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How Curling Works

        Adventure | Snow Sports

Game Play and Team Member Roles
Teams in the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton, Alberta practice before the Canadian Men's Curling Championship. The spot inside the red circle is the tee. The house is anywhere inside the blue circle.
Teams in the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton, Alberta practice before the Canadian Men's Curling Championship. The spot inside the red circle is the tee. The house is anywhere inside the blue circle.
© Ron Palmer/Demotix/Corbis

Curling is a team sport with four members on each side. The object of the game is to get your team's stones closer to the target — a 1-foot (30-centimeter) diameter circle called the tee or button — than your opponent's stones. The button is located in the center of a 12-foot (4-meter) bull's-eye called the house. (You can see a diagram here). Each curler on both teams gets to shoot, or deliver, two stones for a total of 16 stones per end. An end is like an inning in baseball. At the completion of each end, points are tallied. You get one point for each of your team's stones that is closer to the button than your opponent's. There are 10 ends in each game of curling. The team with the most total points wins.

Easy, right? Hardly. Despite its simple appearance, curling is a game of complex strategy and strict team member roles. The captain of a curling team is called the skip. The skip usually throws last, because the final stones of each end are the most decisive when it comes to points. Before the skip throws, he or she stands behind the house and directs the other team members' throws, whether to attempt a draw — landing the stone inside the house — or a hit, knocking an opponent's stone out of play. The skip also yells out commands to the two sweepers, helping to influence the curl or spin of the stone and its speed.

Sweeping is the least understood and objectively strangest aspect of curling. The object of sweeping the ice in front of a moving stone is to decrease friction, encouraging the stone to curl less and travel farther. The surface of a curling sheet (aka the ice) is stippled with pebbles, tiny droplets of frozen water that allow the stone to coast over the ice, but there is still a significant amount of friction. Over the centuries, curlers have found that vigorous sweeping warms the ice surface slightly — it doesn't melt the ice — and that reduces friction enough to allow a stone to travel an additional 6 to 15 feet (2 to 4.5 meters)[source: USA Curling].

The other members of the curling team are named for their position in the throwing order. Each player throws two stones. The lead throws first, hoping to land a stone close to the button, then positions the second stone as a guard to protect it. Then the second throws, followed by the third (or vice-skip), always alternating with players from the other team. Each team's skip delivers last, with the final stone known as the hammer.

While the lead is throwing, the second and vice would be sweeping the ice (following directions from the skip). Then, the other team plays. Next, action reverts back to the first team, this time with the second throwing and the lead and vice sweeping [source: City of Windsor].

Confused yet? That's just the tip of the iceberg. More curling rules to come, plus a look at the sport's unusual equipment.


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