Every Lawn Game, Ranked
Expect spilled beer. Lots of it.
This is just one installment of 37 Things a Man’s Gotta Do This Summer, our annual compendium of everything worth seeing, doing, eating, drinking and generally making time for in your neck of the woods between now and September.
I’ve never been a beach guy.
Too much sunburn, too little activity.
For a man of short attention span, there is a better place to spend a spirited summer day: the lush, well-kempt lawn of whichever friend has the largest home. Why? Simple: lawn games. All of them. I love them, I excel at them and I will happily start a months-long blood-feud with close friends over them.
Now before you say, “But you can play all those games on the beach!” — bullshit. You can, but it’s inferior. Sand means sluggish footing. Sand means soft, predictable landings for projectiles. And sand means no croquet, so sand can fuck right off.
You see, like many pencil-pushers, I was once an athlete. Emphasis on once. And while you can take the athlete out of his formerly fit body, you cannot take what I like to call The Fire out of him. (Non-former athletes refer to the Fire by other names: competitiveness, irritability, a short fuse, being an asshole, “It’s only a game, Focker,” etc. Ignore them.)
Like any good Fire, this one must be fed. And since officially regulated sports are no longer a part of my weekly routine, there is but one outlet available: lawn games.
Now, while all lawn games are, by nature, great, there is a definite hierarchy to their greatness. As for how to define this hierarchy? There are two basic precepts.
- No real sports. If it’s contested at the Olympics or as a full-time job, it is not a lawn game. So no volleyball, no badminton, no soccer, no football.
- The purest lawn games are those that sit at the middle of a Venn diagram whose two criteria are “Is this a competitive, physically demanding game?” and “Can I drink a beer while doing it?”
Without further ado, the rankings.
10. Ladder ball
As you browse this list, you will notice a number of games with a very similar object: two teams of two players launch a succession of projectiles at a down-lawn target in alternating turns, with points awarded for greater accuracy. Of these games, ladderball is the redheaded stepchild. Its implements — a piece of rope bookended by two golf balls, essentially — are awkward to throw, as is its target: a plastic ladder.
Cornhole, downsized. You throw washers at a board with a plastic cup in the middle. But washers bounce with maddening unpredictability. There’s too much luck involved in this game for it to rank higher.
Kubb is basically bowling with sticks. I’ve literally never seen anyone play Kubb in my life. But its nickname is “Viking Chess,” so it’s gotta be cooler than Washers and Ladderball.
Or as I like to call it, French mini golf. The only people I know who own croquet sets are from New England or over the age of 65. But croquet is underrated. For one, you’re rewarded for intentionally digressing from the object of the game — using a wooden mallet to knock a ball under a series of tiny bridges called “wickets” — to smash your opponents’ balls into the shrubbery. Any game that actively encourages this type of antagonism has a strong pedigree. Also, it was invented at a place called Captain Moreton’s Eglinton Castle by dudes in powdered wigs and tights. These men understood leisure. These are my people.
Spikeball is the shiny green newcomer to the lawn-game empire. It’s essentially volleyball, if volleyball were played at 1/5th scale into a grounded net, rather than over an elevated one. People like it because it’s more active than most lawn games. In this expert’s opinion, that is its fatal flaw. Spikeball discourages ample imbibing. I have to stretch before I play Spikeball. Spikeball veers too far into real-sport territory.
Comedian Dave Attell once said — and I’m paraphrasing — “The game of horseshoes can end one of two ways: either ‘This sucks, let’s do something else’ or ‘Ouch, you hit me with a horseshoe.’” With all due respect to Mr. Attell, bullshit. The game of horseshoes ends when someone dials up a ringer and then two grown men gallop around in circles pouring beer down their throats and gesturing suggestively at their crotches in a ceremonial display of dominance.
4. Polish Horseshoes
This game just gets it. Drinking is written into its bylaws (you must play one-handed, with a brewski in the other). Hell, the object is to knock a beer bottle off a stick with a frisbee. Apparently you can play with official sets, but anyone from Colorado (read: me) knows that the correct procedure is to stake two ski poles in the ground.
The Romans played Bocce. The Romans. The two-thousand-years-ago Romans. I don’t particularly like bocce, but respect where respect is due. Any game that outlives feudalism and delivering important news via horseback has acquitted itself well. Also I once watched a gang of geriatric Uruguayans roll bocce on a beach in Piriápolis, and those guys were wizards. They would’ve destroyed you, me and everyone we know. This gives me hope that my lawn-game prowess will extend well into my twilight years.
The beauty of KanJam is that it invites genuine moments of inspired athletic brilliance without being particularly strenuous in concept. One teammate attempts to float a frisbee over a barrel-sized “Kan” 15 paces away, with the other teammate attempting to deflect (“Jam”) the floating disc into the Kan. There is, of course, a brilliant trump card: at any time, a team can end the game by “slotting” the frisbee, VHS-into-VCR-style, into a narrow aperture at the top of the can. This results in truly astounding feats of dexterity and improvisation. And spilled beer. Expect lots of spilled beer.
A dyed-in-the-wool frat classic that can be played anywhere. A short list of places I’ve tossed bags includes: a rooftop, a boat, a basement, the snowed-in backyard of a brewery in Denver, a tailgate, a living room, the patios of approximately 350 bars, a parking lot, and the lawn of about 40% of the people whose numbers I have saved in my phone. The best thing about cornhole is its acoustics. If the thud of beaded bag against wooden board doesn’t stir something primordial in you, you’re probably a robot. A robot who sucks at cornhole and can’t even hit the board. WHO’S GOT NEXT?
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