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Curling 101

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The basics of curling in 2 minutes

Courtesy of Curling Canada 

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History of Curling

Curling began on frozen lochs and marshes in Scotland during the early 1500s, a heritage that is honored today through bagpipe ceremonies at bonspiels (curling tournaments). Much of granite that comprises today's curling stones comes from Ailsa Craig, an island off the coast of Scotland.

The sport migrated to Canada, where there are more than 1 million active curlers today. During the 1830s, clubs started forming in upper Midwest states to play on frozen lakes and in flooded sheds. After appearing once in the 1924 Olympics, curling became a permanent Olympic sport in 1998.
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How does the game work?

A game consists of 8 to 10 "ends" (similar to baseball innings). Each team has eight stones, which the teams alternate throwing. When all 16 stones have been delivered, the score for that end is determined.

The sport is called "curling" because players put a rotation on the stone that cause it to curve ("curl") as it travels down the ice. For most shots, the point at which the player aims at the start of the throw (where the skip holds a broom head as a target) is not where the stone is intended to go, so a team can curl their stone around and behind another stone.

Sweeping in front of the stone makes the stone travel farther (much farther with aggressive sweeping) and curl less by:

  • Polishing the ice surface in front of the stone.
  • Removing frost and debris from the ice (especially in outdoor curling).
  • Momentarily warming the ice to create a thin film of water that lubricates the ice.

Good sweeping requires strong team communication, split-second judgment, and physical work. It is why players yell to (not "at") each other. Ice conditions that dramatically affect how far stones travel and curl change during every game. Skips must have keen judgment and observation skills to account for all these factors when calling each shot.

The most common general types of throws are:

  • Draw: A stone that comes to a rest inside the house.
  • Takeout: Intended to knock other stones out of play.
  • Guard: A stone that stops in front of the house or another stone to provide protection.

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How does scoring work?

The goal is to place the most stones in the center of the house while knocking out opposing team stones. Only one team can score points in an end. The team that has one or more stones closest to the center of the house (the "button") scores the point(s). Rocks that are not in the house do not score even if no opponent's rock is closer.

The team that scored throws a stone first in the next end so that the team did not score has the “hammer."  If no one scores (a "blank end"), the throwing order stays the same for the next end.

A score of 8 points in an end is possible, but is rarer than a golfing hole-in-one.

scoring example 0y 0r 300x300

scoring example 0y 2r 300x300


scoring example 1y 0r 300x300

scoring example 3y 0r 300x300


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What's on the ice?

The "sheet" (playing area) consists of the:

House: The scoring area at each end of the sheet that looks like a bull's eye target. It is composed of concentric circles that are 12 feet, 8 feet, 4 feet, and 1 foot in diameter. The smallest circle is known as the "button."

Hack: The rubber foothold, similar to a starting block, used to push off while throwing a stone.

Hog line: The red line 33 feet from the hack. Throwers must release hold of the stone before it crosses the near (closest to the thrower) hog line and the stone must cross the far hog line to remain in play.

Ice surface: The entire ice surface is covered with tiny bumps (similar to orange-peel texture) called “pebbling." Pebbling is created by sprinkling purified water drops on the ice between games.  Pebbling allows stones to glide more easily by reducing surface friction and allows the sweepers' brooms to be more effective.

pebbled ice

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What equipment is needed?

Stones: Curling stones (or "rocks") are made out of polished granite. Stones not used in top-level competition vary, but the stone itself is about 4.5 inches high, about 11.5 inches in diameter, and weighs about 42 pounds. The handle is bolted through the center of the stone. Only a small band of stone actually touches the ice because the bottom is concave. Curling clubs and event hosts (not individual teams or players) provide the stones for all games.

Shoes: Curling shoes are worn only while curling. The bottom of the "slider shoe" is made of Teflon, plastic or stainless steel to make it slide easily across the ice. Some players cover their slider shoe with a rubber "gripper" when they are not throwing for safety. The bottom of the "hack shoe," used to push out of the hack, is made of rubber for traction. Beginning curlers just wear rubber soled shoes and use a temporary slider provided by the curling club.

Brooms: Historically, brooms were made of corn strands tied to a wood dowel. Modern broom shafts are made of high-tech composites for light-weight strength and the heads are covered with synthetic fabrics to maximize effectiveness. The type of fabric used in official competitions is regulated to prevent any team from having an unfair advantage that allows them to overly influence thrown stones. Curling clubs have "loaner" brooms for new curlers to use.

Stabilizers: Many new curlers learn to throw using a hand-held device to keep balance and control rather than holding a broom out to the side. Some top-level curlers choose to use stabilizer as they are permissible in competition. Curling clubs usually have "loaner" stabilizers for beginners.

Sense of humor: Curling is very easy to learn for fun, but very hard to master for top level play. Most curlers focus on having fun.

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What does each team member do?

Traditional curling teams consist of four players:

Lead: Throws the team's first two stones.

Second: Throws the team's third and fourth stones.

Third or vice-skip: Throws the team's fifth and sixth stones, discusses strategy with the skip, calls the shot requested by the skip, and handles scoring decisions.

Skip: The team captain who guides the overall strategy, calls individual shots, and throws the last two stones.

Players take turns throwing the stones. The two players who are not throwing a stone or skipping sweep for the player who is throwing.

Game Order

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What is mixed doubles?

Mixed doubles is a fairly new discipline, and made its debut as an Olympic event in the 2018 Winter Olympic games. Mixed doubles teams consist of one male and one female on each team. Both teams play five stones each and start every end with one stone that has been pre-placed, so the maximum amount of points in each end is six.  One player will throw the first and fifth stones, and the other player throws the second, third, and fourth stones.

This style of play is a faster version of curling and tends to have a lot of stones in play.

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What is the 'hammer' and a 'blank' end?

The "hammer" is the last stone to be thrown in an end. Having the hammer is an advantage because, in most cases, it is the last chance to influence the outcome of an end and score at least one point. When a team scores one or more points, the other team has the hammer in the next end.

A "blank" end is an end in which neither team scores a point. A team might intentionally blank an end because, rather than give up the hammer for only one point, the team wants to keep the hammer in the hopes of scoring two or more points in the next end (or set up having the hammer in the 10th end). Conversely, the team without hammer may strategically place stones in position to force the other team to choose between give up the hammer by scoring only one point or give up a steal of points.

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What's a 'guard' and the 'free-guard rule'?

A "guard" is a rock that comes to rest in front of the house or in front of another rock for protection.

Years ago, teams became so effective at taking out stones that neither team could generate offense. The games became one takeout after another with both teams unable to ever score more than one point per end. The "free guard rule" dramatically changed the dynamic. For the first five stones in each end, an opponent's stone that is resting between the far hog line and far tee line, but not in the house (known as the "free guard zone"), may not be taken out of play.

The free guard rule allows teams to generate offense by intentionally leaving stones in the "free guard zone" early in the end. Later in the end, those stones can be used as "guards" to protect scoring stones from being hit, or be hit into a scoring position in the house so that several points are possible.

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What happens if a curler touches the stone?

If a player touches the stone with their broom or their person, it is called "burning the stone." It is expected that curlers be honest if they burn a stone.

If the stone is touched before it reaches the far hogline, it is immediately taken out of play.

If it happens after the far hogline, the opposing skip can decide whether to ignore the foul, rearrange the stones to whatever position they think they would have ended up in if the stone hadn't been touched, or remove the stone from play.

If the stone was not moving when it was touched, the skips will work together to put it back the way it was. The opposing skip has the final say on where it goes.  

What do the lights on the stones mean?

Each competition stone contains a magnetic sensor connected to a touch-sensitive handle. The sensor is reset by turning the stone on its side just before throwing. A metal plate frozen inside the ice triggers the magnetic sensor as the stone passes over the hog line. If the thrower has released the stone before it crosses the hog line, the handle light turns green to indicate that it is a legal throw. If the handle light turns red, the thrower committed a "hog line violation” by not letting go of the stone before it crossed the hog line and the stone must be taken out of play.

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How do you read the scoreboard?

Top level competition scoreboards are similar to baseball scoreboards. The middle row of numbers shows the end; the number above and below shows the points scored in that end. The running grand total of points for the game is reported on the far right of the scoreboard.

Most curling club scoreboards are a bit more confusing. The middle row of numbers is the grand total of points; the number above and below is the end in which the team reached that total number. This allows the teams to post their own score more quickly and avoids the need to have on hand numerous "0s," "1s," and "2s," which are the most common numbers needed for a scoreboard.

The scoreboards below show the exact same four ends of a game: Red started with hammer and scored 2 points in the first end; Red stole 1 point in the second end; Yellow scored 4 points in the third end; Red scored 2 points in the fourth end. The total score at the start of the fifth end is Yellow 4, Red 5.

Competition scoreboard

Club scoreboard

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How does the timing work?

Top-level curling is timed. For a 10-end game, each team receives 38 minutes of "thinking time," or time to strategize and discuss the next shot. The clock for the team about to throw starts when the opposing team's stone stops and the opposing team "yields the sheet" by getting out of the way so all of the throwing team members can see and hear each other. The clock stops when the throwing team's stone crosses the near side tee line at the beginning of the throw. By not having the clock run while the stone is in motion, this system keeps the game moving without affecting how shots are selected because the speed of stone travel has no influence on the clock.

There is a one-minute pause between each end and a five-minute break after the fifth end. Each team has one timeout to stop their game clock. In the event of an extra end, each team receives an additional timeout and their clocks each are set at four minutes, 30 seconds. A team forfeits the game if the clock runs out.

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What is the 'spirit of curling'?

The spirit of curling acts as an honor code or kind of philosophical creed. It embodies the etiquette and courtesies expected to be shown by those who play the game.

Each game begins and ends with a sincere handshake and stated wishes of "good curling." Celebrating an error by the opposing team is frowned upon, and it is good form to congratulate an opponent on a good shot. Even at the highest levels of play, a player is expected to call their own rule violations by notifying the opposing team. When it becomes clear that a team cannot possibly win the game, the losing teams customarily concedes the match as an honorable act that does not carry the stigma of "quitting."

In social play, the spirit of curling continues after the game, when it is customary for the winning team to buy the losing team the "first round." This is known as "broom stacking" because players historically stacked their brooms by the fire while socializing after a game.

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Glossary of curling terms

  • 4 foot: The ring closest to the button. The ring measures 4 feet across.
  •  8 foot: The ring next to the 4 foot. The ring measures 8 feet across.
  • 12 foot: The outer ring of the house. The ring measures 12 feet across.
  • Biter: A rock barely touching the 12 foot ring.
  • Blank end: An end in which neither team scores.
  • Bonspiel: A curling tournament.
  • Board weight: Throwing a rock with enough speed that it will come to rest at the board behind the hacks.
  • Burned stone: A rock touched by a broom or player while in motion.
  • Button: The centre of each house, at the intersection of the center line and the tee line It also is called the "pot" or "lid."
  • Buried: A rock that is hidden behind another rock, making it difficult for a thrower to hit.
  • Center guard: A rock short of the house and in the center of the sheet.
  • Corner guard: A rock short of the house and to the side.
  • Counter: A rock that lies in the house closer to the center than any of the opponent's rock. Also called the "shot rock."
  • Delivery: The process of throwing a rock.
  • Draw: A shot that comes to a rest on its own inside the house. "Draw" also refers to a session or round in the curling competition.
  • Eight-ender: A perfect end in which every one of the team's stones scores a point. This is extremely rare.
  • End: When all 16 rocks have been thrown whether points were scored is determined, similar to an inning in baseball.
  • Fall: Ice that is not level so the stone drifts toward the lower side regardless of the handle rotation. Fall never occurs in top level play because the ice is so carefully prepared and monitored.
  • Flash: A stone that is thrown through the house untouched.
  • Freeze: A rock that comes to rest touching another rock.
  • Gripper: The sole of one of the curling shoes. It helps keep one's footing on the ice.
  • Guard: A rock that comes to rest in front of the house or another rock for protection.
  • Hack: The pieces of rubber you push off from at either end of the sheet.
  • Handle: The part of the rock held by the player; also refers to the desired rotation of the stone.
  • Hammer: The last shot of an end.
  • Heavy throw: a throw that is hard and fast.
  • Hogged rock: A rock that comes to rest short of or on the hog line and is removed from play.
  • Hog line: The thick red line 33 feet from the hack. The thrower must let go of the stone before it crosses the "near hog line" and the stone must cross the "far hog line" to be in play.
  • House: The area within the outside ring at either end of the sheet.
  • Hurry: This tells a sweeper to sweep immediately.
  • In-turn: A rock that rotates clockwise for a right-handed player.
  • Lead: The first player on a team to deliver a pair of rocks in each end.
  • Light throw: a throw that gentle and slow.
  • Narrow: A rock delivered off the broom and closer to the target.
  • Negative ice: Throwing the stone with a rotation that is opposite of where the stone is expected to go in order to minimize the effect of fall or uneven ice.  Negative ice throws never occur in top level play because the ice is so carefully prepared and monitored.
  • No handle: A rock that is not rotating.
  • Nose: The point on a rock closest to the shooter.
  • Off the broom: An incorrectly aimed shot.
  • Out-turn: A rock that rotates counter clock-wise for a right-handed player.
  • Pebble: The frozen bumps on the ice that the rocks slide on.
  • Rink: A curling team.
  • Raise: A shot in which the delivered rock will hit another rock and move it forward.
  • Reverse handle: A rock that is rotating in the opposite direction called by the skip.
  • Second: The curler who delivers the second pair of rocks in an end.
  • Sheet: The total playing area for one game.
  • Shot rock: The rock in the house closest to the button; the next closest rocks are second shot and third shot.  Also called a "counter."
  • Skip: The captain of the team.
  • Slider: The sole of one of your curling shoes. It helps you move or slide along the ice.
  • Spinner: A rock traveling with a rapid rotation. Rocks thrown in this manner will curl only a small amount, if at all.
  • Takeout: A rock thrown hard enough to remove another rock from play.
  • Tee line: The line that intersects the house at the center line, perpendicular to the playing field.
  • Triple: Removing 3 rocks from play with one shot.
  • Vice-skip: The player who discusses strategy with the skip behind the house; holds the broom while the skip throws his/her rocks; usually throws the third pair of rocks in each end.
  • Weight: The amount of speed with which a rock is delivered.
  • Wick: When one stone barely touches another stone. Similar to a "Rub."

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