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Never a Straight Line

Never a Straight Line
  • Rob Roy (by )
  • Ivanhoe.. (by )
  • A Red, Red Rose (by )
  • The Poems of Robert Burns (by )
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. H... (by )
  • Treasure Island (by )
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If you’ve ever stumbled across a curling match and realized that you understood virtually nothing about the rules of play or the game’s terminology, you may have convinced yourself, “Yeah, I can do that.” Don’t let the curling brooms and sliding shoes fool you, this ancient Scottish game evolved over the past four millenia in regions across the globe. Its participants include world-class athletes whose exquisite precision, unfaltering focus, and strategic prowess won them world championships and the esteem of fellow players.

Peter Brueghel the Elder, a Flemish Renaissance painter who worked  in the mid 1500s, depicted a Scottish sport that was also prevalent in the Low Countries. The lives and recreational activities of Flemish peasants were brought to startling clarity through his efforts. In 1565, he created Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap and The Hunters in the Snow, both considered some of the  earliest documentations of the sport. They are canonized among other historical art in 1565. Henry Adamson, a Scottish poet and historian, is credited with using the word “curling” first in a poem lamenting and celebrating the lost life of his friend, Muses Threnodie: Mirthful Mournings on the Death of Mr. Gall, published in 1658 during an era of extraordinary literary output

Even the curling stones (more commonly referred to as “rocks” in North America) are kept in line with the rich, historic tradition of the sport. The processes of cutting and polishing the granite must be authenticated by the World Curling Federation. The granite is sourced from only two locations: the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales and Ailsa Craig, a Scottish isle.

During gameplay, the delivery of these stones is no small feat. Each weights between 17 and 20 kilograms (38 to 44 pounds), and throwers use the momentum generated from their sliding leg to thrust the stone towards the button—the centermost circle—in the house, or the box of targets where the stones are to be pushed for scoring. It is an incredibly delicate and precise effort, the weight (or velocity) must be estimated properly, the curl (or rotation) of the stone is just as tricky, and the line (or the direction) of the throw must be delivered meticulously.
After the stone is pushed, two sweepers assist with its trajectory. Sweeping is used to decrease the amount of curl, clear debris from the ice, and to reduce friction beneath the stone. 

Though curling is originally a Medieval Scottish game, the sport wasn’t recognized as an Olympic competition until 1998. (Curling in the 1924 Winter Olympics was initially considered a mere “demonstration.”) Today, curling clubs are located all throughout Europe and have spread to North America, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan.

Curling has become far more than a simple Scottish past time. The national sport reflects the geography and values of its inventors. Scottish writers Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Burns, famous for his collection of poetry (including “A Red, Red Rose,”) and Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, created literary masterpieces while their countrymen mastered “chess on ice.” Curling, with its expansive, well-documented history, is nothing to throw stones at.

By Logan Williams

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