Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's All In The 'Hand-Release'.

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.

The 1650s saw the first handles, often nothing more than iron hinges from gate posts, making it easier to move the heavy stones. It wasn't until the late 1700s that the stones began to be ground into a spherical or round form, but even well past this date their form and shape could vary. Conical-shaped stones were used until the 1830s.

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.

The magical effect is amplified by the fact that it all seems to happen in slow motion.
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.


  1. Lovely idea John that it is a peaceful persuit. However at least in Scotland it is known as the "Roarin game". The noise is produced by the stone deliverer as he or she decides whether to team haveto sweep with the brush, that can pollish the ice, to make the stone go faster or not.Norman

  2. Do you play the game yourself ever, Norman?

  3. I have played and I loved it. My father was a very keen player and I remember one year when he went to a bonspeil on the Lake of Menteith outside on a frozen loch . They had bonfires on the ice an dnmuch whisky was consumed. Those days the ice was much thicher. Every small village had a curling pond .

  4. When I was a kid in boyscouts, we'd often head out to an old prospector's cabin that we'd fixed up to sleep in, on a remote lake in northern Ontario. One winter the ice was smooth and free of snow and we ventured to a rockslide that happened to have an abundance of granite stones the resembled curling rocks, which, by the way, are 42lbs (unsolicited fact of the day). We scratched circles in the ice and had an impromptu match...losing team had to cook supper. Did you know that without the handle, curling is very comical? Never fell on my ass so much in my life! All of us! We eventually figured out that if you place the stone on a thin flag of ice, it slides much fact almost forever! What fun and great memories your post brought back. Thanks jsr! -John Scott