Back in the day of corn brooms, astronomer and alien scientist Josef Allen Hynek (a scientist who studies aliens, not the other way around) developed a system of measuring the intensity and intimacy of encounters with extra terrestrials, which was popularized in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Those aliens probably knew nothing of curling, but had Hynek been equally fascinated with the ice sport the same way many of us are after the Olympics, he might have classified the levels in the following order:
• Curling Encounter of the First Kind: Knowing what curling is
• Curling Encounter of the Second Kind: Knowing rules of curling
• Curling Encounter of the Third Kind: Playing curling on some kind of video game or Flash game
• Curling Encounter of the Fourth Kind: Watching a curling game on TV
• Curling Encounter of the Fifth Kind: Watching a curling game in person
• Curling Encounter of the Sixth Kind: Actually curling
• Curling Encounter of the Seventh Kind: Attending a national curling tournament
(If there's an eighth kind, it's probably getting thrown out of a curling tournament.)
Attending a tournament has to be the most intense of the experiences, because in the case of the U.S. Curling Nationals at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it's not just watching a curling match. It's watching five at the same time. And you thought it was hard to keep your attention span intact on the Internet.
The sounds of rocks colliding, throwers sliding out of the hack, skips loudly expressing their opinion of the ferocity of the sweeping, and the clanging of cowbells in the stands can really cause one to look from sheet to sheet. I'm trying to think of a parallel. I'm failing.
On Tuesday afternoon, ten teams from all over the country (but mostly from Wisconsin and Minnesota) began promptly at 2:30 p.m. as signaled by the loudspeaker blaring the famous bagpipe song, "Scotland the Brave." They announced the teams individually, the fans clapped and cowbelled, and then there was this sight:
This was almost bone-chilling. When I've curled, I can usually make it a little past the first hogline, but these gentlemen can slide themselves practically to the other house. If they were inanimate they would make excellent center guards. So instead of going of walking from one side of the sheet to the other like a normal biped, many of these curling gurus slid in a single file line down the sheet. Perhaps a bagpipe rendition of "March of the Valkyries" would have been appropriate.