Because Bojan's recent comment about Magic: The Gathering in Belgrade tickled my memory. Somewhere, and for no very good reason, I have a Xerox of a monograph on Apache playing cards. The Apaches were not originally French street toughs; no, at first they were a Canadian Stone Age dog-sledding people who inexplicably moved far to the south, picked up the use of the gun and the horse from the rather surprised Spanish, and became an extremely mobile nation of badasses. They got along with the other peoples of the region about as well as you'd expect. This included the Spanish.
Given their mutual unfriendliness, it's a little unusual that the Apache also picked up from the Spanish their use of playing cards. (Or maybe not, since many native North American peoples were avid gamblers.) The Apache made their own, out of rawhide, but copied the Spanish designs -- different from the Anglo suits, with coins and cups -- and kept some of the Spanish names for the cards. Some decks still survive. They're collectors' items now, and museums will bid for them. I should note that they were not made from human skin. Apparently there's an urban legend about that. Upshot: playing cards will diffuse through some of the toughest cultural barriers imaginable. Playing cards themselves are derived from medieval Chinese paper money. This is not common knowledge, although the broad outlines have been known for over a hundred years. Gamblers would bet based on the bank notes they held in their hand, a little like modern Liar's Poker. I wonder if the early Chinese hyperinflations helped? The monetary value of the bills might have dropped, but their utility as game markers would have remained. That bane of comment boards everywhere, poker, seems to have a Persian origin, in the game s Nas. The problem is, no one has ever been able to confirm a Persian connection to New Orleans in the early nineteenth century, where poker was first reliably recorded. On the other hand, if there ever was a place for a Persian card game to enter the early US, it would have been New Orleans. And just for the hell of it, here's the origin of that mysterious casino game, Keno, or as it was originally known, the White Pigeon Ticket. Betting on randomly chosen words from the Thousand Character Classic? I usually only say this when contemplating Wisconsin or the Philippines, but: "Oh, my people."