Although a British invention, the game has since gone international. From Canada to France, wherever the horse chestnut prospers schoolchildren can be found hanging the shiny seeds on string and smashing their mates’ ones to pieces. The game's popularity has grown to such an extent that a World championship is held each year in Northamptonshire. Although tempting to come up with a variation, some classics shouldn’t be messed with.
How do I play it?
- First up, select your conker on the basis of form, symmetry and lack of cracks.
- Next, prepare for battle. Drill a hole down the middle using a sharp skewer (probably best to make sure an adult does this bit) and thread a piece of string through the hole. You need one that’s about 25 centimetres in length. If drilled badly you can weaken the strength of the conker. Try to drill or skewer as straight as possible. Avoid the lighter-coloured circle on top as it’s not as waxy as the rest of the skin and therefore more likely to crack.
- Once you’ve threaded your string through, tie multiple knots at the bottom to ensure it doesn’t fall off.
- Once conkers are threaded and contestants are ready to play, two players face each other with their conkers hanging down on the string and the string wrapped around their hands a couple of times for extra support.
- Players then take it in turns to thwack and hopefully crack their opponent’s conkers, by stretching the string taught with the hitting conker drawn towards them, and then using this length to target the full force towards the opponent’s hanging conker on its release.
- If a player misses, they are allowed two extra goes. If the strings tangle, the first player to call, ‘Strings!’ gets an extra shot. If a player strikes and causes their opponent’s conker to spin in a full circle, the player gets another go. If a player drops their conker or it’s knocked out of their hand, the other player can shout, ‘Stamps!’ and then is able to jump on it, hopefully to crack it. If the first player cries, ‘No stamps!’ first, then the other player is not allowed to stamp on it.
- The winner is the one whose conker lasts the longest. Each time a conker defeats another it clocks up its victim’s numbers. In a contest of two new conkers the winner’s conker thus becomes ‘a oner’ (bring back memories?). If the same conker beats another successful conker who was, say, ‘a fourer’, the winning conker then goes on to take on its defeated conker’s score – making it ‘a fiver’.
- Now when I was younger there was a whole lot of jiggery-pokery around how to make your conkers as un-crackable as possible, from soaking them in vinegar to baking them in the oven. I’m not sure how effective any of these are. I remember being convinced that doing both was the secret behind my ‘elevener’ at school. One tip I recently heard which does make a lot of sense is: if you put a selection of conkers in water and some of them float, discard these ones and use the heavier and denser ones at the bottom of the bowl as they’re likely to be stronger.