In an age where children spend a huge percentage of their free time playing with expensive computer games, it's nice to know that some old-fashioned games are still being played outdoors and cost absolutely nothing.
During the fall, wherever you find horse chestnut trees you'll find children playing conkers. It's a game that was enjoyed by their parents, their grandparents, and even their great grandparents and, hopefully, their own children will one day enjoy it, too.
What is A Conker?
A conker is a hard brown nut that's encapsulated in a green, prickly case produced by the Horse Chestnut tree. The cases fall from trees when they're ripe and can easily be collected from the ground.
In contrast to the nuts produced by the Sweet Chestnut tree, conkers are NOT to be eaten by humans.
Choosing A Conker
If you're serious about your game, choose your conkers carefully. The best ones are symmetrical in form, firm to the touch and should be uncracked.
Use the water test. If a conker is damaged inside it will float in water so this is a good way of testing the density of your nut. Floaters should be discarded while those that sink to the bottom will be the hardest and the best.
Preparing A Conker for Play
Make a hole through the middle of your conker, going from the dull area at the top and down through the bottom. A thin skewer or hand-drill is useful for this.
Choose string that doesn't break easily and thread a length about 12 inches long through the hole and tie a knot at one end to stop it from pulling through.
There are several ways to make your conkers harder, including:
How To Play Conkers
Two players are needed, each with a conker of his own. Each player holds his conker from the string and attempts to hit the opposing conker.
If your conker is the one being hit, you should let it hang down with the string wrapped around two or three fingers to secure it - you don't want your conker flying off when it's hit! It's up to your opponent to decide how high your conker should be held and it's important it's held still.
If you're the striker, you should wrap the string around your hand in the same way as you would if your conker was being hit. You should then take the conker in your other hand and draw it back, ready to strike. As you release the conker, you should swing it down and try to hit your opponent's conker. If you're successful, this is called a strike. If you miss, you're allowed two more goes before swapping positions.
If, when making a shot, the strings tangle together, the first player to call “strings" is awarded an extra shot.
If a player drops his conker or has it knocked out of his hand, the opposing player can call “stamps" and jump on it. End of one conker! However, if the owner calls “no stamps" first, the conker is safe (unless it smashed when it hit the ground, of course).
The game continues until one conker is completely destroyed; the one with the remaining conker is the winner.
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