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Playing close to home: Lawn games offer safe, socially distanced summer fun

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It’s probably safe to say that none of us have ever experienced a summer quite like this one.

With the specter of COVID-19 still looming even as we ever-so-slowly try to find ways to ease back into something resembling normalcy, it can be tough to just get out there and have some fun. The ways in which we can experience summertime entertainment mainstays have been significantly altered – many of the out-and-about things we would ordinarily be doing aren’t as accessible to us right now. But it’s still summer, and we should do our best to find enjoyment where we can.

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, while also behaving responsibly with regards to the current circumstances, 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 summers 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.

Plus, the majority of these games can be played while still adhering to best practices with regards to pandemic protocols. By simply maintaining awareness regarding placement and proximity, everyone can get out and have some fun while also being safe – an all-too-welcome combination in these trying times.

Check out some games that you can get out and play.

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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.

As for safety, distancing is easy with bocce. If you were to designate a single jack-thrower, no one would touch anyone else’s equipment. Otherwise, some wipes and hand sanitizer will likely do the trick.

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 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.

This is another one where it would be very easy to properly distance and to ensure that no one touches anyone else’s equipment – even when sending, no one is touching another person’s ball.

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.

I’ll be honest – this one will be tough to play and still follow protocols. There’s just so much moving and touching and the like. I’ve included it because I love it, but you might want to make sure that any shuttlecock smacking stays in your bubble.

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.

Again – easy distancing. If everyone makes sure to only touch their own team’s beanbags, the degree of shared contact will be minimal. For further security, you could make sure that each individual thrower has their own bags.

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.

Another one where spacing will be easy, although people should consider trying to play with individual bolas as opposed to sharing them.

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.

This is another one that will be tougher to play and still maintain distancing protocols. There’s a LOT of movement. Plus, everyone is touching the same ball by design. It’s definitely a game to be kept in your bubble.

RampShot

RampShot is a lawn game that has only recently been introduced into my life, thanks to a very thoughtful anniversary gift from my loving wife. I’m still working out the gameplay, but my experience thus far has been a delight.

The game bills itself as “Cornhole on Steroids,” which is a fairly apt description. The game consists of two ramps, set up in much the same way as cornhole; the key difference is a flat top featuring a small net. The two person teams are distributed similarly as well, with one by each ramp. Instead of bags, the players throw balls, attempting to get them into the net. If the ball bounces off the top, the thrower’s partner can catch it for points as well.

The steroids come in when a toss hits the angled part of the ramp; the opposing team member on the same side as the thrower can rush in and catch a ball if it rebounds back. A caught ball means an additional shot for that team when the time comes.

It’s a ton of fun, but it’s another game where following safety rules could prove a little tricky. Distance could be handled, but the touching of other people’s balls is unavoidable. Put this one in the “keep it in the bubble” category.

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.

As for safety, you could have two discs, one for each team, and that would probably work OK. Distance is a non-issue. This is one that you could play relatively safely with a little disinfectant.

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.

This one isn’t as easy to keep fully safe. Distancing is no concern, but the nature of the game means that everyone is touching the same disc. Disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer between throws won’t be ideal, but it will reduce the risks of shared contact.

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.

Not sure how you make this one work. Essentially, everyone touches everything. Distancing is no problem, but the shared material contact probably means this ought to stay in the bubble.

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.)

This is a little easier than Kubb. You’ll want to designate a pin resitter, ensuring that only one person touches the numbered pins (which is the easiest way to do it anyway). From there, wiping down the molkky and/or hand sanitizing between tosses should do the trick, as it’s the sole piece of equipment multiple people touch.

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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 with so many of these games, there’s a way to play while also ensuring the safety of those around you. It isn’t quite the same, obviously, but for a lot of them, the necessary tweaks aren’t all that big of a deal. Certainly not enough to keep you from embracing and enjoying some backyard fun.

Obviously, the lawn game standards of scorn, mockery and derision are in full effect. Don’t let the circumstances prevent you from remembering that – this is a big part of why we play in the first place. 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. Safely.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 July 2020 08:50

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