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Balls and bags, tosses and losses: Get the lawn game lowdown

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As we prepare to hurtle headlong into the dog days of August, we should do our best to really embrace the opportunities for outdoor fun provided by the too-brief summer months. The clock is ticking – it’s time to really start leaning the fun in the sun portion of 2019. Even the cruelest of weather patterns will allow us a few days over the coming weeks in which to get out and enjoy what the season has to offer.

However, there’s only so much lounging one can do. There are only so many places to go for a swim. And sometimes, you’re looking for something fun that doesn’t involve taking a trip to the coast or to your favorite dipping spot.

That’s where lawn games come in.

Nothing says summertime quite like being out in your yard with a frosty beverage in your hand and the scent of the grill in your nostrils. If you can add an element of competition to that, how can you go wrong?

There are plenty of traditional games that many of us have played since we were kids and will likely bring back fond (or not-so-fond) memories of Julys gone by. However, there are also some more adult-oriented games that prove to be a lot of fun as well.

We’re going to take a look at a few personal favorites. We’ll revisit a couple of classics, but we’ll also bring some newer games to the table – some that you may have heard of before, others you may not have. And among these newer games, chances are good that you’ll find at least one that speaks to you in that so-special “crush your enemies and see them driven before you” summertime kind of way.

(As an aside, if there’s anyone out there with a set of vintage lawn darts that they’re looking to get rid of, by all means contact me. Nothing says summertime fun like potential grievous bodily harm and the looming specter of death. This is very real talk – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you’ve got a line on getting me my Jarts fix.)

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The Classics

Bocce

Bocce is lawn bowling. The version we play is of Italian origin, but is played all over the world.

According to the rules, you should have a space at least 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, but practically speaking, you can make a bocce court whatever size you like.

The game can be played with two people or two teams of two; there are four balls to a side. To start, one team throws the jack - a smaller ball - onto the court. The goal then becomes to toss or roll your ball as close to the jack as possible. Only one team scores per round, getting one point for each ball that is closer to the jack than the closest ball of the opponent.

You can get more in-depth with the rules, but really, this is all you need to know to have some fun with it. Bocce is my favorite of all the traditional lawn games.

Croquet

Ah, croquet. Perhaps the classiest of lawn sports.

Look, I’m not going to tell you anything about croquet that you don’t already know. We’ve all played it, or at least seen it played. You set up the six wickets and the two pegs, then whack the colored balls through and into them with a mallet. It’s as simple as that.

As with most lawn games, what makes croquet fun is the fact that anyone can play it. As soon as you pick up a mallet, you’re OK at croquet. As with anything, you improve with practice, but most of us are at about the same skill level.

It’s worth noting that the Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth has a first-class croquet pitch and hosts tournaments sanctioned by the United States Croquet Association (USCA). If you’re ever looking to see the game played at a high level, check their website (www.woodlawnmuseum.com) for upcoming events – they just hosted their annual Woodlawn Invitational, but there’s play taking place throughout the summer.

It’s ALSO worth noting that this game, more than any other lawn game in my opinion, has the ability to start real fights between friends and cause a good deal of friction in relationships. When a friend or loved one hits your ball with theirs and decides to “send” it, well - suffice it to say that that way lays potential resentment.

Badminton

Badminton is a little different from the rest of these, as one could make an argument that it’s actually a sport. It has even been in the Olympics since the 1992 Games. Still, it’s a backyard mainstay and so it warrants inclusion.

Competitive badminton is chock full of rules, but for our purposes, all you need is a net, two (or four) rackets and a shuttlecock. You hit the shuttle back and forth over the net, scoring points whenever it lands on the ground on your opponent’s side of the net. Each side can only hit the shuttlecock once before it passes over the net.

In my experience, this is a game that tends to degenerate fairly rapidly. While we always start with the intention of playing a clean, competitive game, it always winds up with people (i.e. me) hitting the shuttlecock as high into the air as possible and/or incredibly hard at an opponent.

Tossing and turning

Cornhole

There’s nothing quite like a lawn game that is both awesome and provocatively named, am I right?

Your standard cornhole ramp is four feet by two feet. The back end is approximately a foot off the ground. There’s a six-inch hole centered nine inches from the back of the ramp. You set two of these ramps up roughly 33 feet apart, then take beanbags (four to a side) and attempt to throw them into the hole.

Scoring is three points for every bag that goes into the hole and one point for every bag that remains on the ramp at the end of the round. Only the team that has scored the most points for the round adds to their score, with matching tosses cancelling each other out. The team that last scored leads off each round. Play goes to 21.

A friend of mine built his own ramps and (with some help) made his own beanbags. It’s astonishing how engaging this game is, and how quickly it can become addictive.

(Fun house rule aside: when playing on one particular acquaintance’s ramps, when a thrower puts all four of his bags into the hole, it is referred to as a “cornholio.” If this happens, opposing players must bow to the thrower. Not an official rule, but it should be.)

Ladder golf

This is the least inappropriate name I could find for this particular game; most of the others involve some variant of the word “balls.”

Ladder golf involves, well, a ladder-type structure consisting of three rungs. Each player or team has three bolas - balls connected with a length of cord. The player stands approximately 15 feet from the ladder and attempts to throw his or her bolas onto the ladder.

Points are scored thusly: three points for the top rung, two points for the middle rung and one point for the bottom rung. A bonus point is scored for all three bolas on the same rung or one on each rung. Play goes to 21, and you can only win by scoring exactly 21 without going over.

Spikeball

This is the only game on this list that I personally have never played (though I have seen it being played aggressively in public parks located in various cities). The game gained national attention on “Shark Tank” and has steadily grown its profile over the past decade.

The game revolves around a circular net placed on the ground. Opposing teams spike the ball – hence the name – off the net to begin. Each side is allowed three hits to bounce the ball off the net once again; once the ball is served, there are no boundaries – players can hit the ball from anywhere. If the ball hits the ground, the rim of the net, bounces more than once or is hit more than three times, the opposing team gets the point. Games are typically played to 11, 15 or 21.

There are more detailed rules for tournament play and the like; you can find out more about that (or literally anything else about Spikeball) at the company’s website at www.spikeball.com.

Frisbee Fun

Can-Jam

As has been previously established, I am a huge fan of all things Frisbee-related, so I absolutely love this game (also referred to as “Kan-Jam”), which was reportedly invented in Buffalo back in the mid-1990s.

There are actually Can-Jam sets available for purchase out there in the world, but all you really need is a Frisbee, two standard garbage cans, four people and a yard. You set up the two cans approximately 50 feet apart. Each team has a member next to one of the cans. Then? You try and throw the disc into the can while your partner tries to assist by redirecting your toss.

Scoring is as follows: one point if your partner deflects your throw and it hits the can. Two points if your throw hits the can without being touched. Three points if your partner deflects your throw into the can.

And if you throw it directly into the can? Depends on where you’re playing. The official rule is that it’s an instant win. But many people play with a ‘plunk’ equaling four points. Again, it’s your game - play it how you like. First team to 21 wins.

It can’t be stressed enough - I love this game.

Beersbee

This is another game with a few different names – this is the one our friends in Canada have given it, so we’re going with it.

Beersbee is a game involving two teams of two, two stakes, two glass bottles and a Frisbee. Each team sets up a pair of stakes slightly farther apart than the width of the Frisbee; the distance between the teams can range anywhere from 20 to 40 feet. The bottles are set atop the stakes. Each team takes turn throwing the Frisbee at the opposing team’s stakes, trying to knock the bottle to the ground. The defending team must attempt to catch both the Frisbee and the bottle. Points are scored for everything that hits the ground, with an extra point if the bottle is hit directly; games go to 21, win by two.

Oh, and the rules state that you must have a drink in one hand at all times, so you know – even better. It’s an easy DIY game as well.

Scandinavian surprises

Kubb

This game, also known as “Viking chess,” is an epitomic example of lawn games, if only because it involves: a) a fairly convoluted set of rules, and b) throwing stuff at other stuff.

The playing field is roughly 15 feet by 25 feet. Each team must set up six kubbs (rectangular wooden blocks) and a King (a slightly larger rectangular block) at either end of the playing field. Each team also has six wooden batons, which they take turns throwing (underhand and end-over-end only) at the other team’s kubbs. Kubbs that are knocked down are then thrown back onto the opposing team’s side of the field and must be cleared before baseline kubbs are attacked. The ultimate goal is to knock over all opposing kubbs, ending with the King.

To be frank, there are a lot more rules to this game. Like, a LOT. This is a VERY basic introduction - if your interest is piqued, go to usakubb.org to learn more.

Molkky

As with the aforementioned Kubb, Molkky – billed as Finland’s favorite yard game – has the classic one-two punch of weird rules and throwing stuff at stuff, so you know it’s a good one. And again – hard to go wrong with Scandinavian yard sports.

This game involves a collection of wooden skittles (pins) – numbered 1-12 – grouped tightly in a very specific order. Each participant stands behind a line approximately four meters away; a turn consists of throwing a different pin (called the molkky) at the grouping from that position. You score by knocking pins over – they must be parallel to the ground and not leaning on any other pin to count. If you knock over a single pin, you receive points corresponding with the number on the pin. Knock over more than one and your score is equal to the number of pins you knock down.

Pins are subsequently reset in their new position. This results in a grouping that gradually and haphazardly spreads across the playing area, altering strategies as you go. One wins at Molkky by scoring exactly 50 points. Go over and your score is reduced to 25. In addition, if you go three straight turns without knocking over a pin, you are automatically eliminated.

(Note: If scoring this game sounds far too involved for your liking, you’re in luck – there’s actually a downloadable app made by Molkky manufacturer Tactic that aids tremendously in scorekeeping.)

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The great thing about these non-traditional games is how DIY they can be. You can find or build the things that you need relatively easily; even if you don’t want to buy cornhole bags or a Kubb set, the instructions for how to make all of this stuff are just a Google search away. Honestly, there’s something really fulfilling in the idea of playing a game that you put together yourself, in whatever capacity.

And of course, the lawn game standards of scorn, mockery and derision are in full effect. It’s all about getting into the head of your opponent. Taunts and distractions are part of what makes these games fun; trash talk should not only be allowed but encouraged. These are your friends, after all; a few demeaning insults shouldn’t hurt anything. And if someone takes it personally, well - they should be better at the game.

And with that, I’m off to throw stuff at other stuff. Ah, summer.

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 July 2019 22:30

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