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Appletonian 88-year-old crafts a cribbage legacy

Purists might scoff at new twists to the classic game of cribbage.

But that hasn’t stopped 88-year-old Gib Miller — an Appleton woodworker and avid cribbage player — from bringing new, creative ideas to the table.

To those not in the know: The multiplayer card game cribbage is a counting game in which participants take turns playing cards from their hand and a special “crib” that players contribute to in order to earn points using a unique scoring system that rewards them for creating achievements like pairs, runs and combinations that add up to 15. Players keep track of their score by “pegging” on a cribbage board, and the first person or team to reach the end of a board wins.

For Miller, the best parts of any cribbage session include the laughter and the chatting — and maybe some bragging after laying down a loaded hand. He figures his new ways to enjoy cribbage might bring in more folks from younger generations. It’s a game of camaraderie.

“It’s a means of getting people together, as opposed to playing something by yourself on the phone,” he said.

Gib Miller, 88, of Appleton shows off his custom made cribbage boards at Part and Print in Little Chute, Wisconsin. Photo: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via AP

Gib Miller, 88, of Appleton shows off his custom made cribbage boards at Part and Print in Little Chute, Wisconsin. Photo: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via AP

Miller, owner of Miller Creek Crafts, has long served as a cribbage ambassador in the Fox Valley. He’s combined his love of the game with his woodworking skills to a make an unusual mark. Miller has handcrafted hundreds of custom cribbage boards over the decades and devised a number of new variations of the card game. His additions hold true to the classic rules, yet offer a little something more.

He calls it “cribbage plus.”

He’s built and copyrighted boards that offer cribbage plus baseball or cribbage plus golf. He has a version for basketball enthusiasts, one for football fans and another for deer hunters. He’s inquired about a patent, but has yet to hear whether his additions are enough to constitute a new game.

He said his bigger goal is to keep people dealing. It’s been a favorite hobby dating back to his preteen years.

“My grandfather taught me how to play it way back then,” he said.

At 88, Miller is as dedicated as ever. He spends about four hours a day in his workshop and takes custom orders that could include school or business logos, the USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported. He’s donated boards for fundraisers.

Miller’s boards aren’t made to tuck into a cabinet when the fun is done. They’re works of art for display on a wall or on one of his handmade stands. They’re designed to be part of game rooms and homes.

His main retail outlet is Little Chute’s Party and Print, and Miller’s boards have been a hit.

“His pieces are the most commented on pieces in the store,” owner Karen Anderson said. “Everyone gravitates toward them.”

She said the craftsmanship, Miller’s game variations and his ability to personalize have led to purchases from many who hadn’t had a cribbage board in their plans.

“It keeps me out of the bars and off the streets,” Miller joked.

He’s given introductory cribbage lessons at Party and Print. He’s also taught the game to students as part of Boys and Girls Club programming at Appleton’s Wilson Elementary School and Roosevelt Middle School.

He’s convinced cribbage is the perfect game for kids still learning math — “it puts meaning to the numbers.”

It isn’t for every kid, but Miller has loved to watch the enthusiasm of those geared up “to go home and beat their dad or beat their uncle.”

In a game that requires quick arithmetic, Miller’s efforts put in a few extra pluses and minuses.

His baseball boards take the shape of the infield diamond and add some elements of the national pastime. Those who land on second base, for instance, score a double and are awarded two more points. A few peg slots further into the shortstop position indicates a solid defensive play and take points away from the player.

His golf variation strips points for water hazards and shots into the woods. It offers extra points for birdies, eagles, double eagles or holes in one.

His handcrafted boards range in cost from $65 to $120, half of which is material costs.

“There’s $25 worth of brass eyelets in this one,” Miller said, gesturing to his deer-hunting model.

Each requires patience, time and a steady hand. There’s cutting, sanding and painting. The biggest boards require more than 360 drill holes — precisely spaced — “and if you screw up the drilling, you’re out of luck,” he said.

His detail goes right down to the pegs. He does better than the red, white and blue plastic pieces standard to the typical store-bought board. His hunting-themed boards come with miniature rifles. His baseball boards include bats and balls.

Miller spares no details.

He makes a board that’s a replica of the old-fashioned high-wheel bicycle. The large wheel comes off the frame and serves as the game board. The pegs are screwdrivers and wrenches and the seat is made to hold a deck of cards.

The brand of cards included? Bicycle, of course.

Miller’s love for cribbage goes beyond the workshop. Miller gets together with three of his cousins each Wednesday morning for breakfast, followed by three hours of play. Each meeting is worth something. They tally games to determine a year-end champion and award a trophy.

Whether at the table or in the workshop, Miller is still having fun with cribbage. Though long retired, he said he couldn’t imagine retiring his tools.

“It keeps me healthy,” he said.

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by USA Today Network–Wisconsin.

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