Every time the Winter Olympics roll around, all the media outlets and TV viewers scramble to find out about this weird “curling” sport. Well, it’s that time again, and while you may see ample curling coverage on Blogcritics, you may not really understand what curling is.
“Hey Suss, I liked your story on curling … too bad I had no clue what you were saying.”
So let’s explain a little bit. I’ll start out with the questions I get asked the most:
Often Heard Question No. 1: “Who throws the stone, and who sweeps?”
Both. Each end (think baseball innings), players throw two stones each, for a total of 8 stones per team and 16 stones per end. The lead throws the first two stones, The second throws the next two stones, the third (vice-skip) throws the next two, and the skip throws the final two. Teams alternate throwing stones. The skip is usually the best player on the team, and he/she stands at the other end calling shots and putting their broom on the ice, giving the thrower a target. The other two players who aren’t either skipping or throwing are the sweepers. The vice acts as the skip during the skip stones.
Often Heard Question No. 2: “What are you sweeping in front of the rock? There’s nothing in front of the rock.”
No, not really, but this is where science comes into play: Thrown rocks will not go straight, they will always curl one way or the other (hence the name of the sport), and sweeping in front of the rock will melt the ice a bit, making that rock stay a little straighter. It will also allow the rock to travel a bit further if it’s underthrown. The third reason is that while there’s nothing really in front of the rock, debris like dirt or fuzz may have landed on the ice, and the sweeping will knock that out of the way. The smallest bit of dirt can knock the stone off course.
Often Heard Question No. 3: “How do you not fall down?”
Curling ice is not the same as hockey or skating ice. Typical arena ice is perfectly flat, but curling ice has tiny little bumps on it. Before the games, the the ice is prepped with a fine spray of warm water (known as pebbling the ice), which melts and creates tiny bumps known as the pebble. So the pebble has better grip than your common skating ice. This pebble also allows curling rocks to travel across the ice. A curling rock really wouldn’t move across skating ice very well.
Now, let’s open it up to some questions I solicited from various Blogcritics:
Matt Largo asked:
What is the back story behind the game of curling? Was it originally played with leftover stones from a newly built castle? With the heads of your enemies? or did it originate as contest between burly, Scottish Ice Witches?
Apparently it began as a dispute of policy between two Scottish monks. I’m dead serious.
Jersey boy Sal Marinello had a few basic questions:
1. How does the scoring work?
In each end, only one team can score points, and that is determined by how many stones they have in the colored rings (sometimes called the house) that are closer to the center of the rings than the nearest opposing stone.
Knowing this, the sheer advantage to scoring points comes by having the last rock of the end (called the hammer), determined by who didn’t score in the last end. So if Team B scores 2 points in an end, the last rock will go to Team A in the next end. If nobody scores points (i.e., there are no stones touching any part of the colored rings), it is a blank end and whoever has the hammer keeps it.
2. What’s with the time clock in the background?
In casual play, there’s no clock. But in national/international competition, each team has 73 minutes and two timeouts to get through the 10-end game. The clock starts after the other team throws and all of the stones in play are motionless. If you run out of time, you straight up lose.
Timeouts last one minute apiece, so each team has 75 minutes. Combine the two times and you have ends lasting no more than 15 minutes. (I’m fairly certain time between ends does not count against either team.)
3. When do they serve the beer?
Right after the game’s over, usually. In fact, in casual leagues it’s customary for the winning team to buy the losing team a round. It might even occur in large-scale national tournaments too. The social aspect is what keeps the sport unique and pure.
Mary K. Williams also reminded me that this year’s World Curling Championship will be held in Lowell, Massachusetts, the first time in a while that Worlds will be in the United States. It will go from April 1 to April 9, and essentially will be the same format as the Olympics, with a round-robin and medal round.
Anna Creech asks:
Which kind of rock is best for making the stone?
Well, later she told me that she knew the stones were granite, but the specific quarry from which virtually all curling stones originate is on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. The granite is known as Ailsite.
Anna also asks:
What kind of injuries are sustained by curling athletes?
You have to have a bit of flexibility to get down in the hack (starting block) and push off. So any kind of muscle sprain can occur. After playing a few games in a row, you may also get a sore neck, back, or shoulders from sweeping. So it’s important to stay in shape and be fit.
Falling doesn’t hurt, provided you fall and land on your butt. I have seen a person fall and hit his head on the ice. A few stitches later, he was fine.
Dave “Captain Obvious” Nalle chimed in with, “It’s shuffleboard on ice.” Almost, but not even close. There’s very little strategy in shuffleboard. In curling, you’re thinking several moves ahead. No two games of curling are ever the same — much like chess.
Ruvy in Jerusalem writes:
I know that curling started in Scotland, a place with lots of rocks and lots of ice. I know it’s popular in Canada, another place with lots of rocks and lots of ice.
I live in Israel, another place with lots of rocks – just ask any Arab what he throws. But we’re a tad short in the ice department.
The way I figure it, a guy with a heart condition who needs exercise could play a game like this and not drop dead sweeping the rock along – and others like me could do the same…
Ruvy figures correctly. The game is for all ages. In fact, in yesterday’s Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune they had a front page photo of one of our 79-year-old lady who plays in our club (Bowling Green C.C. in Bowling Green, Ohio). While she can’t crouch down anymore and deliver from the hack, she does use a “stick” which grabs the stone and allows her to push it down the ice.
As for heart conditions, it depends on the severity of the condition, but the sweeping can be vigorous depending on the competitiveness of the game. But one can conceivably sweep effectively without breaking an artery.
Also, I looked it up and Israel is a member of the World Curling Federation (list of countries) and though the country has no dedicated curling ice, there is an ice arena in the northernmost city of Metula (northernmost … go figure) that uses converted skating ice for curling.
And if Arabs curl in Israel, traditionally they do not bring their own rocks.
Joan Hunt was probably trying to be cute when she asked me:
How can anyone not know what curling is after the family edition of The Amazing Race? Doesn’t anyone remember the bros/sis team (who actually won TAR) going on and on and on about how damn fun the sport was?
I’ve always said that a good ambassador for the sport is one who’s played it at least once. I have never met a person who has tried the sport and not enjoyed it.
Plus, the reason they were curlers is directly related to the reasons they won.
What are your curling-related questions?
Hit me below the Amazon belt (more affectionately known as the comments) and I’ll have an answer for you.