Puck Bunnies, Flying Squids and Womochowskionski’s Crease (Ice Hockey)
We throw our gloves down and take a swing at America's most bearded sport.

Okay, so everyone knows the joke about going to a fight and having a hockey game break out, but in case you haven’t heard it before: “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” Possibly our most violent sport, not counting Wolverine Jarts, Russian Tank Roulette and trying to get a seat on the Chicago CTA during rush hour, hockey has garnered a poor reputation that has kept the many positive aspects of the game, such as not being on TV very much, from being enjoyed by potential sports fans. Other qualities such as speed, athleticism, flying squids and the use of Zambonis can make hockey an exciting and enjoyable sport to watch while you’re waiting for the fight to start.

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Orangutans and tooth slayers

[x_pullquote type=”right”]Considered one of the most contactual of contact sports, hockey is played on ice, usually in a “rink”, also known as a “ring” after the fight breaks out.[/x_pullquote]Considered one of the most contactual of contact sports, hockey is played on ice, usually in a “rink”, also known as a “ring” after the fight breaks out. Teams of six players each wearing beards and what looks like gaudy medieval armor attack each other while skating in hopes of moving the puck, or “tooth slayer”, into the opposition’s net, or “goal”. To do this, they have to get the puck past the goaltender, usually a large orangutan with Z-shaped arms, who aren’t so much concerned with “tending” the goal as they are with ripping the limbs off of any player who comes too close to it. Goals are determined by a flashing red police light that goes off, which acts to further enrage the goalies, who hate the color red, into carrying out even more violent acts, such as speaking loudly in French. The team that scores the most goals without actually getting an exciting high score wins. Ties are broken by sudden death overtime, which hockey fans love because it involves the words “sudden” and “death”. In sudden death, teams continue to play until a goal is scored, whereupon the fans proceed out into the parking lot to fight some more.

Warning: fight imminent

The origins of the word “hockey” are in dispute; some argue that it is taken from the 1773 book “Juvenile Sports and Pastimes”, while others yell that that’s a dirty lie and proceed to clear their bench for an all-out hockey history brawl. But it is known that the word “puck” derives it’s meaning from the Scots Gaelic word puc or the Irish poc (to poke, punch, smite, hit, smack, smash, sock, WHACK, WALLOP, WHAMMY WHY YOU @$%!$%&! [sound of gloves being thrown down and hockey fight ensuing]). The modern version of the game has it’s origins in Montreal (Official Motto: “Have We Mentioned We’re French?”) in the late 19th century with the first hockey club being established at McGill University. The NHL (National Hockey League) was officially formed in 1917 with teams first formed in Canada, and then spreading to the United States like blood stains on fresh ice.

Mason, Dixon and flashing the puck bunny

Hockey historically was played mainly in the north, where ice is a naturally occurring substance sometime around late August. Today, you can find professional hockey teams even in warm, southern states such as California or Florida, where fans come to a game mostly just to see what a huge sheet of ice looks like in person. If you live below the Mason-Dixon line (Official Motto: “‘Say, Mason!’ ‘Yes, Dixon?’ ‘What Do You Get When You Create A Survey Line That Begins To The South Of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania And Extends From A Benchmark East To The Delaware River And West To What Was At One Time The Boundary With Western Virginia?’ ‘I Don’t Know Dixon, What?’ ‘A Cultural Boundary Line That Separates The North From The South?’ ‘Amazing! Have A Mint Julep!’”) it will be rare that you have to involuntarily come into contact with hockey; however, never count out the ability of a rabid hockey fan appearing in your neighborhood or office in a state as far away as Hawaii. A transplanted hockey fan can be a dangerous creature, as they are often very protective about their sport and have no tolerance for your condescending ignorance, such that if you say that hockey is only about fighting so help them they will punch you in the mouth. Your best conversational bet when encountering this type of fan is to Smile and Nod as they are going on about how some player named “Feudeauxlouiex” got thrown out of the game for “flashing the puck bunny in the penalty box after the natural hatty” and “put one right in Womochowskionski’s crease”. You might try mentioning in a soothing voice something about how nice and warm it is here in South Town, until the sultriness and humidity of your location lull them into sleep, and you can get back to whatever it is you do in the south to keep from dying of heat exhaustion and/or cockroaches.

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Calm Your Caxirolas: It’s the World Cup!
We do our best to explain earth's quadrennial vuvuzela fixation.

Every four years there is an earth-wide contest to see who are the most obnoxious soccer fans in the universe, during which some games are also played. This is the FIFA World Cup, which, to many Americans, has all the excitement of wondering whether or not you remembered to use that $5 off coupon at your last oil change, but to the rest of the world, is like the Super Bowl and the World Series had a baby, and it descended to earth wrapped in a fiery rainbow and wearing golden shin guards, and then it kicked a black and white ball around on the grass for two hours while every human on earth went absolutely bananas. Which is to say that I don’t think there’s an analogy for the excitement the World Cup has for the rest of the world that an American would understand, but you should know a little bit about it in case your boss is from Uruguay and decides to have mandatory conference room game discussions about Fernando Muslera‘s dismal performance at the Copa América, instead of going over last month’s dismal sales results.

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Yeah, but what if the Gorn had a vuvuzela?

[x_pullquote type=”right”]If a game in America were to end in a tie, fans would just wander, zombie-like, out of their favorite sports bar, not speaking, wondering why they just spent twenty dollars on some mediocre hot wings…[/x_pullquote]The World Cup has a few rules and regulations that may seem strange to many Americans, one of which is the allowance for a tie game. As much as Americans now seem to want each of their amateur athletes to get a medal, trophy, new car and a college scholarship just for being able to not tie their cleats together, they also equally abhor anything in their professional sports that even comes close to a tie, draw or stalemate. There must be a winner, or there won’t be a good enough reason for rioting and looting after your favorite sporting team wins their respective world championship; I mean, those cars aren’t going to just overturn and burn themselves. If a game in America were to end in a tie, fans would just wander, zombie-like, out of their favorite sports bar, not speaking, wondering why they just spent twenty dollars on some mediocre hot wings when they didn’t even get the chance to celebrate their world-shattering win or gripe about their sucky team. However, if a World Cup game remains tied after 90 minutes of regulation play and 30 minutes of overtime, then each team chooses their strongest champion and they fight to the death in the center of the field using only objects they can find around them, such as diamonds, sulfur, saltpeter, or — no, wait; sorry, that was that episode in Star Trek with the Gorn. To be accurate, only games in the initial round can end in a tie; championship games obviously have to have a winner, so they do penalty kicks until someone gets a goal, or the stadium collapses under the sheer weight of unbearable suspense and vuvuzela spit.

Funyuns and Caxirolas

You’ll also get no chance for a bathroom break during the game, as there are no timeouts or commercial breaks in World Cup soccer — er, football. This concept is enough to make a corporate American ad agency’s collective head pop off and $100 bills spout out of it, as commercials are the lifeblood of American televised sports. You’ll just have to wait until halftime comes before you can get your Funyuns and Baja Blast Mountain Dew and go potty. Each World Cup also has its own mascot, logo, slogan, even musical instrument. When Brazil hosted their World Cup in 2014, they created the “caxirola” a percussion instrument that looked like an amputated avocado with hives and a handle. Although designed to be more friendly and much less noisy than a vuvuzela, the caxirola was ironically not allowed into games because, in a preliminary match between two Salvadoran teams, fans used them to pelt opposing players. Yay, sports!

So next time you’re complaining that your favorite sporting activity is too violent, or it’s fans aren’t violent enough, just remember it’s only a few short years until you can enjoy some real sporting activity at the next World Cup in Russia, where hopefully the official musical instrument will not be a sawed-off balalaika.

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Blood, sweat and gears (the Tour de France)
Our fact-feeble guide on how to tell your polka dots from your peloton.

Every year a contest plays out that punishes the participants in ways only the top competitors in their field can fathom; where once friendly teammates can turn suddenly hostile from competitive self-preservation, and even the slightest mishap can prove costly. The welcome end of each day offers only a brief rest before the beginning of another, grueling stage tomorrow, with the finish line seemingly months away. But enough about the upcoming Presidential Elections; let’s talk about the Tour de France.

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No, really; what is a “peloton”?

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The Tour de France (Translation: “That Race Lance Armstrong Always Won”) is the premiere cycling event of the year…[/x_pullquote]The Tour de France (Translation: “That Race Lance Armstrong Always Won”) is the premiere cycling event of the year, commanding the rapt attention of the approximately 122 actual American cycling fans who actually watch it live at three in the morning. Held each summer in France (Official Motto: “Our Wine Can Beat Up Your Wine”), it was originally organized in 1903 by the French magazine L’Auto (translation: “Car”) as a way to boost paper sales, possibly by trying to convince riders that these new car things were a much less exhausting way to travel up the French Alps than wooden bicycles. Considered the premiere race in all of bicycledom, riders come from all over the world to see if someone can finally explain to them what a “peloton” is, and why they should be in it, and are there any dues for joining.

The Champion of Accented E’s vs. the Devil Baby

While the route of the race changes every year, each race always traverses the mountain chains of the Alps and Pyrenees before ending up at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées (Translation: “The Champion of Accented E’s”). Riders spend three grueling weeks battling wind, rain, and devils holding babies all the while wondering why they shouldn’t just hop a ride in their air-conditioned support car instead.

Let’s get ready to rumble

The race consists of 21 days of racing over a 23-day period, and includes one individual time-trial stage, nine flat stages, five hilly stages, two silly stages, six mountain stages, one karaoke stage and one stage where all the riders agree to just sleep all day so everyone can win. The race alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise circuits of France, leaving the unfortunate riders using digital watches completely lost. Teams of up to nine cyclists compete against each other using bats, knives, chains and — sorry; wait; that’s the rumble scene from “West Side Story”. Actually, team members do their best to support their leader by setting the pace for him, running down attacks by other teams, grabbing coffee, returning any overdue videos he forgot to return before the race, and so on. The racer with the lowest overall time for each stage gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey, so named because it has never been washed, with other colors awarded for other accomplishments, including white with red polka dots (“King of The Mountain”), white (“Fastest Overall Rider”), green (“Most Lucrative Advertising Endorsements”), red (“Most Blood Spilled After Crashing Into A Fan Dressed As The Devil”), and black (“Most Needing To Do Laundry Real Soon.”)

Tour de France facts

  • The winner of the first Tour de France was Maurice Garin. He also won in 1904 but was disqualified when it was discovered he had actually been using a motorcycle the entire race.
  • The average cyclist will burn 124,000 calories over the entire the tour, equivalent to 243 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers, 619 Krispy Kreme donuts, or one slice of Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.
  • Coincidentally, each rider will produce enough pedal strokes (486,000) to power the making of 243 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers.
  • The nickname of the Tour de France is “La Grande Boucle” (“The Big Belch”); a reference to the frequent stomach gymnastics that riders experience after a finishing a particularly difficult hill.
  • Each cyclist will produce enough sweat during the race to flush a toilet 39 times, which is ironic because none of them will actually be able to use a toilet during the race.
Photo Credit: nic_r cc
Photo Credit: dizid cc

Ball Boys, Four-Tuples and Frankenberry (Wimbledon)
We get to the centre of tennis' oldest living tournament.

Wimbledon is one of tennis’ four prestigious Grand Slam tournaments, and arguably the most famous, although I’ve never heard anyone actually really argue about it. The annual tennis tournament is held each year at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (Official Motto: “I Say, Jeffries, Fetch Me My Snobbery Jacket, There’s A Good Chap”) in London. Officially named (apparently by Yoda) “The Championships, Wimbledon”, it is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, having been held in London since 1877 (Official Motto: “We’re The Year That Invented The Stapler!”). Wimbledon occurs during mid-summer, which, for you Americans in the south, is right after NASCAR starts, and for those in the north, just after the last NHL hockey fight ends with the awarding of the Stanley Cup, unless you count the after-awards fight in the locker room.

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12,244 gallons of tennis

[x_pullquote type=”right”]Wimbledon is the only major tennis tournament still played on grass, which I feel obliged to quickly point out to you excited Colorado tennis fans who were just about to buy a ticket to London does not mean “pot”.[/x_pullquote]Wimbledon is the only major tennis tournament still played on grass, which I feel obliged to quickly point out to you excited Colorado tennis fans who were just about to buy a ticket to London does not mean “pot”. The use of grass may also explain why the 128 players chosen for the tournament are “seeded”, but this is probably just an attempt to wring a really lame joke out of that last sentence. The tournament offers competition in men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles, unmixed singles, re-mixed triples, shaken and not stirred four-tuples, and the occasional duodecuple resulting from a spontaneous family brawl over on center court. The penultimate matches take place on “Centre Court”, which, for us backwards Americans, translates as “center court”. This court is only used for tennis the two weeks a year that the tournament takes place, while the rest of the year it is used for grass-themed parties, close-crop lawn-mowing demonstrations, and tiny games of football. The initial capacity of Centre Court in the 1880’s is not known, but historians speculate it was about 12,244 gallons. Today, the famous court has a capacity of 15,000 people, along with video scoreboards, a retractable roof, and tiny, inconspicuous lasers for “motivating” lazy ball boys. The south end of the court houses the Royal Box, from which members of the Royal Family can appear to be interested in the matches while getting their photos taken. Players traditionally bow or curtsey when the Queen is present in the box, but when she is not, they pretty much ignore it.

At least there’s always Frankenberry

Ball boys and girls play a crucial part in keeping the flow of the game smooth and humorous, as they scurry after each finished ball like hunched over rodents chasing a cheeto. Ball boys were originally provided by a company called Goldings (No Longer Used Motto: “Don’t Come Bawlin’ If Your Ball Boy Isn’t Ballin’, Boy!”), who built them from spare parts left over from street orphans. Since 1969 ball boys and girls have been supplied by local schools, who use the threat of potentially getting hit by a 140 mph serve as a method of maintaining discipline. Each ball boy or girl receives between £120-£180 (approximately 2,433 tuppence or 15 half-farthings, minus comeuppance) per day, which is probably more than some of the Latvian players make all year. All players are required to wear white during the tournament, which is a drag for the players that like to eat BBQ ribs and red Kool-Aid betweens sets, but rules are rules. The most famous Wimbledon tradition involves food, with spectators traditionally enjoying bowls of strawberries and cream from their posh box seats, while cheap ticket holders have to settle for small bowls of Frankenberry with some skim milk.

So, as you watch this years’ exciting Wimbledon matches on TV, or at least two seconds of it you’ll see while surfing past it to get to a M*A*S*H rerun, remember to enjoy it as a prime example of quaint British tradition, even with the snobbery jackets.

Castle Thingys, Horsies, and Pointy Guys (Chess)
We make some moronic moves in the world's brainiest game.

Chess is a classic two-person strategy game designed to show players that they really weren’t as smart as they thought they were. Once considered the only game of choice for non-football-playing high school boys or college grad students who knew all of the lines from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — which, come to think of it, are pretty much the same person — chess has achieved broader appeal in recent years. It is now played online, in schools, coffee houses, and even urban parks, where it is not uncommon to see groups of bespectacled squirrels quietly pondering whether to take their opponent’s rook, or just eat a nut.

Gregorian smallpox and the castle thingy

Regarded as one of the most challenging of board games, the earliest evidence of chess’s existence dates to around AD 600 (Official Motto: “Smallpox, Schmallpox; Check Out This Groovy Gregorian Chant!”). The roots of the game can be traced even further back to Eastern India, where the earliest form of the game utilized pieces that represented the four branches of the Indian military: infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariotry. Later versions of the game did away with the elephants, as the pieces weighed over 4 tons each and made play impossibly slow, but the four general forms remained, and evolved into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, or “castle thingy” pieces.

Horsey Thing to King’s Bishop Three

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The game is begun by having one of your friends convince you that it will actually be fun.[/x_pullquote]The game is begun by having one of your friends convince you that it will actually be fun, and he won’t beat you in five moves like last time, and by reminding you yet again that yes, the “horsey” can move like an “L”. The board is laid out in a grid of sixty-four equally-sized black and white squares, or, in the case of some of the more extreme politically correct versions, just one, big, vaguely tan square with all of the pieces melted together in a symbolic group hug. Play begins when you decide you’re really going to devote the next three hours of your life to this, and you move a pawn forward, only to have it snatched away by your opponent, who is already snickering because they know you’ve already lost the game with your noob opening move. The objective is to pressure your opponent’s most important piece, the board, into falling off the table when you “accidentally” bump it, thereby mercifully ending the game. Barring that, your goal is to force his king into checkmate, a condition where the king cannot move without being captured, and so has no choice but to write a check out to the opposing king, providing compensation for the deceased pawn’s families, the cleanup of dead horses and various priests, emotional damages, etc. Each piece has only specific movements that they are allowed to do; for example, the knight can only move 3 squares forward and two squares to the side, while the rook moves horizontally or vertically across the board. The queen can sashay wherever she wants, making her the most powerful piece on the board, unlike the king, who is typically so fat and lethargic he can only move one square at a time, provided he’s even awake. Thousands of books have been written on the extensive possible strategies of the opening, middle, and end of the game, most of them using the cryptic chess-piece-moving language you probably have heard used as passwords on old TV spy shows, such as “Queen to Queen’s Knight Pawn”, “Knight to King’s Bishop Three”, or, as I prefer to say it, “Horsey Beats Up Castle and Knocks Over the Pointy Guy”. This method allows for chess opponents to play each other at great distances, even over many years, making it one of the few sports where you only have to move your brain in order to play.

Chess facts

  • The number of possible ways of playing the first four moves in a game of chess is 318,979,564,000, which is also, coincidentally, the country code and telephone number for Boris Spassky.
  • According to the America’s Foundation for Chess, none of them has had a date in over ten years.
  • The longest chess game in history occurred in 1989. It ended after 269 moves when one of the players decided he wanted to live, really live his life, so he grabbed the nearest woman and kissed her.
  • There are 169,518,829,100,544,000,000,000,000,000 ways to play the first 10 moves in chess, which is equal to the number of electrons your brain needs to decide that you really aren’t good at math.
  • The first chess game in orbit was played by the crew of the Soyuz 9 on June 9, 1970. It ended in a draw when all of the pieces immediately floated into space.
  • The folding chessboard was invented by a priest who was forbidden to play chess, so he made a chessboard that, when folded together, disguised itself as a copy of Sports Illustrated.
  • In 1985, a man named Eric Knoppert played 500 games of 10-minute chess in only 68 hours. He lost every one.
  • There are over 1000 opening moves in chess, such as the “Sicilian Defense”, the “Queen’s Gambit”, and the always popular “I don’t want to play chess!” arm sweep across the board.

Baseball’s Seventh Inning Stretch (the All-Star Game)
We take a swing at baseball’s Midsummer Classic.

The crack of the bats, the roar of the crowd; yes, the media-aggravated summer rioting season is upon us, which means baseball’s annual All-Star Game can’t be far behind. Also known as the “Midsummer Classic” or the “Tuesday Night Pretty Little Liars Pre-empter”, this contest between the stars of the American and National League teams is played on the second or third Tuesday in July, and signals the symbolic halfway point of your favorite team’s losing season. Starting players are chosen by the fans, using ballots distributed at Major League games and something called “the internet”. Managers choose the pitchers while managers and players choose the reserves, and the game of baseball itself chooses the managers, as they are the leaders of the teams from the previous season’s World Series. Once all of the sides have been picked and the leftover skinny guy with the cheap plastic glove goes home crying, the home team is chosen using the time-honored baseball tradition of grabbing a bat and moving up the handle to see who reaches the knob first. The game is the only meeting of players of both leagues during the year, aside from the World Series and interleague play, and possibly bumping into each other leaving closed-door performance-enhancing drug hearings.

It’s the Super Bo… Excuse me; the “Sensational Basin”!

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Flying Cars and the Non-St. Louis Arch

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The original ticket price was about $1.65, which may seem cheap today, but at the time of the Depression could have purchased a small farm consisting of two pigs and a field of dust.[/x_pullquote]The game was the brainchild of Chicago sportswriter Arch “Not The St. Louis One” Ward, who, in 1933, thought it would be nifty, if not really swell and possibly even keen (remember, this was the 30’s) to feature a game played between the stars of the two current leagues. The first game was held as part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (Official Motto: “Believe Us; Flying Cars Will Be Here Any Day Now!”) and was a huge success, with tickets from the game selling for $19,136. In today’s money, that is; there is only one known unused ticket left, and that’s how much it sold for on auction. The original ticket price was about $1.65, which may seem cheap today, but at the time of the Depression could have purchased a small farm consisting of two pigs and a field of dust. In honor of Ward’s contribution, the “Arch Ward Trophy” is given to the All-Star Game player whose first and last name contain the exact same number of letters, while the most valuable player receives the conveniently named “Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award”, inexplicably named after Ted Williams, one of the leading British show jumping riders of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Home Run Derby

The night before the All-Star Game a Home Run Derby is held, where long ball hitters get to see if their steroid injections are paying off. Ha ha, players! Just kidding! Don’t come beat me using your freakishly huge arms! Actually, the derby is an exciting chance to see eight of your favorite fence-swingers exhibit their batting prowess, while hundreds of dedicated baseball fans pack the stands to see if they will be one of the lucky ones to take home a cherished bit of baseball history and immediately post it on eBay (**RARE** ACTUAL 2015 HOME RUN BALL MUST SEE!!!!!!!!!!). Four players from each league are tossed rubber-armed Grandma pitches by a flinching, screen-protected pitcher, and given 10 outs per at bat to see how many pitches they can hit over the fence, or, in extreme cases, into low orbit (see: “freakishly huge arms”, above). Gold balls are used after the sixth out, with money given to charity for every home run hit with them, which to me seems kind of a scam, because gold is pretty heavy and probably just breaks the bats. The winner of the derby receives a trophy which looks like pair of TV rabbit ears made from baseball bats and is named after… well, nobody just yet, probably because sponsors spent all their money paying for those gold balls.

So at this years’ All-Star break, relax and enjoy the spectacle of your favorite multi-millionaire players getting a $50,000 bonus for hitting two grounders to shortstop. And for all you pre-teen girls: relax; Pretty Little Liars will be back next week.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Sports Survival Guide for Men[/feature_headline]

Photo Credit: Wikipedia cc