By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM
Conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. The trees, which can reach 35m tall, produce beautiful white candle shaped flowers in May followed by their famous spiky seed cases (each with two conkers inside) which fall in September and October.
Horse chestnuts aren't native to Britain but were imported from the Balkans in the sixteenth century and widely planted in parks and public spaces during Victorian times.
The game of conkers has been played in Britain since the 1800s. The following rules have developed over the centuries and are fairly universally accepted. First, a grown-up needs to prepare each conker by drilling a hole through the centre. Now thread the conker onto a string or shoe lace and tie a big knot to stop it sliding off. Your string should be more than 30cm long so that, when you have wrapped it round your hand, there is at least 20cm between your knuckles and the dangling conker. Next, prepare for battle!
1. Toss a coin to decide who strikes first.
2. Each player must have a minimum length of 20cm of string between his string hand and the conker.
3. The striker draws back his conker in his other hand and then swings it down onto the receiving player's conker.
3. The striker has three goes to hit the receiver's conker.
4. The receiver must hold his or her conker still.
5. Once the striker has hit the receiver's conker (or if he misses three times) play passes and the receiver becomes the striker.
6. If any player drops his conker, his opponent is entitled to shout "stamps!" and stamp on it, unless the other player shouts "no stamps!" first.
7. Absolutely no deliberate hitting of the other player's knuckles!
8. If your conker comes off its string but is not smashed then you are allowed to re-string it and play continues.
9. The game ends when one player's conker is smashed from its string (having a small bit of shell left doesn't count).
10. If both conkers smash at the same time, the match is a tie.
Every fresh conker starts as a "one-er". A conquering conker assumes the score of its victim. So, if your one-er beats another one-er then it becomes a "two-er". But if your one-er beats a two-er, it becomes a "three-er", and so on.
How to cheat
Although banned in most official competitions, the following methods can all be used to toughen up your prized conker:
- Store it in a dry place for a year.*
- Bake it in the oven.
- Soak it in vinegar.
- Paint it with clear nail varnish.
The best (legitimate) way to ensure a strong conker is to make sure the hole you drill is neat and doesn't split the shell. The hole should be no wider than you need for your chosen string. Also, before you drill the hole, check that your conker sinks in a glass of water. If it is damaged or rotten on the inside it will float.
*Roald Dahl recommends this method in his diary, My Year.
According to custom, when you find your first conker of the season you should say "Oddly, oddly onker, my first conker" for good luck during the season.
Did you know...? The origins of the word 'conker' aren't completely clear. Some say it derives from the word "conch", a type of shell that was originally used to play the game but others believe it is a shortened version of "conqueror".