There is an old saying in academia and journalism: plagiarism is the highest form of flattery.
I suspect this is said between gritted teeth in both communities, but the same is not true in woodworking. More than one craftsperson has been flattered to discover others are trying to match their mastery of a particular project—be that turning bowls, making furniture or making a new lawn game.
Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.
Yes, I meant the last option seriously. In this case we will be borrowing from the Swedes and my father—who, like many a craftsperson, discovered the project quite by accident.
So we come to the subject of Kubb.
Kubb, for the non-Scandinavian, is lawn game apparently conjured up by woodworkers confronted with dark evenings, a collection of white pine, and sharp hand tools.
Allow me to provide a sense of reference. In the “old days”…back when I was just beginning to shave and a beer meant you were an “adult”…lawn games were either a round of horseshoes or “Jarts.” (No one remembers “Jarts”, attorneys made short order of a sport that involved sharp darts flung through the air—horseshoes with deadly consequences, as best our legal system could discern.)
Well, it turns out the Swedes came up with a less lethal form of entertainment. It’s called Kubb. Traced back to the Vikings, Kubb can be played on grass, mud, sleet, snow or ice. (See, I told you it was a Scandinavian game—no mention in the rules of participants prancing about in swimsuits on a beach.)
Bear with me, as we are “borrowing” from the Swedes, all the measurements are metric. I will try to provide English equivalents for those of you who don’t have rulers or tapes with centimeters. But it might be worth a trip to the local hardware store for just such instruments so as to be able to claim complete adherence to my opening thoughts on plagiarism.
According to the official rules, there are 23 game pieces required for Kubb:
Ten kubbs, rectangular wooden blocks 15 cm (6 inches) tall and 7 cm (3 inches) square on the end—to make this more challenging, try shaving the kubbs into octagonals rather than simple rectangles. (A chance to employ your draw knife.)
One king, a larger wooden piece 30 cm (12 inches) tall and 9 cm (3 ½ inches) square on the end, sometimes adorned with a crown design on the top. (The “crown” can be carved with a sharp chisel.)
Six batons, 30 cm (12 inches) long and 4.4 cm (2inches) in diameter. (Get out the spoke shave and think about creating spars for a small boat.)
Six field marking pins, four to designate the corners of a pitch (the playing field), and two to delineate a centerline. (I suggest 1x1 inch squares about 12 inches long with a pointed end to facilitate driving into dirt—ice is a whole different problem.)
So there’s the start to your project, to make things a little more complicated, try constructing an appropriate tote. My father went with a box that is 14 inches long, 7 and one-half inches wide, by 10 inches deep.
This all seems very straightforward, but I promise you, it is an opportunity to pull out hand tools many of us abandoned in favor of instruments abetted by Mr. Edison’s plentiful supply of electricity.
Oh, as for the playing rules—just a little more complicated than horseshoes.
Kubb is to be laid out on a rectangular pitch (“gamefield” for those of us who don’t indulge in cricket) measuring 5 meters (16 feet) wide by 8 meters (26 feet) long. The corner stakes (those 1x1” by 12” items mentioned above) are placed to demark the rectangle. Center marking pins are placed in the middle of the sidelines (long edges of the rectangle), creating two halves. The king is placed upright in the center of the pitch, and the kubbs are placed on the baselines (short edges of the rectangle), five kubbs on each side equidistant from each other.
Does all this make sense so far?
Now comes the fun part.
Line up two teams—skill is all fungible at this point.
As I understand the rules, there are two phases for each team's turn:
Team A throws the six batons from their baseline, at their opponent's lined-up kubbs. Throws must be under-handed, and the batons must spin end over end. Throwing batons overhand, sideways or spinning them side-to-side (helicopter) is not allowed.
Kubbs that are successfully knocked down by Team A are then thrown by Team B onto Team A's half of the pitch, and stood on end. These newly thrown kubbs are called field kubbs.
Deciding where in the opponent's half to throw the field kubbs is a very important part of the strategy. However, the key objective is to keep them close to each other (as to be able to hit more than one with a single throw of the baton.
If a kubb is thrown out of play, i.e., outside the boundary markers or not beyond the middle line (Note: after being raised, at least half of the kubb must be in the field of play to be considered in play), then one more attempt is given. If this also goes out, the kubb becomes a "punishment kubb" and can be placed anywhere in the target half by the opposing team as long as it is at least one baton length from a corner marker or the King. If a thrown kubb knocks over an existing baseline or field kubb, then the field kubbs are raised at the location where they rest, and baseline kubbs are raised at their original location.
Play then changes hands, and Team B throws the batons at Team A's kubbs, but must first knock down any standing field kubbs. If a baseline kubb is knocked down before all remaining field kubbs, the baseline kubb is returned to its upright position. (Field kubbs that right themselves due to the momentum of the impact are considered knocked down. Also kubbs are considered knocked down if they end up tilting and relying on a game piece for support.) Again, all kubbs that are knocked down are thrown back over onto the opposite half of the field and then stood.
If either team does not knock down all field kubbs before their turn is over, the kubb closest to the centerline now represents the opposite team's baseline, and throwers may step up to that line to throw at their opponent's kubbs. This rule applies only to throwing the batons at the opposite team's field and baseline kubbs; fallen kubbs are thrown from the original baseline, as are attempts to knock over the king.
Play continues in this fashion until a team is able to knock down all kubbs on one side, from both the field and the baseline. If that team still has batons left to throw, they now attempt to knock over the king. If a thrower successfully topples the king, his team has won the game.
If at any time during the game the king is knocked down by a baton or kubb, the throwing team immediately loses the game.
Everyone with me so far? It sounds complicated, but I have seen games last from 10 minutes to almost an hour…something like croquet…if you don’t want to spill that gin and tonic play will be a little slower.
The best part, you have now crafted a game that will appeal to all ages and requires no electricity, glue, nails or screws. And all “borrowed” from the Vikings. Sometimes plagiarism is the highest—and longest lasting—form of flattery.