We are pretty excited here about the men's curling team winning the Gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Saturday.
As we watched the precision and mastery of both the Canadian and Norwegian teams play, I marveled at the ability these men had to project a heavy hunk of granite along the ice positioning it precisely behind another stone at a distance of nearly a hundred feet away.
The game was exciting to watch too because of all the strategy involved, though sometimes it was not obvious what was a good shot and what wasn't until the game played out further. The complexity of decision making about where to play the next stone makes it difficult for a novice to understand just who is winning until the last shot is played. What looks like a good placement of stone to me, is often scorned by the curler who made the shot as being totally in the wrong spot.
I started to wonder about the history of curling and particularly the evolution of the tactics and strategy of the game. Getting the stones to curve is an interesting aspect of the game which actually was not introduced until much later. Silly me, I thought that was where the name 'curling' came from.
Of course there a great controversy as to who invented the game. Scotland and the Netherlands are in dispute about where it originated but generally agree it happened sometime around the 15th century. I imagine it was the Scots who first slid onto the idea, because I don't think they actually have any stones in Holland.
The first game of curling was probably played on a frozen pond with whatever rounded rocks could be pried out of the frozen ground at the time. Stones that worked well were later notched to give them a better 'hand' grip for throwing.
Of course my interest revolves around the fact that they use stones at all. I've read that a curling stone weighs approximately 42 lbs and is made of a unique type of granite, which is exclusively found on Ailsa Craig, an island off the Ayrshire coast in Scotland. .
How these specially selected stones are remotely guided along the ice into position is a mystery to me. The curlers, still sliding themselves after having 'hand-launched' their stones, continue to glide on, totally focused on magically willing their drifting projectile towards the exact spot where they want it to be.
It is as though it is happening in outer space. It is an easy mental leap for me to imagine the game being played in complete silence and in total weightlessness.
Sometimes when Im working alone I can picture building dry stone walls under the same conditions. I can imagine walling competitions too there. They would be held on some frozen scottish-like planet, where the stones all float above the ice, and the winning team's stones slowly, gracefully slide together into a perfect wall.