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Dr Ian Plummer

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Mallets - a Twisted Tale

It has always surprised me that a good croquet player can roquet a ball 2/3rds or even the full length of a lawn.  Why so?  The angular accuracy required to hit a ball the length of a lawn is very, very small.

To hit a ball on the north boundary yard line from the south boundary (33yds) the mallet needs to point directly at the target ball within ±1/6th degree to stand a chance of winging it on one side or the other.

What if your mallet faces are not parallel or one is simply glued with a thick layer of glue at the left side and a thin layer at the right?  Because of the way things bounce off reflecting surfaces (think light reflecting off a mirror), to get a 1/6th degree deviation in a ball's launch direction, the mallet face only needs to be canted by half that, 1/12th degree.  What difference in the thickness of glue over a 50 mm face does that?  Gulp, 0.076 mm or the diameter of a human hair!

That is why I am surprised that good croquet players can hit remote balls.  Their overall swing and the vagaries of their mallet construction allows them to aim within a fraction of a degree as they hurl a 1.5 kg mallet forward.

Obviously these figures are painted with a broad brush covering up many assumptions. One of the key things is that the ball briefly flattens on to the mallet face and is propelled forward some distance in contact with the face.  Consequently the ball will continue principally in the direction of the mallet head as it departs.

It would be nice however to confirm that your mallet does not have the equivalent of a squint.  This can simply be done by first wiping debris off a face and pressing it gently on to a mirror so it is in full contact.  If you look down the edge of head it should continue in its reflection in a straight line (figure 1a).  If the face is twisted the mirror will amplify the deviation and the edge of the mallet head will not line up with its image in the mirror (figure 1b).  With the face still in contact with the mirror the head should be rotated through 90 degrees and the visual check done again.  This checks both a forward-backward tilt and a left-right tilt of the face. Then the other face can be similarly checked.

Mallet against a mirror

Figure 1. Mallet face pressed up against a mirror. a) mallet face perpendicular to head, b) mallet face tilted (exaggerated)

If the mirror test does not reveal any deviations then it does not matter which face you use; otherwise you might choose to play with just a single face in future.

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Updated 28.i.16
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