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Calvinball, Quidditch and other fictional sports you can play

Authors love to make up games for their fictional worlds -- but these games are typically unplayable in the real world. Quidditch served as the backdrop for plenty of dramatic action in the Harry Potter books, but it involves flying broomsticks and magic balls. Calvinball provided philosophical fodder in Calvin and Hobbes, but its ever-shifting ruleset makes real-world play confusing at best. But guess what? We've tracked down some bizarre examples of fictional sports performed in the flesh.

1. Muggle Quidditch

The full game of Quidditch can't be played in the muggle world, at least not until we get our hands on some broomsticks! The fictional game involves organized teams flying above a modified soccer pitch, pursuing The Golden Snitch whilst avoiding Bludgers and attempting to score with the Quaffle. Confused yet? Clearly you're a muggle.

Well, believe it or not, there is a real-world sport based on the fictional game. Called Muggle Quidditch, it's an organized co-ed college sport that's played on soccer fields. The Intercollegiate Quidditch Association includes 105 schools, and was actually profiled in the Wall Street Journal.

Muggle Quidditch has some notable differences from the fictional game. For one, the Snitch is played by a human being (typically dressed in yellow) who is allowed to run from the field, pursued by the Seekers on foot (generally the entire school campus is considered fair game for the Snitch). Another rule change involves the Bludger: in some versions of the sport, Bludgers are dodgeballs served with tennis rackets; in others, there's no Bludger at all, and beaters simply tackle other players.

For more on Muggle Quidditch, see the rules on Wikipedia or the WSJ profile.

2. BASEketball

The sport of BASEketball came to national prominence in the 1998 movie of the same name. In the movie, a pair of losers (who also happen to be Trey and Matt from South Park) invent the game as a mashup of baseball and basketball, and enjoy early success...until things quickly get out of hand. (Hilarity ensues.) But BASEketball isn't just a convenient fiction -- it's a real sport that has spawned at least five leagues.

According to Wikipedia, film director David Zucker "invented BASEketball years before the movie as a game that everyone could play and held games in his driveway. It became so popular a small league was created. By the fifth season championship game, the event was so big that the city shut down the street and two local Los Angeles TV stations came to report on it." So that was the first league.

BASEketballThe web is also rife with other BASEketball leagues. The most fun is a nascent BASEketball League hosted on Tripod. Its home page is remarkable partly for its spelling mistakes, but also for the message from its founder: "I still need a few last players to finish out the 8 teams. Its looking like it will be a 14 game season, with each team playing every team twice. I am working on the scedule the next few days. I need to get available days teams can play from a few people yet. Im looking to start next week. So get ready." Later he writes, "I decided to postpon the league to next year....I will have a day and time decided for when games will be played...until then we will be playing exhibition games." Until then you'll just have to check out the list of teams, league leaders, and the schedule (such as it is).

Other leagues include "My League," The Shenangahela BASEketball League (with teams including The Laser Cats and Voltron!), and the Burlington BASEketball League. (That last one actually seems the most legitimate of all.) While I'm sure there are more leagues, I just had to stop at five. They were getting too awesome.

3. Organized Calvinball

CalvinballCalvinball was invented by Bill Watterson for his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. The game itself rebels against organized sports, as Hobbes declares: "No sport is less organized than Calvinball!" Calvinball's rules are arbitrary and constantly changing (in fact, the only stable rule is that the rules must change), scoring is arbitrary and nonsensical (matches may conclude with a score of "oogy to boogy"), and equipment is entirely based on whatever comes to hand.

The nature of Calvinball seems to preclude any organization of the sport. But that didn't stop one inventor from proposing a Professional Calvinball League in 2002. The proposal read, in part, "Since there will really be no winners, rankings and rosters are unnecessary." Respondences were mixed, though one pointed out: "Since this is 'Professional' Calvinball, all players are automatically disqualified." Hmm.

Although no evidence exists for an organized Calvinball league, there are many instances of people calling for one and even recording their own gameplay, perhaps with an eye towards some future international governing body sanctioning the sport. A Calvinball World Championship was proposed in 2006 on the site Wikimania, and included an amusing Calvinball Disclaimer Form, which asked the "Sucker" signing the form questions such as, "Are you a organ donor?" and "May we steal your wallet/purse prior to the arrival of a[n] ambulance?"

For more on Calvinball, check out Wikipedia or the official "rules."

4. 43-Man Squamish

43-Man Squamish

43-Man Squamish was invented in the ninety-fifth issue of MAD Magazine by MAD's "Athletic Council," George Woodbridge and Tom Koch. It was designed to be unplayably complex, but according to Wikipedia, "MAD magazine received so many reprint requests from colleges, it appears that some colleges have attempted to form teams and play the game."

For our readers who'd like to begin their own league, let's just quote a bit from the rules:

Participants

Each team consists of one left and one right Inside Grouch, one left and one right Outside Grouch, four Deep Brooders, four Shallow Brooders, five Wicket Men, three Offensive Niblings, four Quarter-Frummerts, two Half-Frummerts, one Full-Frummert, two Overblats, two Underblats, nine Back-Up Finks, two Leapers and a Dummy — for a total of 43.

The game officials are a Probate Judge (dressed as a British judge, with wig), a Field Representative (in a Scottish kilt), a Head Cockswain (in long overcoat), and a Baggage Smasher (dressed as a male beachgoer in pre-World War I years). None has any authority after play has begun.

Gameplay

Before any game, the Probate Judge must first flip a coin, usually a new Spanish peseta, while the Visiting Captain guesses the toss. If he guesses correctly, the game is cancelled immediately. If not, the Home Team Captain must then decide if he wishes to play offense or defense first. Play begins after a frullip is touched to the flutney and the recitation "My uncle is sick but the highway is green!" is intoned in Spanish. Penalties are applied for infractions such as walling the Pritz, icing on fifth snivel, running with the mob, rushing the season, inability to face facts, and sending the Dummy home early.

If you can handle complexity, check out the original 43-Man Squamish rules from 1965, or the (only slightly) more followable Wikipedia explanation.

5. Brockian Ultra-Cricket

Brockian Ultra-Cricket was first introduced by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. While there are various, uh, difficult-to-implement rules ("Rule One: Grow at least three extra legs. You won't need them, but it keeps the crowds amused"), the core game mechanic can be performed in the real world:

Rule Four: Throw lots of assorted items of sporting equipment over the walls for the players. Anything will do — cricket bats, basecube bats, tennis guns, skis, anything you can get a good swing with.

Rule Five: The players should now lay about themselves for all they are worth with whatever they find to hand. Whenever a player scores a 'hit' on another player, he should immediately run away and apologize from a safe distance.

Apologies should be concise, sincere and, for maximum clarity and points, delivered through a megaphone.

Rule Six: The winning team shall be the first team that wins.

Don't PanicBrockian Ultra-Cricket was the inspiration for Tim Astley's slightly more pedestrian Ultra Cricket, an online cricket league which boasts over 550 teams from around the world. Playing in fourteen-week seasons, Ultra Cricket was popularized in the 1990s, when it was played via email. Read this review for some more history. Sadly, Astley's vision of the sport is decidedly more human than Brockian, leaving the formation of a real-world Brockian Ultra-Cricket league in the hands of future generations.

What sports have we left out? Share your favorite fictional sports-turned-real in the comments. (Or just strap a box of paper to each foot and play an awesome round of Flonkerton.)

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

Getty Images

As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

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You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

Getty Images

It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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