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5 Alternative Yard Games You Can Master This Summer

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Summertime is the season for outdoor activities—cookouts, picnics, camping and games. But instead of hauling out the badminton net or the croquet set, why not try something new this year? There are dozens of “backyard” games played around the world that are fun, easy to learn, and can be played by people of almost any athletic ability. Here are five alternatives to having the kids whack each other with croquet mallets after a match gets out of hand.

1. Bocce

Despite its reputation in many parts as a game played by old people and snobs, bocce is actually quite a fun game, and is great for the more competitive types. Though it’s traditionally played on a large, flat court (27.5 m/90 ft long and 4 m/13 ft wide), the game can easily be scaled down to fit within a smaller backyard, and the natural imperfections of the grass make it a fun (if a bit unpredictable) game to play at a cookout.

The goal of bocce is to land your team’s balls closest to a small target, whose location changes each round. While the official bocce rules are complex and long, and have provisions for nearly every situation, the basis of the game is simple. Two teams of 2 to 4 people assemble on opposite ends of a designated court, a small target ball (the “petanque” or “pallino”) is thrown over the halfway-point of the court by one team. Then, the bocce balls are tossed underhand, from the ends of the court, in attempt to get the closest to the petanque. Knocking other competitors’ balls out of the way is allowed—but in my own experience, when I’ve tried to do that, I’ve ended up giving the other team the win by knocking them closer to the target! 

2. Kubb

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Pronounced like “tube,” kubb has been gaining immense popularity in the Midwestern U.S. lately, and has long been played in the countries of Scandinavia. Its success has even led to a Kubb Kickstarter project blowing its funding goal out of the water! Known as “Viking Chess” and developed in Gotland, Sweden, kubb is best described as “a cross between bowling and horseshoes,” according to the Des Moines Kubb Club.

Kubb is played by two teams, on a rectangular field, with five pawns (“kubbs”) at the baselines on both ends, and a king in the center. The object of the game is to toss batons in an underhanded style (no “helicopter” throws) to knock over the opponents’ kubbs, and then, only after all the kubbs are knocked over, to topple the king in the center. If you knock over the king before the kubbs are toppled, you automatically lose! Considering that there are only six batons thrown each turn, and each team has five kubbs, it often takes strategy, luck, and a good aim in order to win.

3. Royal Quoits 

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If you’re a fan of horseshoes, or want to set up a safer and easier horseshoe-like game for the younger crowd, royal quoits is the way to go. Played with rope hoops and a set of five stakes with different point values, there are many variations on the game. The easiest version is often to simply set up the quoits set with a baseline to toss from, and have the players toss one ring per turn, and try to get above a pre-determined score. Since the stakes have different values, older players can have a bit of strategy involved, and since there’s more than one stake, the younger players have a much better chance of scoring – not to mention the chance to practice a bit of addition when it comes to their point values!

4. KanJam

KanJam is a relative newcomer to the land of backyard sports, but is a worthy contender for your time. Developed by two guys throwing Frisbees into old metal garbage cans in the mid-1990s, the game has since been refined, mass-produced, and played at parties, campgrounds, and cookouts throughout the world.

Played in teams of two, with two “goal” cans situated 50 feet apart,the object of the game is to get the Frisbees inside the portable can, either on your own, or by having your partner (situated behind the can) deflect towards the goal. No catching of the Frisbee by the partner is allowed, but they can deflect it in whatever manner they see fit. Most games are played to either 10 or 21 points. One point is awarded for discs deflected by the partner that hit the goal can, two points are awarded for getting the disc into the can on your own, and three points are awarded for having your partner deflect the disc into the can. If you trust your throw more than your partner, there’s an “instant win” slot on the front of the bin – the Golden Snitch of KanJam.

5. Ladder Golf

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This game is also called “hillbilly golf,” “Flingy-Pongy,” and at least a half dozen other names. Apocryphal origin stories tend to involve cowboys, dead snakes, and boredom while fixing fences, but the game seems to have been played in the Mississippi Basin longer than anywhere else. Origin aside, this backyard game has been gaining popularity at tailgating parties and picnics across the US, and is a simple enough setup that you can even make your own set at home.

Using one or two goal ladders, teams toss short bolas (string with weighted ends), and points are scored if your bola wraps around a ladder rung. Three points are awarded for the top rung, two points for the center, and one point for the bottom—scoring is done at the end of a round, so knocking an opponent’s bola off the ladder is fair game. An average tailgate game is played to an exact score of 21—if you score over 21, the number of points you would have scored is deducted from what you had at the beginning of the round!

This post originally appeared last year.

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Knock-Off Versions of Nerf Ammo Can Cause Serious Eye Injuries
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Nerf toy guns and their foam projectiles, as marketed and manufactured by Hasbro, are virtually harmless when used as instructed. But, as reported by CNN, a recent paper in the UK medical journal BMJ Case Reports is providing a reality check when it comes to using the mock weapons and off-brand ammo improperly.

Three unrelated patients were treated at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London with ocular injuries that were sustained as a result of being "shot" with Nerf guns. Two adults had bleeding and inflammation in the eye; one 11-year-old had bleeding, inflammation, and damage to the outer retinal layer. All three suffered what the paper described as "significant ocular trauma." Attending doctors treated their swelling, and all symptoms resolved within a few weeks.

So what happened? In the case of one patient, a Nerf play session went awry as a result of using non-licensed ammo that isn't subject to Hasbro's quality control measures and may be made of harder materials as a result. On their Nerf landing page, Hasbro cautions users to "never modify any Nerf blasters or other Nerf products. Use only the darts, water, rounds, and discs designed for specific Nerf blasters."

Pediatric ophthalmologists interviewed by CNN recommend that protective eyewear be used whenever anyone is playing with Nerf weapons. It's also advisable never to aim for the face when shooting and to avoid attempting to modify the weapons to shoot faster or farther.

[h/t CNN]

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Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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