Editor’s note: To untrained eyes, the Olympic sport of curling makes televised poker seem like an action-packed thrill ride. But there is more to curling than you might think, as a Morristown expert explains.
By the Rev. Neill Tolboom
As the winter Olympics awaken from their four-year hibernation, we who hail from the grand city of Winnipeg turn our eyes to the ancient and accepted game of curling. Grown people running up and down a thin sheet of ice, throwing polished blocks of granite and sweeping the bare surface with push brooms must seem a quite strange and mysterious rite.
The game itself is quite simple. Each team has four members. Each member curls two granite rocks or stones down the ice. When each team has thrown their eights rocks the end is over and the team which has the rock closest to the center of the rings gets a point. If they have the two closest to the center they receive two points, etc. The most one team can score on one end, the process of throwing all 16 stones, is eight.
If a team scores five or more in one end, you are either playing novices, the other team has spent too much time near the drink-holders at each end of the ice or you are playing someone from eastern Canada. (This is a Canadian inside joke as Westerners tend to hit anything near the rings and Easterners leave more stones in the rings.)
At the end of a predetermined number of ends the team with the most points wins. The game is a cross between chess, bowling and shuffleboard played on ice. Here are a few things to watch. The granite rocks are gliding on a thin ring over thousands of specially prepared ice pebbles.
These rocks are designed to spin as they make their way down the ice. The faster the stone is traveling, the less time it has to curl. The speed, distance and therefore the curl of the rock can be altered by sweeping the ice in front of rock. This process makes the ice slippery by melting a thin layer on top of the pebbles. The sweeping process is critical to the path of the stone.
In a normal curling rock delivery, an individual aims his rock at the broom of another team member standing in the rings. The rock is released with a slight turning of the handle. The rock then proceeds down the sheet of ice curling towards its desired location.
The desired outcome could be hitting another rock to remove it or push it to another location, curling around a rock outside of the rings for protection, stopped right in front of another stone or even placing the rock in front of the rings to protect other rocks. The head of the team called the skip then yells at the sweepers to either sweep or leave the rock alone.
Those are the basics of the game.
Here are a few questions I have been asked over the years.
Are the stones heavy?
Each stone weights around 40 pounds. As you get older you tend to not lift the stone as far off the ice during the delivery.
How do you keep from falling on the ice?
You have a slider on one boot and traction on the other. One foot pushes off, while the other glides.
Curling seems to be a strange game with strange names. What do they mean?
Here are a few of my favorite terms.
The hack is not a cab driver but an indentation in the ice that you push off of during the stone delivery.
The hog line is not a line of pigs but the line the rock must cross to make it legal and therefore allow it to remain in play. The hog line is many feet in front of the rings.
The house is not a building but the set of rings on each end of the ice.
Giving ice is not gifting someone a bag of ice but the distance between where you want the rock to end up and where the team member will aim. The slower the speed and curl the more ice is given.
A takeout is not pizza or Chinese but a type of shot that involves removing the other team’s rock or rocks. (Eastern Canadian curlers may not be fully aware of this type of shot..sorry another inside joke.)
The freeze is not what we have experienced this winter with the polar vortex but a difficult curling shot where your teams stones comes to rest right in front of the other teams rock.
The raise is not what the business world seldom gives anymore but the curling shot which hits one of your own rocks to move it to another location.
The button does not help to hold your shirt together but is the center of the house. The house consists of a four-foot ring, an eight-foot ring and a 12- foot ring.
The in turn is not the person that gets you coffee in the morning but a type of shot that curls towards the center of the house. You can throw an in turn from the left and the right hand side. The out turn goes away from the house and can also be thrown from the left or the right.
A guard is a rock that is in front of the rings which can be used to curl around and hide another rock.
The hammer is not a handy tool in your work room but the last rock on an end.
So when the sports broadcaster states that the goal of this rock is to throw an out turn around the front guard and freeze to a rock in the eight foot, and to do this the skip has given an unusually large amount of ice, you may have some idea what he or she is talking about.
As you learn the game, you will realize that it requires a unique combination of teamwork, communications, strategy and endurance. You can play the game as soon as you can push a rock down the ice, and well into your 80s and even 90s.
In small rural communities in Canada, in the dead of winter, you can see the lights on in the curling rink. Each rink is filled with young and old enjoying this strange and ancient sport while old men in the wooden stands tell stories and question the strategy of each rock delivered. I hope you enjoy one of the few sports that make me homesick.
If during the Winter Olympics you have other curling questions, I would be happy to try to offer an answer.
Pastor Neill Tolboom of the Morristown United Methodist Church is a Canadian with a religious devotion to curling.