Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Russian roulette is the practice of placing one round in a revolver, spinning the cylinder and closing it into the firearm without looking, aiming the revolver at one's own head in a suicidal fashion, and pulling the trigger. The number of rounds placed in the revolver can vary. As a gambling game, toy guns are often used to simulate the practice.
Various legends abound regarding the invention of Russian roulette. Most of these, predictably, take place in Russia, or occur among Russian soldiers.
In one legend, 19th century Russian prisoners were forced to play the game while the prison guards bet on the outcome. In another version, desperate and suicidal officers in the Russian army played the game to impress each other.
The earliest known use of the term is from "Russian Roulette", a short story by Georges Surdez in the January 30, 1937, issue of Collier's Magazine. A Russian sergeant in the French Foreign Legion asks the narrator,
- "'Feldheim . . . did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?' When I said I had not, he told me all about it. When he was with the Russian army in Rumania, around 1917, and things were cracking up, so that their officers felt that they were not only losing prestige, money, family, and country, but were being also dishonored before their colleagues of the Allied armies, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, anywhere, at the table, in a cafe, at a gathering of friends, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head, and pull the trigger. There were five chances to one that the hammer would set off a live cartridge and blow his brains all over the place. Sometimes it happened, sometimes not."
Whether Tsarist officers actually played Russian roulette is unclear. In a text on the Tsarist officer corps, John Bushnell, a Russian history expert at Northwestern University, cited two near-contemporary memoirs by Russian army veterans, The Duel (1905) by Aleksandr Kuprin and From Double Eagle to Red Flag (1921) by Petr Krasnov. Both books tell of officers' suicidal and outrageous behaviour, but Russian roulette is not mentioned in either text.
The only reference to anything like Russian roulette in Russian literature is in a book entitled A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (1840, translated by Vladimir Nabokov in 1958), where a similar act is performed by a Serbian soldier: the dare however is not named as "Russian roulette". (Russian officers did play a game called "cuckoo" with a Nagant revolver, whereby one officer would stand on a table or a chair in a dark room. Others would hide and yell "cuckoo" hoping not to be hit by gunfire.)
In the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter, the game is also depicted as being played in Vietnam. However, many argue that there isn't enough evidence prove that these activities really went on, as a form of torture or as a gambling game. According to one website which tries to provide evidence on the matter, Valerie Douglas, whose father's cousin and father were in the Vietnam War, claims that Russian roulette occurred both for gambling and murder.  Several teen deaths following the movie's release caused police and the media to blame the film's depiction of Russian roulette, saying that it inspired the youths.
On October 5 2003, famous mind control magician Derren Brown played Russian roulette on British television Channel 4. Even though the stunt was apparently being broadcast live, it was later revealed to being broadcast on a slight delay and if anything had gone wrong the programme would have cut to a black screen. The stunt was condemned by some as being irresponsible and many British newspapers claimed that blanks were used in place of live ammunition. However, it was proved on the prerecorded segment of the programme that at point blank range blanks are often lethal; a blank might cause a concussion to the head, or cause deafness or burns, because the escaping gases and such are basically the aftermath of a chemical explosion.
A semi-automatic pistol, unlike a revolver, will automatically load a round if it has any rounds remaining. There has been at least one Darwin Award resulting from an attempt to play Russian roulette with such a pistol.
Notable Russian roulette incidents
On June 12, 2001, Clinton Pope, a 16-year-old young criminal who had been drinking and smoking marijuana for the night, fired a bullet into his face while playing Russian roulette before his friends in St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S. He was sent to a hospital and was in critical but stable condition.
On March 29, 2003, Evan Below, a 14-year-old boy shot and killed himself while playing Russian roulette with a .38-caliber revolver in the kitchen of a friend's house in Casper, Wyoming, U.S. The weapon was taken by the houseowner's son from his mother's bedroom.
In Season 3 of the televison program 24, main character Jack Bauer is forced to play a game of Russian roulette when taken prisoner. Actor Kiefer Sutherland preceeded the episode with an announcement from the Americans For Gun Safety Foundation, addressing the issue of gun safety. This episode originally aired on November 25, 2003.
On August 7, 2004, Nadera Samantha Goodson, 16, shot her boyfriend, Michael Gerald Henry, 18, dead, while they were playing a version of Russian roulette in a house in Jamaica, Queens, New York, U.S. She was charged with manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon.
On August 23, 2004, a 25-year-old Greek soldier, Antonis Syros, was shot in the forehead by a revolver that had held a single bullet at the gates of an Olympic village at Mount Parnitha in Athens, Greece. He was playing Russian roulette "jokingly" with Christos Chloros, a policeman, while he was standing guard.
Toy gun version
All players put money in the pot. Each player in turn points the gun at their head and pulls the trigger. If the gun activates, the person holding the gun is eliminated from the game. The last player remaining wins the pot.
If the magazine isn't spun after each shot, the odds of losing are 1/(6 − n), where n is the number of previously played games) . Thus, the odds of losing start out as 1/6, then 1/5, then 1/4 etc. After 4 games, the chance of losing is half, and then becomes 1, guaranteeing a loss. If the magazine is spun after every shot, the odds of losing remain the same, 1/6.
- The Deer Hunter death roll
- Teen Wounded Playing Russian Roulette
- 14-Year-Old Dies Playing Russian Roulette
- Man, 18, Dies in Russian Roulette
- "Russian Roulette" Olympics Death
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