Come Out and Play


It is known that you can give two boys a stick and a rock and they will create a game within minutes. They will then spend another 45 minutes deliberating over the rules. What can I say? We males really dig games. I realize women do as well. After all, my wife could probably teach Marv Levy a thing or two about the history of the Buffalo Bills. She probably also has a better chance of throwing a completed pass but I digress. Sports and games are a huge part of American culture. Sports can bring out an esprit de corps that inspire people to shout at the top of their lungs, consume untold quantities of junk food, and spend a week recovering from the horrendous cold brought on by parading around while shirtless and painted in 12° weather. For example, I live in Western New York. As a native Georgian, I LOVE watching the Atlanta Braves (I know, who am I to take shots at the Bills?) I can walk the perimeter of the local mall wearing my Braves hat. There is a good chance that a random stranger will see me and shout: “CHIPPER JONES RULES! GO BRAVES!”

However, it should also be noted that sports are not just for the armchair athlete. You can’t go to school, church, or work without hearing somebody talk about their fantasy league. They have fantasy leagues for about any sporting event that come to one’s mind: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, lacrosse, disc golf, croquet, bocce, darts, jai alai, or synchronized swimming. Actually I am not sure about all of those. I don’t think there is really a disc golf fantasy league.

Then you have the world of intramural sports. Most people have jobs that include some kind of sports league. This is designed to bring out that aforementioned esprit de corps amongst you and your co-workers. You may scoff about that funny, geeky guy on the other side of the cubicle wall. So what if he has the strange laugh and the annoying habit of clearing his throat. This doesn’t change the fact the he has a left hook that brings the company’s bowling league to a certain victory. Let the jerks from Ignoramacorp® continuously drink the last of the coffee in the break room. You’ll get even at the next paintball tourney. I even had one of my colleagues do some recruiting for a league at my job. He asked: “Shane, do you like kickball?” “Say WHAT?” I politely responded. He repeated: “Do you like kickball?” I responded: “I did in third grade.” He didn’t need my snotty remarks anyway. He quite successfully recruited enough co-workers to form a team without me.

While I am glad my colleague found a way to have fun and promote camaraderie, I can’t help but wonder — Where does it go from here? We have grown folks playing kickball on a self-formed league. You can even watch a spelling bee on a sports network. The worst part is, I run across this bee on the TV and suddenly I am unable to change the channel. I am suddenly shouting at an 11 year old girl for misspelling “colloquialism”. Next thing you know, there will be a commentator giving a play by play on a marbles game: “Welcome back from the commercial break folks. Tommy Smitherson is still dominating this round. We now have Scotty Jamison at the taw line. Jamison is returning after a histing controversy in 2008. He seems a bit rattled by Smitherson’s perfor…OH MY GOODNESS! JAMISON HAS LOFTED HIS AGGIE AND TAKEN THE TIGER’S EYE! THIS PLAYING FOR KEEPS TOURNAMENT HAS COME TO A SHOCKING AND SUDDEN END, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” Great, I had Smitherson in my fantasy league.

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When Do I Say “FORE!”?

I spent a WONDERFUL 4th of July with my family. Every year we go to a sports park that is owned by our local church. The day is spent enjoying all kinds of great activities: inflatables, lawn games, a baseball pitching range, and face painting. This is in addition to all the concession food you can eat (everything was a buck apiece) and one of the most phenomenal fireworks displays ever seen.

In another recent event, my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in a mass ceremony the previous week. Due to this, I told my wife that as “newlyweds” we need to be a bit spontaneous and try something we normally wouldn’t. That’s right folks, right there on the 4th of July, me and the missus headed straight for the lawn games. There were two games to choose from: bocce and croquet. Wifey and I decided to play croquet.

A very nice man approached us. He was in charge of coordinating guests who wanted to play croquet. He asked if either of us had played before. We explained that it had been since childhood for both of us. We asked if he just walk us through it as if we knew nothing about it (pretty close to the truth anyway). He kindly replied: “Well, you folks are probably used to playing nine-wicket croquet. This field is set up for six-wicket croquet. I’ll explain it to you”. This man then proceeded to spit out more words than a dictionary in a wood chipper. To his credit, he explained the rules and object of the game with eloquence and clear authority on the subject. My wife and I stood there, holding hands, trying to hide our deer-in-the-headlights feeling that had overcome us both. We both nodded our heads to properly feign complete understanding of what this fine gentleman had just explained to us. My lovely queen and I did our best to piece together his instructions. We also took pointers from another couple who already had a game in play. At game’s end, my wife and I both had a great time. We then went to get our faces painted because; after all, we’re newlyweds.

After leaving the lawn games, my mind got very curious about the origins of the game. You, my dear reader, are about to experience the origin and rules of croquet as I understand them. Please feel free to take notes. I know it is a common tactic for many to trust but verify. As a winner of many a trivia game, I can assure I can be trusted with this information.

Croquet was originally pronounced “KROKet“. That is because the game was named after the King of the Wild Frontier himself: Davey Crockett. It seems that when Crockett wasn’t fightin‘ single handed through many a war and fixin‘ the crack in the Liberty Bell, he would passed the time playing a game he devised himself. Crockett would stand in his field and hit a boulder with a sledgehammer. The object was to make the boulder pass underneath the openings in his fence. This was any easy task for a man who killed a bear at the tender age of three. After all, Davey Crockett was a man. He was a BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG man. Wait a minute. Sorry, THAT was someone else.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the Marquis de Lafayette was rather intrigued by the frontier game. Due to Lafayette misspelling (and mispronouncing) Crockett’s name, the game was changed to croquet (pronounced “krow-KAY”). The name loosely translates as “sledgehammer golf”. Also, Lafayette Incorporated the use of smaller spherical balls. He also created small arches which were driven into the ground. After all, Lafayette did not kill a bear at three years old. It’s quite possible Lafayette NEVER killed a bear but I digress. Lafayette then struck a stick into the ground in the center of the play area in order to lean against it while his opponents were playing. Unfortunately, any given player’s trajectory would eventually hit the stick. Lafayette eventually gave up and just made the stick a part of the game. Lafayette then painted the stick to look like a barber pole. Thus, the tradition was born for player’ to get a haircut immediately following the game. This tradition ceased quickly as player’s wanted to keep playing the game but were catching a death of cold.

The rules are quite simple. There are several horseshoe thingies driven into the ground. Four of the horseshoe thingies create a large upside down U shape. In the center is the painted, stripy stick. There is also a horseshoe thingy on each side of the painted stripy stick. There are four spherical balls that are painted blue, red, black, and yellow. The balls are played respectively in that order. I don’t know why that is. Nonetheless, just work with me please. Using the sledgehammer doo-dad, the player strikes the ball in an attempt to pass through each horseshoe thingy, in order, in the shape of the upside down U. Once you have passed through all four horseshoe thingies in order, you do the same in reverse order until you make you way back to the first horseshoe thingy that started the game. After you do this, you make your way toward going through the two horseshoe thingies in the center. One quick note: be careful when you go to strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad. It is very easy to hit the toes. If this happens, you have to call a toe truck (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Once you have gone through the center of all the horseshoe thingies (in order, both ways), you then strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad to hit the painted stripy stick. Apparently, the first player to hit the painted stripy stick with their respective colored spheres wins the match.

So, there you have it, folks: the rules and history of croquet. You may feel free to take the advice of Robert Ripley and “Believe it or not”. You may find differing information on the Internet, at the library, or by consulting an actual croquet official. All the same, this is MY story and I’m sticking to it.

[This piece was written with dedication and abject apologies to my US History teachers, the United States Croquet Association, and the memory of Fess Parker]