Louis Nel introduces a form of the game for playing on areas where hoops cannot be used.
More and more indoor croquet facilities are becoming available all the time. Many of them do not allow any holes in the floor for hoop installation. While specially adapted hoops can be used to overcome the problem to some extent, I recently experimented with a version of croquet in which hoop running strokes become replaced by certain corresponding strokes that require no hoop. It works so well that I decided to write this account in case others would also like to try it.
What follows is written with Association Croquet in mind. Slight, rather obvious, modifications are needed for American and Golf Croquet which are mentioned at the end.
In a croquet game the hoops to be run form a sequence of prescribed single ball shots that require a certain accuracy. A hoop is not the only available instrument for prescribing shots of such accuracy. Consider three balls S, H and G, with G placed 30 inches (say) directly north of H and S about 4 feet from H more or less south of it:
For S (striker’s ball) to hit H so that H collides with G would be about as difficult as for S to run a reasonably tight hoop placed where H is. So instead of prescribing a hoop to be run one could equivalently prescribe a shot of this kind. Note that when S is not in line with H and G the challenge becomes more difficult. This is similar to the greater difficulty of an angled hoop shot compared to one from right in front of the hoop.
The shot just described illustrates the basic idea underlying our hoopless version of croquet. Instead of hoops, two Auxiliary Balls will be used: a Hoop Ball for the role of H and a Gauge Ball for the role of G. Hoop Marks to locate the hoop positions (where H is to be placed) need to be installed when needed. The hoop positions will normally be occupied by removable Hoop Tokens. Many details need to be taken care of. We now look at how that is done.
The two Auxiliary Balls are ordinary croquet balls, but they are not balls in the game. So they are never roqueted or croqueted and need to be colored differently from balls in the game. If the game is played with primary colors, then the Auxiliary Balls could have secondary colors or be striped.
The Hoop Tokens need to make the hoop positions visible from a distance while also creating the familiar wiring hazards for balls in the game. They could be wooden planks measuring 5/8 x 5 x 12 inches, with rounded edges. Vertical stability is secured with 1 inch long L-brackets screwed onto opposite vertical sides at the bottom.
For aesthetically more pleasing appearance, the Hoop Tokens could be built (still inexpensively) to resemble ordinary hoops by using wooden dowels of 5/8 inch diameter tap-joined into rectangular cross beams at the top and with weighted pedestals at the bottom of the uprights to make them stand. The assembly can be strengthened by cross bracing (since they are never used for running hoops, nothing between the stanchions will be obstructive).
An above ground peg can be mounted centered on a flat metal disc whose radius is 1 inch more than the radius of the peg.
The first step in preparation for a game is to decide upon a Gauge Length. That is the distance the Auxiliary Balls should be apart when installed. A Gauge Length of 28 inches corresponds geometrically roughly to a tolerance of 1/16 inch in moderately firm soil. The Gauge Length is increased for more challenge and reduced for less (see remarks below).
Once the Gauge Length is decided, every mallet to be used in the game is equipped to measure off the Gauge Length. Fix a piece of masking tape (available at hardware or paint stores) around the shaft so that the distance from the top edge of the tape to the bottom edge of the mallet head equals the Gauge Length. The top edge of the tape is called the Gauge Mark. It should stay in place throughout the game
Install two Hoop Marks respectively 2 inches East and 2 inches West of each hoop position and place a Hoop Token at each hoop position (centered with respect to the Hoop Marks). On a carpeted floor masking tape can be used for the Hoop Marks. It is readily removable after the game without leaving a trace.
The outplayer or some willing third person acts as keeper of the Auxiliary Balls. When the striker needs them, the keeper rolls them up to the striker and receives them as the striker’s rolls them back at the end of a scoring attempt. Alternatively, the striker may carry the Auxiliary Balls in his pockets or in a pouch strapped to his body.
Installation of the Auxiliary Balls when needed proceeds through the following three steps:
Step 1. Remove the Hoop Token and place the mallet on the ground so that the bottom edge of the head is lined up with the two Hoop Marks and centered on the Hoop Position, while the shaft lies towards the non-playing side.
Step 2. Lift the shaft slightly and place the Gauge Ball on the ground so that the center of the ball is directly below the Gauge Mark on the mallet.
Step 3. Remove the mallet and place the Hoop Ball at the hoop position i.e. midway between the Hoop Marks.
The striker may install the Auxiliary Balls whenever intending the next stroke to be an attempt to score a hoop point. However, if an auxiliary ball cannot be installed at the indicated position because another ball is in the way, then it is left uninstalled and the striker loses the entitlement to attempt a scoring stroke. (It is the striker’s responsibility to ensure that the places where the Auxiliary Balls need to be installed are unoccupied.). The striker may play another stroke instead of the lost scoring attempt.
With no hoops in sight, it still makes sense to talk about hoop points, because the hoop positions remain visible and relevant. Let us now describe how the striker’s ball S may score Hoop Point 1. We suppose S is to be played from where it would ordinarily have attempted to run Hoop 1. To prepare for the scoring attempt, the striker will now install the Auxiliary Balls as described above and obtain the following configuration:
S may be struck so as to cause H to collide with G. If the attempt succeeds, Hoop Point 1 is scored for S and the motion of G after receiving a jolt from H is deemed to be the motion of S. In particular, if G hits another ball, it is deemed to be a roquet by S and wherever G comes to rest is the position from where S will next be played, after being brought in as boundary ball if necessary. At the end of the stroke the Auxilary Balls are removed from the court and the Hoop Token replaced in its original position.
We have described how the striker’s ball may score Hoop Point 1. Subsequent hoop points may be scored similarly.
A ball may also score a hoop point by being peeled. In the present context, to peel a ball means to croquet that ball into the installed Hoop Ball so that the Hoop Ball collides with the Gauge Ball. After such collision, the motion of the Gauge Ball is deemed to be the motion of the peelee. In particular, the peelee gets placed where the Gauge Ball comes to rest. If the Gauge Ball goes out of bounds the turn ends and the peelee gets brought in as a boundary ball where the Gauge Ball went out. At the end of the stroke the Auxiliary Balls are removed from the court and the Hoop Token replaced.
At the end of a failed hoop point stroke the Auxiliary Balls are removed from the court, the Hoop Token is replaced and all other balls stay where they come to rest , brought in as boundary balls where necessary.
What is written in the Laws about the effect of running a hoop carries over mutatis mutandis to apply as an effect of scoring a hoop point. For example, if Hoop Point 2 is scored for the Red ball, then Red becomes alive on all other balls in the game and Hoop Point 3 is the next in order for Red.
Whenever a Hoop Token becomes dislodged from its position by a colliding ball or by accident, it is replaced in its original position before the next stroke is played. If this replacement is obstructed by the ball that dislodged it, then that ball is removed, the Hoop Token replaced and the ball placed in contact with the Hoop Token at the point of collision. Otherwise, the dislodging ball stays where it came to rest, brought in as boundary ball if it went out of bounds.
It was experimentally determined that a Gauge Length of 28 inches (71 cm) geometrically corresponds roughly to a tolerance of 1/16" in moderately firm soil. This experiment used a ball running down a chute towards the hoop from a starting point 4 feet away not directly south of the hoop. The left-most and right-most successful lines of approach were determined and the angle between these lines measured – call it the Tolerance Angle. It turned out that a Gauge Length of 28" gave approximately the same Tolerance Angle as the mentioned hoop did. This estimate is meant to be nothing more than a reasonable starting point, open to further refinement or adjustment as the need arises. It is not a critical measurement – a 1 inch difference in Gauge Length is barely noticeable. Also, the Gauge Length can readily be adjusted.
The total challenge presented by a hoop arises from several attributes, including the tolerance (1/16” 1/8”,..), the rigidity, the weight and – importantly – the firmness of the soil. Among these only the tolerance is effectively regulated and measured in practice. Since the tolerance is a small quantity that has to be controlled under action of large forces , it is difficult to replicate uniformly. All this becomes replaced in the present version by a single tractable parameter – the Gauge Length. Its adjustment is easy to make with more than enough accuracy and worldwide uniformity is possible.
For an angled hoop stroke, the optimal line of aim is fairly clear – it is the one that just misses the inside stanchion. For a hoop point scoring stroke one has to estimate the optimal spot where the Hoop Ball has to be hit. Billiard players develop impressive skill in this art, cultivated by the continuous practice naturally offered by their game. The use of Auxiliary Balls creates similar automatic practice.
The two opponents in a game could, by mutual agreement, each use an Individual Gauge Length. This opens up interesting possibilities for handicapping in friendly games. Namely, instead of conceding bisques, the stronger player can simply have a longer Individual Gauge Length than the weaker player. The appropriate difference needs to be determined experimentally, but it should not take long for norms to become established.
Instead of Hoop Tokens one could use six Hoop Balls to serve in their role. In that case a few minor modifications needs to be made to what is written here (e.g. clips need to be adapted and can be colored pieces of ribbon that lie on the ground). The main advantage would be that only the Gauge Ball needs to be brought on court for a scoring stroke. However, it will be a rather expensive alternative if balls have to be bought specially to serve as Hoop Tokens.
For Golf Croquet the Auxiliary Balls are installed at Hoop 1 Position at the start of the game and left in position while that hoop point is contested. They then get moved to subsequent positions in order.
The above statement about “dislodged Hoop Token” apply also to Auxiliary Balls when they are left installed
For application to American Croquet “hoop” needs to be replaced by “wicket” throughout e.g. Hoop Ball becomes Wicket Ball.
The Auxiliary Balls are installed for Wicket 1 and left there until all balls have scored the wicket 1 point or until they are needed elsewhere. The above statement about “dislodged Hoop Token” applies also to Auxiliary Balls when they are left installed.
The definition of “blocking ball” (rule 20) needs to be modified to read as follows:
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