Summer Games: Horseshoes

June 16, 2009 | Comments (0) | by The Hundley

Now that summer is here (almost), it's time to get that itchy shirt off and get outside. This is doubly true in times of Cub woe that we're currently experiencing - we need something to pass the time and dull the pain. Summer Games will examine some classic outside games, carefully choosing ones that lend themselves to shirtless participation and the coexistence of your favorite summer beverage.

Horseshoes. You have no idea how hard it's been to have written two previous Summer Games articles (bocce ball and washers) that weren't horseshoes. Perhaps I didn't want to blow my load (or in Chad Cordero's case, a late inning lead). During frequent in-Saloon banter, I have made no secret about my affection for horseshoes. Summer means many things go many people. A large contingency of people associate the warm, sunny weather with a swimming pool or a boat. Your chunkier, more jovial brethren will pine about how it is official grill season. Music lovers bust out the patchouli and get super heady about outdoor music festivals and their accompanying hackey sack tournaments. To the everyman like myself, it means horseshoe season. Technically baseball is America's game, but deep inside my cold landlordian heart, horseshoes is truly America's game.

Following the Revolutionary War, it was said by England's Duke of Wellington that "the War was won by pitchers of horse hardware." That's goddamn right, you English fairy. Not only are horseshoe throwers super cool people who exude sexual prowess, they're also patriots and winners of war. Who wouldn't want to be lumped in with that group? The taliban, that's who. And go ahead and throw in these two assholes.

Some quick research tells me that the game of horseshoes may well date back to the times of the Grecian army, way back when the years only had three digits. (Strange, I always thought my grandpa created the game, as well as being the greatest show thrower in the world.) Because no one kept diligent records back then, the first real data takes place around the Civil War time, when the popularity of this great game gained steam, particularly with the Union side. (And you thought that pitching shoes was only for hillbillies. For shame!)

The greatness of the game lies in it's simplicity. Basically anyone can pitch a horseshoe, and the cost of 4 shoes and two stakes is relatively cheap and easy to set up. The two stakes are placed 40 feet apart, and each team throws two shoes in their respective turn. The type of courts are open to speculation, but it's a known fact that in the Midwest, real men throw into grass/dirt pits. Sand pits are generally for old geezers that can't perfect the craft. Being caught throwing into sand pits is cause for public shaming and occasionally verbal and, in extreme cases, physical abuse. Also frowned upon are pits that are surrounded by any sort of structure.

The game itself is simple. You can click here for the official rules from the NHPA, but know that most people play by amateur rules. The amateur rules consist of getting three points for a ringer (the shoe wraps around the stake), two points for a leaner (shoes leans against the stake), and one point for a shoe that lands within a horseshoe's width of the stake. The closest shoe cancels out the others, unless the same person throws the two closets shoes. Easy peasy, Japaneasy. If you can't figure this game out, you're a retard.

There are many different ways to throw a horseshoe. The way the oldschooler and pros do it is to throw the shoe flat, and have it rotate one time so that the shoe (ideally) lands with the open end facing the stake. Better chance for ringers, and more often than not, it's not a wild shoe that goes bouncing wildly out of control. Sounds simple, but it's easier said than done. The other popular way is to pitch the shoe flipping end-over-end, hoping that it lands open side at the stake. Many people have perfected this throw, having it flip only one time. On dry, flat courts, a low trajectory shoe can be thrown in this matter and slid up to the stake. Many variations of these are common, with the "Missourian" style, with the shoe flipping many time. Also seen is the "hillbilly" style, throwing the spinning shoe that rotates like a Tasmanian devil. The knuckle shoe is less common, and is a shoe that does not rotate or flip at all. Knuckle throwers are rarely successful and commonly confused. Again, addressing the Cordero contingent, the shoes are not pitched while still attached to the horse.

As you can imagine, beer plays a vital role in the game, and sometimes to a greater extent, gambling is king. It's usually a given that each player puts up a buck per game, and the winners hold court. Alcohol increases the camaraderie and, when overindulged in, can swing the pace and effectiveness of the game. Shirtlessness? C'mon, it goes hand-in-hand with the game. Much like the other Summer Games, when the temperature is over 55, you might look a bit silly if you're still wearing a shirt.

All in all, it's a real American game. One of the best horseshoe stories I can tell takes me back to college days. I took a set of stakes and four shoes up to college when we rented a house. The large mass of Chicago kids in Iowa City liked to label the game as a "farmer game" and only suited for rednecks. When they finally tried their hand at the Game of the Gods, they were bitten by the 'shoe bug, and suddenly we found numerous requests for additional tournaments. Yes, it's a great game, and one that certainly can lay challenge to soccer as The World's Game.