What Is Curling? The Game of Shuffleboard, Bowling and Chess on Ice

(Last Updated On: February 14, 2018)

what is curling

Although the iconic bicep blasting workout curl comes to mind for most, that’s not the curling we’re talking about. Curling, in this context, refers to the Olympic Sport. It is played with a “broom”, a “stone” and a sheet of ice. And while it doesn’t have the thrills and spills of the luge or speed skating, it is arguably the most fascinating (and confusing) Olympic Sport in the games.

Why is curling an Olympic sport?

First, you try getting an object down an ice rink with nothing but a broom! Secondly, it has a deep, rich history.

Curling was first recorded in 1540, but probably existed long before that. It is a highly technical game that was traditionally played by Scots as an outdoor pastime. When nearby lochs or ponds froze over, competitors would slide giant stones over the rough surface. The object was to get the stone to slide as far and as straight as possible by any means necessary. The original means happened to be brooms.

The pastime and concept are the same, but over the centuries the rules and the playing field have changed.

Now curling events are held in indoor arenas with meticulously cared-for ice “sheets” as players call them. The ice sheets are about 150 feet long and 15 feet wide with targets marked at the end of them. Players are given short and longer bristled brooms to use, but they don’t look anything like what you would sweep your floors with.

How is curling played?

It is played when two teams consisting of four players go head to head. Each player is given two stones to throw. Their goal is to get the 44-pound granite stones into the target, or “house.”

The team members play specific roles that delineate the order in which they go. From first to last, they are the: lead, second, vice and skip. The teams alternate turns until all 16 stones have been thrown. Then the score is calculated based on how many stones were successfully delivered.

But, it is not all so simple. The stones can be thrown to intentionally thwart the opposition’s efforts. Or they can be thrown to guard the house so that the stones that made it in are not knocked out by the opposing team. Throwing stones to a marked target is not as easy as it sounds, both due to strategy and the surface itself.

Another point of strategy is to have “the hammer” which is the last stone throw. This gives a team an advantage to try and knock the other team’s closest stone away. Playing gets tricky because the team that does not score in a round is automatically given the hammer in the next round.

So, what’s with the brooms?

The stones don’t just slide across the ice of their own free will or the player’s power. The surface is dotted with frozen water droplets called “pebbles” that cause them to slow down and veer off course. The brooms are the solution to this problem.

Using a lot of energy, all of their skill, and a high level of technicality, athletes create friction with the brooms and rid the surface of the pebbles. The better they are at it, the better the stone will move down the field on target.

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Switzerland’s team was so good at it that they set a new Olympic record! They won all of their matches and garnered a perfect score of 6.

If you’re interested in other countries and their scores, check out this quiz and see if you can name the countries that have participated in the Winter Olympics of the past, but have never won a medal.


How is curling scored?

Scoring the sport is as apparently easy, but actually as technical as the game itself. In a basic sense the team with the most stones in the target wins. Yet there is more to it than that.

Points are accumulated at each “end”, or when the teams have thrown all of their stones. The team with the stone closest to the target, or “tee” is the only team that can get points on that end. They accumulate one point for every stone of theirs in the house that is closer than the opposing team’s.

There are ten ends per game and the winner is the team with the most points accumulated at the end of all of them.

If neither team scores during an end it is called a “blank end” and no points are accumulated.

With all of the strategy and novelty, curling is a Winter Olympic sport that you don’t want to miss. While you’re waiting for the video to load or the commercials to pass by, test your knowledge of the other Winter Olympic Sports with this quiz.

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