Every Winter Olympic year, there is a huge upswing in interest in curling. People unfamiliar with the sport are intrigued by its odd means of play, and also by an Olympic Sport that looks like fun for everyone. (It is!)
Curling is the greater of the two well known games invented by the Scots. These games have at least 3 things in common.
- Though you play on a team, you are really competing against yourself, which can be both highly gratifying and incredibly frustrating.
- One can imbibe while playing. “What’s the point of a game without a wee draught?” asked one of the originators, while towing his rocks to the frozen Curling Pond early in the 1500s.
- Aficionados compete in special shoes.
The lesser game, called Golf, was invented to pass the time when the ponds were not frozen and firm enough to support stones and people. This game has been banned several times, but continues to re-emerge in outbreaks not unlike a pandemic. Unlike for the current virus, there is no vaccine, but it is probable there would be resistance to vaccination even if available. But it may be that the continued virulence of the lesser game is preferred to widespread despondence during times of no curling.
Curling stones were of many different sizes and shapes over 500 years ago when the the game began. After 100 years, handles were added for ease of delivery, and much more recently, the World Curling Federation has standardized the weight of a stone to be between 38 and 44 pounds.
But enough history. Some will attempt to pigeonhole the game as “Shuffleboard On Ice,” but it is much more than that. “Chess On Ice With A Physical Component” is a better characterization. Though the game sometimes confuses new observers, it is really not all that difficult to understand.
Explanation of play:
(Please forgive all the jargon. The game was invented by the Scots, who do not speak English. If it becomes too much, skip to “How you might want to watch.”)
To start the game, the first end is played. The Lead gets in the hack and looks to the Skip to learn the desired weight, broom, and if an in-turn or an out-turn is desired.
Then the curler tries to hit the broom, usually with a push-delivery in favor of the lift-delivery, which is not yet totally extinct.
The Lead slides out past the T-line and releases the stone, being careful not to release past the near hog line, and also to get the stone past the far hog line, thus hogging the stone, causing it to be removed.
The sweepers attentively accompany the stone down the ice, waiting to spring into action when the skip bellows the command to hurry hard, or whenever they feel the stone is light. They are careful not to touch and burn the stone.
Sweeping affects both the arc and distance the stone will travel. When a shot goes awry, the Skip may opt for plan B, and sweepers must be at the ready regardless of the weight of the stone. If you are mistakenly convinced that the game is too slow, ponder the nearly instantaneous recalculations needed to salvage something useful from a poorly delivered stone, and subsequent shouts motivating sweepers.
Once in the house, and behind the T-line, a single opponent is allowed to sweep a moving opposition stone or any to which it imparts energy.
Once the stone comes to a stop, it’s the other team’s turn. Each member takes 2 shots alternately with their counterparts on the other team, first Lead, then Second, then Vice-Skip, and finally Skip, until the hammer is thrown, and the end is complete.
At the completion of the end, all the stones in the house of the same color, which are closer to the button than any opponent’s stone, are counted.
Scoring is just like Bocce. If that game is also a mystery to you, ask anyone of Italian descent. All Italians are required to understand Bocce scoring by the age of 4. And the Italians do pretty well in curling, also. Their mixed doubles team of Mosaner and Constantini just won the 2022 Gold Medal.
The Italians are also in the mix in the competition for both men and women, even though there are only a few hundred curlers in their country. However, the Canadians, Swedes, and Norwegians are generally the teams to beat if a medal is your goal. This is due to the ice in their veins. Note also that Canada has 1,500 Curling Clubs, and correspondingly many more curlers! Does Jamaica have a curling team?
That’s about it. Pretty simple, eh? (“Eh” is all-purpose Canadian lingo meaning “huh” in this case.) On the very small chance that you don’t completely understand even after reading this, you can learn more by going an open house at the at a curling club near you.
Here’s how you might want to watch.
In reality, it is unlikely someone new to the sport will understand all the nuances of curling by casually watching a match or two on television. People who have curled for 50 years are still learning. (Teammates ask, “Really, Randy? You started 50 years ago and you’re not any better than what you’re showing us?”)
Here are the steps:
- Record the game, and return to it after it is finished.
- Assuming the second to second actions will not hold your interest for over two hours, identify the fast-forward button on your remote.
- Speed past the Lead and Second shots. This is a horrible injustice to the acumen and skill of the the fine athletes who play these positions, but it is unlikely you will appreciate the setup both teams are trying to create.
- Pause before the Vices (3rds) begin to deliver their stones. Half the stones will have been delivered at this point.
- Look at the overhead view of the House. Before the team decides upon a shot, see if you can determine what they might choose. The teams at this level sometimes make mistakes in their calls, but very, very infrequently. And there are always different ways to reach your objective. Plus they have skills us mere mortals can only imagine.
- See how their call is different than yours.
- Play the shot at normal speed. To be honest, you probably don’t need to see the delivery and early sweeping. Just watch as the stone crosses the hog line and comes into the house.
- Assess the result. If they missed, maybe your call was better after all!
- Repeat. Now “curling for the other team,” what do you do now?
You may also wish to skip ahead to see the game score closer to the end. If your reaction to the score is, “How did that happen?” look at the scoreboard and go back to find the end where the big points were scored. Points scored are generally above or below the sequential end numbers on the scoreboard. For a closely contested match, you want to be sure to see the cat and mouse of the last end.
When you watch a live game at a curling club, there are usually seats at one end of the rink where spectators can observe, behind the glass in the warm room. There are often discussions between those watching on what is the best shot to try, and how well it is executed. And just like you, watching your TV, those folks never miss a shot in the warm room.
Photos provided by Randy Fredlund