During the short summer months in the north country, everyone is out to soak up as much sun as possible before the winter returns. (And rest assured, winter is always coming.)
But once outside, what is there to do? Never fear. The past has plenty to offer. Before video games, smartphones or air conditioning, these classic games kept everyone outdoors and enterained.
Call the kids outside or schedule a barbecue with friends. These easy-to-assemble, simple-to-explain vintage backyard games have stood the test of time.
Rules to these games have been abbreviated for clarity and space, but if you’re anxious to step up your skill level, most lawn game sets will come with detailed instructions for game play.
Although also known as Italian lawn bowling, this game actually goes back thousands of years. The rules are simple, and the game is easy enough to be played by children up to senior adults.
To get started, you will need a bocce ball set of eight balls and one small target ball, as well as a tape measure and a flat surface of grass. To play, participants take turns trying to throw thier team’s ball as close as possible to the target ball, should be about 30 feet from the pitch line. At the end of the round, teams are awarded points based on how close they are to the target: one point for each ball that is closer to the target than the opposing team. If a ball touches the target ball, it scores two points.
Fans of curling may notice some similarities between bocce and this classic winter sport, and bocce may be a good substitute until the north is frozen once more.
MODERN TWIST: For those looking for a funny update to this classic, Flickin’ Chicken by Haywire Group toys is a silly variation of bocce that should appeal to everyone with a sense of humor. Rubber chickens take the place of balls, and a frisbee stands as the target. Otherwise, game play is much the same.
This game goes back at least to the mid 1800s when it was all the trend across England and later here in the States.
To begin with, you’ll need a croquet set, with nine wickets, two stakes and several balls and mallets. The wickets can be set up in various ways, including the traditional figure-eight pattern. However, part of the fun of playing casual games is making up your own rules, so feel free to come up with your own house rules.
The object of the game is to pass your ball under the arch of the wickets, which are placed ahead of time into the ground. Points are awarded when by passing under the wickets in the correct order.
PLAYFUL UPDATES: Families with children — or those who are children at heart — may enjoy the creative variations of croquet sets such as rainbow-colored wickets or ones in the shape of forest animals. There are also “Alice and Wonderland” croquet sets.
Although, the Red Queen in Wonderland threatened to take the head of other players, a wicket in the shape of a smiling rabbit may help you keep your sense of humor.
QUOITS, HORSESHOES & WASHERS
What would summer be without the tossing of metal objects at various targets? Possibly safer, but potentially less fun, at least according our ancestors popularized these sport.
Horseshoes, washers and quoits are all closely related. In the early 1900s, organizers of horseshoe matches would publish rules in their local newspapers. The Watertown Daily Times suggests readers make their own quoits game, with instructions for doing so, in a 1907 edition under a section labeled “Entertainment and Insructions for Young Folks.” In 1909, a published poem praised the “game of quoits with horseshoes” as a casual game for the everyman, unlike the stodgy and elitist games of golf, crochet and tennis.
Quoits traditionally is played with metal, rope or rubber rings — or horseshoes — tossed toward a stick or spike goal.
Players stand equal distance from the stick or spike and aim for that goal. To score, tosses that reach the stick are worth three points. Those that are within 6 inches of the stick are worth one point. And if both of one player’s pitches are closer to the stick than the other player, two points are added to the score.
Another variation of quoits is played with metal washers that are aimed toward a hole — such as a hole in a box, can or PVC pipe. Scoring is similar to horseshoes. Three points are awarded for washers that fall into or through the hole. Washers that fall near the hole — onto the washer board or similarly defined space — are worth one point.
In both versions, players battle to see who can reach 21 points first.
The north country had its own variation of quoits in the mid 1800s, with the use of flat stones for tossing toward posts, “as horse shoes was not so common in the early days,” according to an article in the Watertown Daily Times from May 17, 1919.
Describing the history of the game, the article continued,“Boys went to (the) lake and river to gather the flat stones for the purpose, and long search would be made for those on which the water had acted to make a round flat stone and inch or an inch and a half thick.”
Speaking of time, the article concludes, “Today the horse-shoe quoit prevails where the game is still played.”
Cornhole shares much of the same gameplay and rules one patented by Heyliger de Windt in 1883 (here’s another game: See who can say that three times fast).
The modern version was developed in the 1970s and involves two sets of four bean bags (traditionally filled with dry corn) and two cornhole boards, each inclined slightly when set on the ground and with a hole at the top.
Bags that land on the board and remain there until the end of the round are worth one point. Bags that fall through the hole in the board are worth three points. The team or player that scores at least 21 points first is the winner.
GET CRAZY: People have come up with thousands of original designs to build and/or enhance the look of their cornhole board. You are only limited by your imagination (well, and skill). A quick Pinterest or Google images search will give you plenty of DIY ideas, but if you’re looking for something professional and are willing to spend the money, you and spend hundreds of dollars on the cornhole design of your dreams.