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It's cutthroat croquet. Are you up to it?

Back-yard wafare--that's what croquet is all about. Despite the game's reputation among nonplayers as only childish amusement, it blends strategy worthy of chess or pool with good outdoor fun.

And if you take up the six-wicket, single-stake game described here--instead of the nine-wicket, two-stake version--you'll find eve more opportunities to ambush your opponent for your own advantage. In fact, if you don't go out of your way to impede your opponent's progress, you stand virtually no chance of succeeding at the game.

Since the formation of the United States Croquet Association in 1977, the popularity of six-wicket croquet has increased rapidly. Rules have been standardized, and tournaments take place regularly.

Tournaments are held on a putting-green-smooth, dead-flat greensward 84 by 105 feet in size; serious players feel 40 by 50 feet is about the minimum adequate size.

But even on the bumpiest, most sprinkler-riddled back yard, you can still play this more sophisticated version and put to use all the aficionados' strategies. The hour-glass configuration creates a lot more action than the old figure-eight game.

Some how-to basics

of six-wicket croquet

Set up a course. Following the diagram at right, set it up as large as possible for yur lawn, leaving at least 3 feet of grass beyond the perimeter wickets. The object is to be the first to get both balls through all the wickets and hit the stake.

Choose your colors. You play this game with four balls only; the balls are paired blue with black, red with yellow. In singles, two players paly two balls each. In singles or doubles, you win when both of your balls complete the circuit, so some of your strategy should include aiding your partner ball.

The order of play is painted on the center stake. Each player hits his first shot from a position one mallet handle's length behind the firs wicket.

Abuse your opponents. Players get one stroke a turn, but gain an additional stroke by clearing a wicket and two strokes by hitting another ball. If your ball hits another, you've made a roquet, entitling you to two more strokes.

The croquet shot that follows a roquet requires that you pick up your ball and place it in contact with the ball you hit. When you then hit your ball, both balls must move. This shot has many variations, chiefly to move the balls involved to different points on the course where you can use them strategically. You then have one more shot after your croquet stroke.

Don't get caught "dead." "Deadness" is key to the action. You are dead on a ball you roquet--meaning you can't hit it again--until you clear your next wicket. If you become three-ball dead and haven't cleared you next wicket, you'll be in a predicament, particularly as your opponents knock you to the outer limits of the course without fear of retaliation.

Your turn ends if you hit a ball you're dead on, knock a ball out of bounds (except your own on a roquet shot), or play out of sequence.

Croquet equipment

Forget those wide, forgiving bent-wire wickets. Official wickets are only about 3/8 inch wider tha the balls, and they're more substantial--tournament wickets are cast iron and weigh 6 pounds each--so a ball hitting them can't displace them. They're also 12 inches tall--good players can hit the ball so it will jump over another ball lodged in a wicket.

you can build the wickets you see here; they're 1/2-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe, 4 inches wide, 18 inches tall, and joined with glued PVC elbows.

Better croquet sets include heftier, correctly sized wickets and heavier, better-tracking balls. These sets also have mallets with handles a good foot longer than the ones you may be used to. These longer, beefier mallets usually have hardwood heads and octagonal shaft grips, providing a great deal more control. Complete sets start about $2.00.

For more on the game

If you plan to play fairly regularly, it's worthwhile to buy a more detailed primer. The current definitive work is Winning Croquet, by Jack Osborn and Jesse Kornbluth (Simon && Schuster, New York, 1983; $9.95). Some bookstores carry it, but you may have to special-order. The United States CRoquet Association has rule books, strategy books, history of the game, equipment, and its own periodical, the U.S. Croquet Gazette. Write or call 635 Madison Ave., New York 10022; (212) 688-5495. Several equipment manufacturers advertise in the annual publication.

Just published and to appear three times a year, Western Croquet Newsletter will contain similar material for Western states. Send $6 for a year's subscription to Box 5111, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95402.

If you'd like to watch the experts display their strategies, the USCA can help you find association chapters and toornaments in your area.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1985
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