Monday, July 8, 2013

On Croquet

Croquet is one of my favorite summer activities, because it's a good mix of socializing, competitiveness, and general shenanigans. We played at the Boston Public Garden a few weeks ago, and hopefully there will be more games this summer (although at the moment it's too hot to do anything, even picnic). Google Books has a number of 19th century manuals and other random things scanned in and available for free, and I've been amassing croquet manuals. My favorite is Croquet: Its Implements and Laws. Drawn up by a Committee of Players published in London in 1866.

It's short, matter-of-fact, includes some helpful diagrams, and describes several considerations for the game I'd never considered--such as the best croquet surfaces for playing at the seaside. Beach croquet, how neat! (I'd end up with balls in the water...oh, well.)

preparing to play
I decided this spring that I wanted to purchase a croquet set, and if I was going to do so I really wanted it to fit into my generally fabulous pseudo-historical picnic aesthetic. I started flipping through croquet manuals to look for specifications. Several of them--like wood type--I couldn't try to match, but sizing started an interesting online search for the perfect set. According to Croquet: IIaLs, "the whole length of the mallet should not be less than 2 feet 9 inches (except for children), nor more than 3 feet." That's quite a bit longer than most modern commercial sets. The mallet head has four choices, "1st the most common form; 2nd the barrel head; 3rd the plano-convex; [and]4th the cue-shaped head, in which the two ends are on the principle of the billiard cue, one being , like it, tipped with leather." I went with the barrel head (sort of), because it was available. Balls also offer several choices, but modern sets mostly just have one: solid colors. Most interesting, though, was the third option for balls: "one-half the set should be of a dark colour, and the other light, each ball being marked with one, two, three, or four rings upon the light or dark ground, or with the corresponding numerals on each face. The object of these colours and rings is to distinguish each ball and its order of play." I've never seen a set marked that way, but it's really interesting.

diagram of acceptable mallet heads, from C: IIaLs
 I ended up choosing a competition set, because the equipment dimensions matched pretty closely (probably because they're made for serious adults, rather than families/small children). We played with the set-up we always use, which I also found in C: IIaLs. It's rather difficult, because it requires players to zig-zag in and out from the center. I'm terrible at this (I always over- or under-shoot), but it makes the game more exciting than the original. straight-shot setup.

taking a shot in the middle of the course
C: IIaLs's "Improved Arrangement" of the course. The dots at the top and bottom of the diagram are the "starting and ending" and "turning" sticks
Of course, while I'm not very good at getting my ball through the wicket, I am a champion at croqueting opponents' balls quite far away. Getting into croquet battles is one of my favorite things about the game, and when the group is both good-humored and a little bitchy things get super fun. (I will add that C: IIaLs has nothing to say on the subject beyond the bounds of how many roquets of the same ball can be made in one turn.)

croqueting an opponent's ball
How about you? Do you play croquet? What rules do you use?

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