EtymologyFrom nineteenth-century dialect conker, snail-shell; the game of conkers was originally played using snail-shells.
- Rhymes: -ɒŋkə(r)
Conker is the name used in Britain, Ireland and some former British colonies for the nuts of horse-chestnut trees, when used in a game traditionally played by children, Conkers.
Origin of nameThe name comes from the dialect word conker, meaning snail-shell (related to French conque meaning a conch), as the game was originally played using snail shells. The name may also be influenced by the verb conquer, as the game was also called conquerors. Conkers are also known regionally as obblyonkers, cheggies or cheesers. In America the nuts are simply known as chestnuts or as buckeyes, and the game is not played.
- A hole is drilled in a large, hard conker using a nail, gimlet, or small screwdriver. A piece of string is threaded through it about 25 cm (10 inches) long (often a shoelace is used). A large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker.
- The game is played between two people, each with a conker.
- They take turns hitting each other's conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits.
- The conker eventually breaking the other's conker gains a point. This may be either the attacking conker or (more often) the defending one.
- A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet.
- If a none-er breaks another none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc. In some areas of Scotland, conker victories are counted using the terms bully-one, bully-two, etc.
- The winning conker assimilates the previous score of the losing conker, as well gaining the score from that particular game. For example, if a two-er plays a three-er, the surviving conker will become a six-er.
- A player is allowed to keep taking shots at the opponent's conker until they miss. When the player misses, the roles swap. If a player just slices the opponent's conker (i.e. does not get a clean hit, often because wind causes the opponent's conker to sway), then both players quickly shout "tips" and the one who in the opinion of onlookers shouted it first, gets to take shots.
- The rules played at the world conker championship state that each player has three swings at the opponents conker before the roles are reversed.
- If a player should let go of the string when the hit occurs (which often results in the conker travelling quite some distance), whosoever gets to it first wins it.
- If a conker should come off the string, but is otherwise undamaged, the attacking player may shout "stampsies" and attempt to stamp on the defending player's conker before they are able to retrieve it.
- In some areas, a rule is played whereby if a player takes his shot and the two laces become tangled, the first player who shouts "clinks", "strings", "snags" or "jinks" (depending on the region), gets to take shots. In the Midlands in the 1950s the cry was tingle-tangle five knocks which allowed the fouled player five free knocks and in Dublin "tanglies tanglies one-two-three" allowed the first to take three free shots.
Similar gameA similar Puerto Rican game (played with the smaller seed of the jatobá, Hymenaea courbaril) is called gallitos (meaning small roosters or cocks, as in cockfighting). The opponents face each other and the defending gallito is laid in the center of a circle drawn in the dirt. Not until the attacking player misses will the defending player take a turn. Upon missing, if the attacking player is quick enough, they will try to swing at the defending gallito before the defendant removes it from within the circle. If the defending gallito is struck it must remain in the circle until the attacker misses again. This move is called a "paso de paloma".
History of Conkers
The first recorded game of Conkers using horse chestnuts was on the Isle of Wight in 1848 – the horse chestnut tree is not native to Britain, and it was not widely planted until the early nineteenth century. Previously, children played with snail shells or hazelnuts.
In 1965 the World Conker Championships were set up in Ashton (near Oundle) Northamptonshire, England, and still take place on the second Sunday of October every year. In 2004, an audience of 5,000 turned up to watch more than 500 competitors from all over the world.
1976 was the first time that a non-British contestant won the Men's World Conker Championship. The Mexican Jorge R. Ramirez took the place of a contestant that was unable to arrive on time at Ashton, and defeated the 1975 champion at the finals. The Men's champion has been British in every other year except 1998 when Helmut Kern from Nauort, Germany, won.
In 1993 ex-Python Michael Palin was disqualified from a Conker Championships in the United Kingdom for baking his conker and soaking it in vinegar.
In 1999, the British charity ActionAid applied for a patent on hardening conkers, in protest at the patenting of life forms by large companies.
2000 saw the first Ladies' champion from outside the UK. Selma Becker, originally from Austria, took the title. Again, the queen of conkers has stayed in the UK, except in 2001 when Frenchwoman Celine Parachou won.
In 2000 a survey of British schools showed that many were not allowing children to play Conkers as head teachers were afraid of the legal consequences if children were injured while playing the game. In 2004 a headmaster was reported to be outfitting pupils with goggles to play the game. This in turn prompted DJs on BBC Radio 1 to start their own Radio 1 Conker Championships. The TV programme Top Gear later staged a game of conkers using mobile homes suspended from cranes. After putting on safety goggles, presenter James May commented "I now feel perfectly happy about being hit in the face by a caravan."
In 2008 at the SMBC Conker Championships, Philip van't Spyker became the next Australian Conker Champion. He narrowly beat the British Toby Anderson.
Hardening conkersThe hardest conkers usually win. Hardening conkers is often done by keeping them for a year (called laggies in many areas or seasoners in Ireland), baking them briefly, soaking or boiling in vinegar, or painting with clear nail varnish.
Such hardening is however usually regarded as cheating. At the British Junior Conkers Championships on the Isle of Wight in October 2005, contestants were banned from bringing their own conkers due to fears that they might harden them. The Campaign For Real Conkers claimed this was an example of over-regulation which was causing a drop in interest in the game. In the World Conker Championship contestants are also restricted to using the conkers provided.
One factor affecting the strength of a conker is the shape of the hole – a clean cylindrical hole is stronger, as it has no notches that can begin a crack or split.
On the television show Brainiac: Science Abuse an experiment took place to see how to best harden one's conker. The best contender was a conker that was rolled around in hand cream – it was suggested that this softened the impact.
conker in Danish: Kastanjekamp
conker in French: Marron d'Inde