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Things I Have Recently Learned About Curling, From Curling Fans

curling stones on the sheet
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It bothered me that I couldn't have told you the first thing about curling. Well, it bothers me when I'm totally clueless about any sport (I've learned and forgotten cricket more times than I'd care to admit), but curling in particular seemed built for me, the hockey lover. It's Canadian! It's played on ice! And its supposed charm was that of the quirky and nerdy outsider variety.

Curling was one of the sports that officially began before the actual opening ceremony of these Olympics, and so I put it on my TV earlier this week. But even though I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be enjoying it, the action never really clicked for me. I figured that, rather than an inherent brokenness in the universe, there was an actual explanation out there, whether it was becoming more familiar with the players or finding a more engaging contest. So in yesterday's Defector newsletter, I requested that any curling fans email me with advice for getting into the game.

I was expecting maybe two or three emails from certain hardcores, but I got like two dozen instead! (Almost all of them had the minimalist subject line "Curling," which made for a dizzying inbox experience.) They were uniformly very nice and thoughtful and pushed me further toward this odd little sport. I learned what a "power play" is while watching last night! I have a better understanding of which stones are relevant to the score! I think I get the physics of sweeping better than I used to. And I may have even gasped at a particularly nice point-getting shot. It's been a very nice low-stakes period of growth for me over the past 24 hours.

The biggest takeaways from the overall collection of notes was, for one, curling is appealing because unlike most Olympic-level sports, it at least doesn't feel like you need to be particularly athletic to do it. And along those lines, pretty much everybody convinced me that this is a social sport best experienced by trying it firsthand. I bet I am one of hundreds if not more Americans who will be inspired by the ongoing Olympics to give curling a shot, and I'm not even sure that the subway passes by any authentic curling locations. But it's on my list of goals, along with continuing to learn how the game is played.

Aside from the increased excitement and appreciation, I also gained plenty of other curling knowledge from our fine readers. I believe it is in this public's best interest to share a rundown of this wisdom with everyone, so here goes:

    • Understanding the strategy is key to enjoying the game. But comparisons to chess are insufficient, because chess does not have teams who have to discuss their strategies within earshot of their opponents.
    • To that end, the appeal of what I once referred to as "dead air" on the broadcasts is that there is potential for passive-aggressive drama when team members disagree or just get on each other's nerves. (I did enjoy, last night, how one of the announcers delicately tried to explain that both members of the Canadian mixed doubles team seem to be stubborn as heck.)
    • The tournaments are called bonspiels.
    • The physics make it elegant, in that the smallest of actions can change the entire course of a game. It's neat how a game played with 40-pound stones can be decided by centimeters.
    • You don't have to pay close attention to every single shot, so it's good for casual viewing as an alternative to golf.
    • A bunch of heavy rocks hitting each other is pretty sick, and specifically, the clonk of these stones colliding is a very satisfying sound.
    • There's a parallel with diving, one reader said, because both are about controlling your body to achieve the same result over and over again.
    • It sucks when TV doesn't show the first few ends of a match.
    • There's curling in Albuquerque!
    • The ice conditions and talent levels of the Olympics are considered too flawless by some who prefer casual curling in an "enhanced" state of mind.
    • Per Defector's Justin Ellis, head of the Minnesota Bureau, the North American teams are traditionally made up of lovable Upper Midwest stereotypes, i.e. "dudes named Pete who are like a math teacher in a place called Cold Wrench Falls."
    • Barry Petchesky said he likes "the tension between them knowing exactly what they need to do, and being able to physically pull it off. And it’s all in such slow motion that the drama is exquisite."
    • Curling "is not a plot point in the hit Starz TV show Sweetbitter." (This was from the dreaded Luis Paez-Pumar.)
    • Scotch is the drink of the sport.
    • If you fall on the ice, you should get up immediately because it's not very thick.
    • Be careful giving a curling club your email if you don't want to hear from them forever.

Thank you to everyone who shared their passion with me! May your sweeping be vigorous, and may your stones be curly.

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