Sports Shorts: Games

Living in individual, family, or social isolation for the time being, safely avoiding exposure to the Coronavirus, we may want to entertain ourselves with activities that fit into small or residential spaces. It’s fun to play card games; they can be intellectually stimulating, too. Board games, checkers, chess, and video games have recreational and cognitive value. Here are some additional indoor and outdoor games, each involving targets, that may be enjoyable to play during, or after, our quarantine.

Most, though not all, target games require substantial degrees of athletic endowment. Some are much more tame, with minimal cardio-vascular exertion needed to play. As opposed to sports, games may be played with limited movement and reduced need for muscular development, agility, gross motor coordination, speed, and stamina. However, games such as the following require eye-hand coordination and include admirable degrees of difficulty.
Billiards
Bocce
Croquet
Darts
Foosball
Horseshoes
Lawn Bowling
Marbles
Quoits
Shuffleboard
Snooker
Tiddlywinks

Billiards
Down to a smaller scale compared to field sports like baseball, football, and soccer, and arena sports such as tennis, it must be simple to play pocket billiards. Using a table with dimensions of 4 x 8 feet, the magnitude of the game is easy to grasp visually compared to other sports. Spectators stay quiet and fellow competitors do nothing to interfere with one’s shooting. Well, that is unless one’s opponent intentionally leaves the cue ball squarely behind the proverbial, or actual, 8-ball. Calm nerves, steady hands, and skilled eye-hand coordination must combine with visual foresight and geometric angle perception to make any given shot. But to excel, one must plan and control, using “English”, ricochet, and touch, where the cue ball will come to rest in preparation for the succeeding string of shots.

Bocce
Bocce is a sport contested by old men and women, right? Not according to its national governing body, the United States Bocce Federation (USBF). People of all ages may play and compete in the traditional Volo style or the more modern Raffa style; world championships in those styles were first held in 1947 and 1983, respectively. A typical bocce court consists of a layer of clay atop gravel. It measures between 76 and 90 feet in length and has a width from 10 to 12 feet. A Volo court has no sideboards, while a Raffa court is flanked by treated lumber 10 inches high. Each player has four spheres to toss in the direction of the target jack. Volo balls are made of bronze, weigh 2.0-2.6 pounds apiece, and are 3.5-4.3 inches in diameter; Raffa competitors use plastic balls weighing 2 pounds with a diameter of 4.2 inches.

The first player tosses the jack, or wooden pallino (diameter 1.4 inches), onto the court. The players begin by taking a toss at the jack. Whosever ball is closest to it continues to throw as long as his/her tosses are closer than the one of the opponent; if a toss is farther away, the turn changes. After each has tossed all four spheres, the score depends on how many balls are closer to the jack than any of the opponent’s tosses. Thus, the closest earns one point; if that player also has the second closest result, two points are awarded (and so on). Should disputes occur or rules need discussion, Raffa players rely upon a referee while Volo adherents referee themselves. Games usually last somewhere between 7 and 13 points.

Is bocce an easy game to play? Its physical demands are small. The strategy is relatively uncomplicated. But it takes good aim and touch to toss balls close to the target, perhaps knocking aside opponents’ balls or blocking the path to the target effectively.

Croquet
This gentle art is often associated with settings of wealth and leisure. It’s a game that requires little physical exertion or athletic skill to execute, though there are skills to acquire via time and practice. One needs eye-hand coordination and touch to swing the hammer to direct the wooden ball through one or more wickets per shot. Although the end post is a stationary, point-scoring target, there are times when it pays to aim at the ball of an opponent to knock it off-course. A cut-throat attitude can pay dividends.

Darts
The genteel game of darts is accomplished by directing sharp objects (typically weighing about 20 ounces and aerodynamically designed) at a target board 18 inches in diameter from a distance of 7 feet, 9.25 inches (2.37 meters). That distance, from the oche (or throwing line) to the target, may vary between 7’ 6” to 9’, depending upon the pub or game room in which you play. But the center bull, or bull‘s eye, should always be 5’ 8” above the floor. Such humble dimensions should make for an easy game, but the subdivisions of the target, necessary “touch”, and need for concentration (often in a distracting, intoxicating setting) make the game deceptively challenging.

The basic game of darts may award the most points for tosses that penetrate the central bull’s eye, with fewer points earned for shots that end up in the concentric circular areas increasingly distant from the center. But the level of complexity can be greatly enhanced by seeking to hit the little 20 wedges of target area that extend from the center to the perimeter of the target. They are not numbered consecutively but must be struck in turn, 1 through 20, in order to win the contest. Dexterity and focus, not brute force, is what’s required to propel the darts precisely where they need to stick.

Foosball
Table football is a casual sport often played in pubs, bars, schools, clubs, and sometimes even the workplace. Players attempt to use solid (plastic, wood, metal, or carbon fiber) little human-like figures mounted on rotating metal bars to kick a ball into the opposing goal. Few rules apply, and the action can get pretty intense, though the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) provides guidelines for competition (e.g., high-speed spinning of the rods may be discouraged or illegal). Typical tables measure 2 by 4 feet and employ four bars per side: 2 foosmen on defense, 5 foosmen at midfield, 3 attackmen, and 1 goalkeeper to deflect shots that can reach 56 km/h (35 mph). Two individuals play singles while four players, each controlling two rods, may compete in doubles. There are variations in table size, foosmen size, and team size; for example, a special 7-meter-long table has been created to host 11 players per side. The game is usually just a fun hobby or diversion, though the ITSF regulates play in World Championship and World Cup events.

Horseshoes
Is this an odd use of the uniquely shaped metal objects designed to protect horse’s hooves from wear and tear? There are vast supplies of such used footwear, so why not throw them at targets? Actually, the U-shaped horseshoes employed in this game are about twice the size of those that serve as equine hoofwear. Two stakes are placed in the ground (often sand), usually in wood-bound horseshoe “pits” that are 40 feet (12 meters) apart. Players each get two shoes to toss, the first contestant tossing both before her opponent goes. Any part of a shoe must be within 6 inches of the stake, or be a “leaner” on the stake, to earn a point. If the second of the player’s shoes is closer to the stake than either of the opponent’s shots, two points are earned. A “ringer” gains three points; two ringers get six. But if each player tosses one ringer (or two apiece), they cancel one another and no points are awarded. Games usually run to 21 points; one must win by two.

Lawn Bowling
Toss a little target ball (jack or kitty) some distance and then roll four larger spheres toward it to see who can end up closer to it. It resembles bocce but with less space restriction. What could be simpler? Participants compete on a manicured grass or synthetic bowling green. Of course, you may play on your lawn at home if you like. Task difficulty varies according to the nature of that surface: flat, convex, or uneven. Points or “shots” are awarded for each player’s bowls that end up closer to the jack than any of the opponent’s bowls. Games usually end at 21 shots.

Marbles
Oh, to be a kid again! The classic child’s game of marbles is called “Ringer”. Two players “lag” for the right to begin the game; they each toss a marble to see whose ends up closer to a wall ten feet away. Then, in the center of a circle (in the dirt or some other playing surface) ten feet in diameter, they arrange 13 marbles in a crossing pattern (7 x 7 counting the one in the middle twice). The first player “knuckles down” at the perimeter of the circle and launches her “shooter” with the goal of knocking one of the target marbles out of the ring. If that is accomplished, she picks up that marble as her prize and shoots again from wherever her shooter marble came to rest. Knock out seven marbles consecutively and you win! But if she fails to “stick” a marble, her opponent knuckles down at the perimeter of the ring and tries his hand at sticking seven consecutive shots. Better yet, if the other player knocks the opponent’s shooter out of the ring, that player claims all of the opponent’s marbles and wins the game. If both shooters remain through the entire game, the winner is the one who knocks the most of the 13 marbles out of the ring. Child’s play? Gee, it sounds challenging! Variations of the game, both outdoor and indoor versions, offer differing difficulties.

Quoits
Quoits? I’ve never heard of it. But ring toss? Ah, that sounds familiar. The gentile versions of this game entail efforts to toss rope or plastic rings to encircle wooden stakes or pins; those are garden, deck, pub, fairground, or indoor quoits. But players of the traditional game of quoits in the United Kingdom throw much more substantial steel rings, 5.5 inches in diameter and weighing 5.5 pounds apiece, at a steel spike (hob, mott, or pin) 11 yards away. Those steel pins protrude 3-4 inches out of the clay pits within which they’re embedded. The U.S. version uses 4-pound quoits aimed at pins that are 7 yards away and extend 4 inches above the dirt or clay pit. Hence, quoits resembles the game of horseshoes.

Shuffleboard
This game looks like curling made easy. Players use cues (cue sticks measuring 6’ 3” or less in length) to slide six-inch-diameter discs down an alley toward a triangular target zone. An official alley is 6 feet wide and 39 feet long, with 6-foot shooting zones behind the scoring triangles at each end. Smaller alleys and table models exist where space is limited. If your opponent has one disc in good scoring position, you may aim to knock it away and leave your own disc there. Any disc ending in the front apex of the triangle earns 10 points; just past that are slightly larger 8-point zones and then larger 7-point zones. Then there is a narrow area called “10 off”, a penalty for sure. It’s a game for all ages, including young and old, in resort areas and on cruise ships. It entails little athletic effort. It does, however, require eye-hand coordination and that elusive quality called “touch”. A willingness to do your opponent dirty may be advantageous, too.

Snooker
Is playing eight-ball or straight pool too tame a game of billiards? Then consider this cue sport using a typical white cue ball along with 21 snooker balls. The object of this pocket billiards game is to sink the 15 red balls, worth one point apiece, along with the yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6), and black (7) balls. What a colorful game!

Tiddlywinks
This little indoor game of finesse, contested on a 3 by 6-foot felt mat, involves surprising levels of strategy and a language all its own. Each player uses a plastic squidger disc to flick the small plastic discs, called winks, into a target pot. The game is often contested in teams of two; one pair of partners play with red and blue winks (six of each color), while the other team uses green and yellow winks. If individuals play one another, each commands two colors. One might expect straightforward technique—i.e., aim for the pot and flick your winks into it. But this game of manual dexterity features strategic and tactical planning of offense and defense. For instance, one might squop, or cover an opponent’s wink(s) with one’s own; since a covered wink may not be played by its owner, the victim of a squop may recover by playing the wink atop his own. Winks may end up in small piles. By game’s end, either when time expires (usually about 25 minutes) or someone has potted out all of her winks, players count up their potted and unsquopped winks to determine the higher score. The most tiddlies wins! More could be said about this intriguing game, but one may assume its complexity based on its terms such as blitz, bomb, boondock, bristol, cracker, crud, gromp, lunch, scrunge, and John Lennon memorial shot (a simultaneous boondock which sends a free and squopped wink onto another’s wink). The English Tiddlywinks Association, in conjunction with the North American Tiddlywinks Association, sets the rules and runs the big, often international, tournaments.

Are there additional target games not cited here? Of course there are. Humans have an untiring fascination with, and imagination for, the creation of targets at which to throw, roll, or hit projectiles. Carnival games and backyard fun with Jarts come to mind. People skip stones on watery surfaces, with or without particular end points in sight. What about table games such as air hockey and pinball? Those certainly involve targets and skills such as manual dexterity and quickness; those “crazy flipper fingers” helped make The Who’s Tommy a pinball wizard. Modern-day, fast-paced, point-and-shoot video games demand unblinking attention, visual-motor control, and quick reflexes. Tossing bean bags at holes in wooden ramps makes cornhole a favorite party game. Kicking a hacky sack ball, singly or in groups, keeps you on (and off) your toes. We’ll throw or kick just about anything at whatever target we see.

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