2010.07.07 Peel your partner

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I stood in my side yard, mallet in hand, when a friend walked by and called out, “What an all-American family.”

Not so, I thought later. We were actually acting very British. We were engaged in the game of croquet.

Or maybe we were acting Irish. There are accounts of a similar game called crookery played on the Irish beaches. It might have worked its way down into Britain in the 1850s before it exploded into popularity in the 1860s.

Croquet appears to be related to the game of ground billiards—popular back to at least 14th century Europe—and has roots in “classical antiquity,” meaning “who really knows?”

Whatever the origin, we were in good company, attuned to people with too much time on their hands back through many, many generations.

I’m sure I played some croquet as a child. I think we had a family set, but maybe it was pushed to the side when a swimming pool took over the playing field.

It’s possible I went wicketless for 25 years or much more. I just don’t have a firm recollection. I know it came back into my life when my sister’s family bought a cottage at Gun Lake. Every visit brought game after game on their large field.

Eventually we bought our own set. It kept us in shape for cottage visits when serious croquet erupted.

I became excited enough about the game a few years ago that I thought about creating the Disturber Sticky Wicket Open at Wakefield Park, probably in conjunction with the annual town festival. It’s always in need of something on the wacky side and I thought that would fit the bill.

It could be played as normal croquet or it could be set up for speed croquet in which turns aren’t taken; just barrel on ahead to the end. Or maybe extreme croquet would be best, avoiding nicely mowed fields and heading into tough terrain.

Those dreams came before the period of Extreme Busy-ness and they fell by the wayside. It became a sticky wicket.

The recent game in my side yard was played with what we consider normal rules plus the Poison Variant. With the Variant, the winner is not necessarily the first person to finish the course.

Once the course is completed and the ball strikes the post, that ball becomes Poison. Any contact with the Poison ball immediately ejects the other person from the game.

I consider this a profane ending to the game. I go along with it because I have to, but I don’t support it. When anyone becomes Poison, they immediately go head hunting to strike another ball dead.

Not I. I just go off to the side knowing the game has actually ended. Sometimes I’m still the last ball standing after someone misses me and I get them back.

The occasion for the recent games was the arrival of my two daughters and a son-in-law for a few days. That was when the all-American family remark was made.

I don’t know if any of us has actually read the official rules. When I checked recently, it made me wonder if our entire approach is profane.

We don’t know about a rush, for example. Rush: A roquet when the roqueted ball is sent to a specific position on the court, such as the next hoop for the striker’s ball or close to a ball that the striker wishes to roquet next.

A scatter shot: A continuation stroke used to hit a ball which may not be roqueted in order to send it to a less dangerous position.

Leave: The position of the balls after a successful break, in which the striker is able to leave the balls placed so as to make life as difficult as possible for the opponent.

Here’s something you’ll never see in my yard, a Sextuple peel (SXP): To peel the partner ball through its last six hoops in the course of a single turn. Very few players have achieved this feat, but it is being seen increasingly at championship level.

I don’t even know what it means to peel a partner ball. Maybe it has something to do with weeds. I do know about that. It takes a little extra umph to peel through the plantain stalks of our extreme course.

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