it can display a number - so all the expected features of a cell phone are expected, even if it is hard to point to any specific law that makes them mandatory. The cards will contain at least 16 cameras, recording all angles; accelerometers; Space Positioning System receivers accurate to ten microns; multiple microphones; built-in fingerprint recognition on front and rear surfaces; terahertz beamforming antennae to upload their data to company servers in real time while imaging the surrounding room. The smart paper of the cards is audited by Digital Trust Us to ensure that it does not change and display a different symbol over the course of the game in a way that would be unfair, except as required by legitimate law enforcement processes or other considerations laid out in the Terms and Conditions.

To this, we need merely add some small actuators that can synchronize with the communications beams to move by interacting with their electromagnetic fields. A coherent terahertz beam (or any other radiation) will have a constantly changing electric and magnetic field, so by pushing off from it at the right times, the card experiences a controlled force. Playing cards are not heavy and it shouldn't take much to do this, and it's a good reason to explain why the terahertz scanner needs enough power to see through the privacy shielding on the conjugal bunks. (They are programmed to keep such information private on company servers, subject to the Terms and Conditions as updated in the most recent microsecond)

These playing cards are sleek, smart, they stay on a table where dealt regardless gravity, briefly turn blank if handled by an unauthorized user, report crimes and disagreements that may mar a gambling match automatically, and best of all, they are FREE because they are supported by carefully targeted advertising targeted to the specific user's DNA absorptions in the terahertz spectrum in a way that is completely anonymized from their name and official identity number. These helpful advertisements allow one-click access to gambling addiction treatment, bank loans, payday lending, organ and tissue research opportunities and more! But the cards display a traditional ornamental pattern once per millisecond so that any photography and video of this protected content permitted under the T&C will show a traditional-looking match without any of the ads, so that more relevant advertisements can be added in post. In-person audience members are strongly discouraged but not formally prohibited from using their Smart Glasses to screen out the ads in this fashion.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is why WB.SE exists! Chapeau! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 20:41
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Card shoes and table clips

Cards in the deck or discard are kept in shoes that are bolted to the table, so they'll stay put until you draw cards from it. Cards belonging to players are either held in their hand, or held to the table by a simple mechanical spring clip.

I'm not sure if the table clips violate the "no card slots" requirement, but I'll also point out that for certain casino games, drunk patrons would have no need to use them. In blackjack, for example, a player does not touch any cards at all, so placing cards in the clips would be entirely the responsibility of the professional dealer.

Even in games where players do handle their own cards, table clips would be very easy to operate, and casino rules about how and where cards must be played should already be strictly enforced. Every casino should already have a protocol for what happens when cards are accidentally or intentionally revealed at the wrong time, and failure to use the clips is just one more way that a card could be revealed illegally.

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  • $\begingroup$ I read "no special card slots" as meaning the OP doesn't want the form and the aesthetics of the table to be altered. I think anything "bolted down" to the table would violate that requirement! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas My impression was the issue was more usability than aesthetics. Regardless, I expect the form/aesthetic impact to be minimal - many casino card games would already use a shoe anyway, and the the player card clip could be something as minor as a simple paperclip attached to the table. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ I see! If that's a thing already, then very well! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 at 20:36
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Don't change the cards, change the ship.

It's not just the card tables that will have problems. Roulettes, dice tables etc.

Have the ship rotate on its own axis, problem solved. You can have a comfortable, constant 1G pull for all your guests and games.

This is so simple to do with even the cheapest lateral thrusters that there should be no excuse not to do it.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, it's much harder than you think. The gyroscopic effect of a spinning ship messes with the wormhole's complex gravitation field. Spinning the ship is still theoretically possible, but then the trajectory calculations when traversing wormholes become so involved that they require a quantum computer to solve correctly. Any approximation error and you might emerge into the wrong quadrant of the galaxy, or even inside a star!! On the other hand, when the ship is not spinning, any reasonably-smart schoolgirl or schoolboy could perform the calculations with a pen and paper. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jan 28 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ It’s not THAT simple. You couldn’t just spin an ocean liner-sized ship about its axis, as the “gravity” would vary widely and subject people to sickening coriolis forces; IIRC the O’Neill cylinder proposal calculated that you need at least a 2km diameter ring (or swing the ship on a 2km tether). And if the ship wasn’t designed for it to begin with, you’d need to totally redesign the interior space and account for significant new structural loading. $\endgroup$
    – bobtato
    Jan 28 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ The ship will still experience "frequent gravity shifts" from the apparent gravity induced when the ships accelerates, changes direction, or stops. The net gravity will not be a constant 1G - it'll be 1G away from the axis of rotation plus whatever forces are induced by the engine, which together might not always point away from the axis. This approach works well in constant zero-G, but perhaps not under G forces of varying direction and magnitude, especially if the engine G forces exceed 1G. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ The trick is to design the ship with 2 counter-rotating drums, connected by non-rotating sections at front and back. Any gyro effect created by one drum's rotation will be automatically cancelled out by the other. And you don't necessarily need a full 1G to keep cards on the table. A more gentle rotation even giving you just 0.1G would be more than sufficient. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @bobtato: "as the “gravity” would vary widely and subject people to sickening coriolis forces" - which they'd acclimate to within a few days. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Jan 29 at 2:56

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