Few Olympic events confound the public like curling, the obscure winter sport with the frenzied sweeping that gains cult status every four years. There’s the mystifying-to-the-masses strategies of play, the perplexing shouted orders and, of course, all that wacky lingo, from bonspiel (a tournament) to skip (team captain) to sheet (the rectangular ice where games are played.)
It’s enough to make your head spin like a stone (the circular rock curlers send whizzing down the ice.) Especially when you get to all those words beginning with “H.”
House. Hammer. Hog line. Hack. Heavy. And HARD!
Hang in there. Here’s a crash course in the H’s of curling:
The house is the bullseye-shaped target at the end of each sheet. It is made up of three concentric circles – a 12-foot ring, an 8-foot ring and a 4-foot ring – and the center is dubbed “the button.” At the conclusion of each round of play (known as an “end”) the team with the stone closest to the button gets a point. Teams score extra points for each additional stone that is closer to the button than their opponents’ stones.
No, there are no actual hammers involved. But to have the hammer is to have the power. That’s because the team that has the hammer has the right to throw the final stone of each end. Whichever team doesn’t score during an end will get the hammer in the next round. If neither team scores, the team with the hammer hangs onto it. Because of this, sometimes a team with the hammer will deliberately avoid scoring at the end of a round if only one point is possible.
Hog lines are the thick lines that stretch across the width of the ice 21 feet (6.4 meters) from the center of each house. Curlers who are throwing the stones must release the rock from their grip before the stone reaches the hog line. The stone must travel across the hog line on the opposite end of the sheet with each throw or it is removed from play.
To throw heavy means a curler has thrown a rock with more force than necessary to make the shot, meaning the stone will go farther than the curler wants it to.
The hack is the black push-off block that curlers set their feet into just before they launch themselves down the ice with the stone. The hack at the distant end of the sheet is also used sometimes as a reference for how hard to throw the stone. A skip will sometimes call for “hack weight,” indicating he or she wants the stone to be thrown with enough momentum to reach the hack.
HARD! (AND SOMETIMES, HURRY!)
Watch curling for any amount of time and you’ll notice the curlers scream a lot, and are particularly fond of screaming, “HARD!” Generally, the person screaming is the skip, who directs the shots and how aggressively the sweepers need to brush their brooms across the surface of the ice to influence how far the stone travels. The skip will shout “HARD!” – or, in some cases, “HURRY!” – when he or she wants the sweepers to more vigorously sweep the ice.