Autumn is in full swing. But what would autumn be without the humble horse chestnut tree and its famous seed? No matter how much you’ve aged, seeing a chestnut lying on the red and orange soaked floor will always take you back to the playground with memories of playing conkers.
Like all childhood games, there were plenty of old wives tales about how what made a good conker and how you should treat your weapon. But how much of it was myth? Should you soak your seed in vinegar? Should you bake it first? We take a look at how best to win a game of conkers.
What Is a Game of Conkers?
Sometimes called ‘Kingers’ in other parts of the world, a game of conkers is serious business. And could be the difference between playground stardom and a lifetime of lunchtime mockery. But what exactly is conkers?
Simply put, a game of conkers involves players attaching a horse chestnut seed to a piece of string, and then smashing their opponent’s seed as hard as possible. A game of conkers goes on until one or both of the two conkers is completely destroyed.
How to Choose the Perfect Conker
Given the sheer amount of conkers almost certainly available on your everyday walk, what makes a good conker? Well, there are a few things to look out for when sifting through your options. Namely you want a conker that’s uncracked, firm and as symmetrical as possible. Then it’s time to run some tests at home!
The good news is the only test equipment you’ll need is a bowl and some water. Some conkers float and some don’t – and there’s a reason for that. When placed in water, all conkers that have damage inside them will float. This is due to their lack of density. That means if you want a winner, choose the conkers than sink to the bottom – they’ll be the sturdiest.
How to Treat Your Conker
Now here come the cheat tips – and there are plenty of them. The most common tip you’ll hear is to soak your conker in vinegar. If you’re going to do so, it’s best to do so when the vinegar is boiling. Alternatively, boiling it is salt water would also have a similar firming affect. Once it’s been boiled for a couple of minutes, put your conker in a very hot oven (250°C) almost immediately for a minute and a half. No more than that.
If you’re committed to being a conker champ, it’s also best to leave your conker in a dark cupboard for at least a year. It will dry your weapon out and have a real firming affect.
But if you’re really, really committed to winning, 2 x World Conker Champion, Charlie Bray suggested passing your conker through a pig… seriously. The pig’s stomach juices are apparently the ideal firming agent. Then it’s simply the case of searching through the pig’s mess.
Whatever your treatment method, all you need to do to finish the job is give your conker a hole through the middle, usually with a drill bit. Then just thread a strong piece of string about 25cm long through it.
The Rules of Conkers
Now you’re ready to play. The rules are simple enough, so here they are broken down;
- Players take turns at hitting their opponent’s conker
- The conker being hit is held at the height your opponent chooses and is held perfectly still
- If a player misses they are allowed up to two further goes
- If the strings tangle, the first player to call “strings” gets an extra shot
- If a player hits a conker that it completes a whole circle after being hit (known as ‘Round the World’), the player gets another go
- If a player drops his/her conker or it is knocked out of their hand, the opponent can shout “stamps” and jump on it; but should its owner first shout “no stamps” then the conker is saved
- The game continues until one or both of conkers are completely destroyed
It should also be said that a winning conker is assigned a score based on its history of wins. For example, in a contest between two new conkers, the winner would then have a score of 1, otherwise known as a ‘one-er’. If it then beat another two one-ers, it would then become a three-er. But if the same conker then beats a ‘five-er’, it would then become a nine-er (its own 3, plus the latest victory (1), plus its victim’s previous 5).
Techniques to Playing Conkers
When playing conkers, there are lots of methods players use to become champion. And our main tip would be it’s best to listen to science. On a conker, the hardest part is the paler ring on top. That means the best way to win is to hit your opponents weaker middle brown shell area with your stronger paler ring. We’d suggest you practice with some of your duds and perfect the technique. Then it’s just the case of finding your stance and your swing.
Now you’re ready to become a conkers champion!