How to Play Conkers!
**A special thank you to my husband for helping to write this blog post!**
Conkers. It’s a British thing!
We call them horse chestnuts. To them, it’s so much more than that! It’s an opportunity for a battle!
According to Wikipedia, Conkers is a traditional children’s game in Britain and Ireland played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns striking each other’s conker until one breaks.
My husband who is from England, grew up playing conkers and loves the game! He is now teaching it to our son. Coincidentally, our son’s best friend is now also conker-obsessed because his mom’s partner (also from England) has taught him how to play, too!
The next generation of Canadian children can now be seen playing conkers on the school ground!
But it’s more than just a game. There’s lots of steps to the conkers process.
First you must gather your horse chestnuts. Here in Nova Scotia, that’s not a problem! This phase is a bit of a treasure hunt: each seedcase is unique.
You’re looking for a conker that’s neither too big (splits too easily) or too small (doesn’t hit hard enough). Like Goldilocks’ porridge, the best conkers are the ones that are sized “just right”.
How to Make them
You can play right away with your gathered conkers if you wish.
Drill a hole, with a drill or a nail, through the conker from top to bottom.
Thread a piece of string through and tie a couple of knots in the string for the conker to “sit on”. You want the knot to be pretty big so the string doesn’t slip through the conker when it’s hitting or being hit. The string should be about 15-20 inches in length.
How to Play
Then you play! It’s a two-player game.
One player holds up their conker by the string holding it at arm’s length, while the other player takes their conker and, with one hand holding one end of the string, the other steadying the conker, swings it at the other player’s conker.
Players take turns aiming at each other’s conker.
That sounds harder than it is, so it can be summed up as “hit the other conker with yours.”
However, as my husband says, “this is like describing baseball as ‘hit the ball, run fast, don’t get out’.” Like the complexities of baseball, there’s a lot of dimensions to conkers.
Do you hit hard?
Do you try to go for lots of small hits or a few big ones?
Do you hold the conker string tightly or loosely?
All these can matter to expert conker players, but the bottom line is, even at its most basic, conkers is a heck of a lot of fun.
Winning the Game
The game is won when a conker is broken and falls off the string – sometimes it can be the conker being hit, but just as commonly it’s the hitting conker that shatters into a spray of bits of shell and nut.
The surviving conker is dubbed a “one-er”, meaning it’s won one match.
If it wins two, it’s a two-er, a three-er, and so on.
One other neat thing about the scoring: if your conker beats a conker that has a number of wins, you get to add its wins to your total, plus the one for the victory. So if your three-er beats a five-er, it becomes an nine-er, and so on.
Legends tell of conkers in the fifty-er and higher range, but these are, like the unicorn, legends.
Ways to Prepare a Conker
You can prepare conkers in advance, by baking them in a low oven to dry them out and harden them, making them more fearsome weapons, and harder to crack.
Similar results can be achieved by storing them in salt, or soaking them in vinegar then drying them slowly.
In Britain generations of schoolkids have developed their own methods for producing the perfect conker… and some of these have even gone into the realm of cheating. Ask any British conker player about the Krazy Glue scandal and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about – the unfair practice of squeezing Krazy Glue down the conker’s string hole to make the conker rock-hard and impossible to break.
This is, as the British say, definitely not fair play. There is a World Conker Championships, held annually, and former champion Charlie Bray has claimed that
“There are many underhanded ways of making your conker harder. The best is to pass it through a pig. The conker will harden by soaking in its stomach juices. Then you search through the pig’s waste to find the conker.”
Now that’s dedication!
For those who really get into the sport and live in the Annapolis Valley, there is an annual championship through the Annapolis Royal Conker Club.