Who invented the ‘d10′ ten-sided dice used in many modern board games?
I don’t know, but Shakespeare seems to presume their existence in the last scene of Timon of Athens (variously numbered 5.4, 5.5, or 17), lines 31-34, where the 2nd Senator makes Alcibiades an offer:
By decimation and a tithèd death,
If thy revenges hunger for that food
Which nature loathes, take thou the destined tenth,
And by the hazard of the spotted die
Let die the spotted.
It may be possible, but it is certainly not simple to select one-tenth of anything with a traditional six-sided die, or with two or three of them. Did ten-sided dice exist in Shakespeare’s day, and if so were they called simply ‘dice’? That seems unlikely. Was the 2nd Senator (inadertently or not) generously offering the lives of one-sixth of his fellow-citizens? That would not fit at well well with the emphatic repetition in ‘decimation’, ‘tithèd’, and ‘tenth’. Did Shakespeare, or the 2nd Senator, not stop to think about the incommensurability of decimation and six-sided dice? Or did Shakespeare notice the incongruity, but think no one else would? If so, he was nearly right: neither Klein’s 2001 New Cambridge edition nor Jowett’s 2004 Oxford World Classics nor Dawson and Minton’s 2008 Arden3 has a note on the problem ad loc. Since the decimation is canceled before it begins, the practical questions never actually arise, so it’s easy to miss.
In sum, the answer to my title question looks like it may be ‘Shakespeare, of course’, though perhaps inadvertently.
Update – 4:55pm (original post was 10:55am):
Thanks to my first two commenters, Ian Spoor and James Cross, it appears that Shakespeare may well have known 20-sided dice (both), but probably not 10-sided (Cross). That makes accurate decimation by dice-roll (rather than just counting off every tenth man) easy enough. Either you roll the die for every captive and have two unlucky numbers. (Hmmm, 13 and what else?) Or you just line the captives up in groups of 20 and roll twice to see which two will die. (Be sure to specify whether you’re counting right to left or left to right before rolling to avoid argument!) That still doesn’t entirely solve the problem in Timon: the Greek 20-sided die has letters on its faces, since the Greeks used letters to represent numbers. (See my Ancient Numbers website Nvmeri Innvmeri for more information, and to test your skills in translating from one system to another.) Would a hypothetical Shakespearean 20-sided die have had dots to represent the numbers? I don’t know, but that seems unlikely, since it would have been difficult to tell at a glance the difference between (for instance) 17, 18, and 19 without tediously counting dots. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that a hypothetical 20-sided die in Timon would not have had ‘spots’ to pun on, but printed numbers (Roman or Arabic), like modern ‘d20s’. And that still assumes it would have had the same name as the six-sided kind.