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Katerina Husar Lazarova


Art, History, and Magic of Czech Pexeso

Pexeso is a super popular game in the Czech Republic, loved by both kids and adults. When my niece, who was just three, started playing, she instantly fell in love with it. Her enthusiasm sparked the idea to create a personalized Pexeso with my pictures when I needed a project for an art course at UCSD.

However, when I mentioned the name "Pexeso," I was met with puzzled looks—no one seemed familiar with the game's name. That's when I realized that Pexeso isn't the universal name for it. In my quest to find the English equivalent, I stumbled upon the fascinating history of the game itself.


The roots of Pexeso, or in the English language, the Memory Card Game, trace back to a thousand-year-old Japanese game called Kai Awase. It had beautifully up to 360 hand-painted shell pairs adorned with gold. Birds, flowers, and scenes from classical Japanese literature transformed this game into a cherished gift for nobility. Today, a more compact version with 54 pairs is a luxury souvenir.

But how did the name "Pexeso" reach Czech culture? In 1965, artist Zdenek Princ was tasked with creating a game to promote the newly established Pressfoto Publishing House. Inspired by a TV competition named "Pekelně se soustřeď" (Focus as Hell), he envisioned a picture mosaic game. This competition was based on revealing pairs of identical company brands. The board game was to have the same name. However, buying this name was too expensive, so Princ had to craft a simpler, one-word alternative. Taking the first two letters PE from the TV competition, swapping the K with an X, and incorporating letters from the conjunction "se" and the first two letters from the second word "soustřeď," he birthed the term PEXESO.


The early days of Czech Pexeso were marked by pictures inspired by the tales of German writer Karl Friedrich May and the newly released films featuring Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Today, the game has evolved into a kaleidoscope of themes, ranging from cartoons to cityscapes and castles, reflecting the diverse interests of players.


However, Pexeso is not merely a source of amusement. It serves as a cognitive playground, fostering logical thinking, memory enhancement, and concentration skills. The therapeutic benefits of the game extend to stress reduction, relaxation, and the calming of nerves. Pexeso transforms into a familial sanctuary, uniting generations through shared play. What's remarkable is the level playing field it provides. Often, younger players showcase remarkable prowess in memory-based challenges, giving older counterparts a run for their money. The objective, simple yet engaging, remains to collect more pairs of cards than your opponent.


In essence, Pexeso transcends the realm of a mere game; it becomes a cultural phenomenon interwoven with history, an art form with personalized creations, and a dynamic tool for mental stimulation and family bonding. The next time you engage with Pexeso, recognize that you're not just playing this game, but you're immersing yourself in a rich tapestry of tradition, creativity, and shared experiences that span generations.

So, gather your loved ones, shuffle those cards, and let the Pexeso adventure begin!


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