I imagine that the legendary Vikings who played this game to pass the time during their conquests of northern European villages probably did not have a rule set to guide their kubb spirit. Throwing femurs at a targeted skull was probably good fun. I wonder what their throwing styles were like. How would you inkast skulls into a tight basket? I love the sound of wood on wood but the sound of bone on bone gives me chills. Could you imagine calling a rule violation on one of these burly invaders of the Baltic? No thanks.
In the modern era of the greatest lawn game on earth, kubb has adopted an entire rules document to keep the game challenging, rewarding, and friendly in spirit. On page five of the U.S. National Kubb Championship Rules v3.2b, the rules are given in detail for the Baton Tossing Phase of the game. Specifically, rule II.B.1 gives us some direction about how a baton is to travel legally from the thrower’s hand until it impacts any game pieces or the ground. It is commonly referred to as the “hourglass,” “45 degree,” or “helicopter” rule. The U.S. National Championship rule states:
B. Throwing Batons (Baton Tossing Phase)
1. Batons must be thrown underarm. The baton does not have to rotate, but if it does it must rotate end-over-end vertically. If the baton does not rotate, the baton needs to travel straight with no horizontal rotation from release to impact. Regardless of how thrown, the baton cannot go more than 45 degrees off the vertical plane and must stay within the throwing area (see Figure 3).
Vertical plane, throwing area, and hourglass are terms used to explain the rulemakers’ intentions. Unless you have taken some advanced math or engineering courses in your life, these terms might not mean much to you. Even if you have one of these backgrounds, how do you go about judging these terms in real-time on a kubb pitch without irritating your burly opponent too much? After all, this is a backyard game meant to be fun. Rules can take the fun out of kubb if we aren’t all on the same page.
A Common Language for a Better Understanding
Two-Dimensional: A shape that only has two dimensions (such as width and height) and no thickness. Squares, circles, triangles, etc. are two-dimensional objects. Also known as “2D.”1
A 2D example that you might be familiar with is an architectural house floor plan.
Three-Dimensional: An object that has height, width and depth, like any object in the real world. Also known as “3D.”2
The house from the 2D floor plan is 3D when it is built in the real world.
Vertical plane: A geometrical term for a flat surface (2D). Imagine drawing a line from the thrower’s hand to the target and extending a thin flat surface vertically from that line. To the thrower, it would look like a line drawn vertically because they can only see the edge of the surface (the dash line in Fig. 3). To someone on the sidelines of the pitch, it would look like a flat surface. The baton cannot tilt more than 45 degrees outside of the vertical plane. Make sense? Maybe not yet. This one is difficult to visualize.
Throwing Area: This is another 2D term that we must understand. The hourglass shape comes from the baton being rotated 45 degrees to the right and left of the vertical plane dashed line (see Fig. 3). The thrower can see this hourglass from the baseline. Someone on the sidelines could only see an edge of it. The throwing area stands 90 degrees or perpendicular to the vertical plane on a vertical axis. Keep your throws inside this shape to keep them legal.
When Friends Disagree
I first noticed the different levels of understanding of this rule in 2015 when I was playing some friendlies with five of my Chaska Kubb club-mates in a city park in Winthrop, Minn. We would drive one hour west to meet one of our members. He would drive one hour east from the western plains of our state in order to play kubb as a club.
Like most of our games, people are scattered around the pitch when it is not their turn to throw. Some players are behind the baselines. Some opposing team members come together to socialize on the sideline as the action continues. I threw an eight meter shot that connected with a baseline kubb. I noticed that the baton had wandered out close to the 45 degree limit but not past when it was at the peak of the throw. As it traveled and rotated further across the pitch, it returned completely to center and the baton’s end connected with the baseline kubb. I did not think much of it because I was confident that it had not violated rule II.B.1 based on my understanding of how to judge the hourglass shape. I turned around and moved back for the next player to throw. When I looked back up, I was surprised at what I saw next. The other five players (three opponents and two teammates) had all come together in the middle of the pitch and were in agreement that I had thrown a helicopter. How could all five of them be certain that I made an illegal throw when I was dead certain that it was not? It reminded me of the story about a car accident in the middle of an intersection. When the police officer interviewed witnesses, they all gave different stories of the accident. All were certain of what they saw. I tried to explain my interpretation of the rule but got overruled.
Kubb Engineer also known as “Kubb’ing” in Germany
From 1996-2002, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout and completed a bachelor’s degree in packaging engineering and a master’s degree in technology education. I had the opportunity to intern for a furniture company in northern Idaho for six months and three months for Springs Window Fashions in Middleton, Wisc. In both of those experiences, I was assigned the task of drawing two-dimensional computer-aided drawings of of flat packaging designs. In the field of engineering, it is important to be able to communicate dimensions and ideas in a 2D format. I went on to become a technology education teacher who teaches architectural and mechanical design using the 2D/3D Inventor software seen in the views below.
How can we all see the same thing so differently?
The following are examples of multiple views that my Chaska brothers and I had of that one baton thrown on that day in Winthrop. View 1 is a straight-on view that I (thrower) had after releasing the baton. The baton shown is maxed out at 45 degrees in the 2D view and still legal.
Views 2 and 3 are from the same end of the pitch as the thrower.
Views 4 to 6 are of the opposite end of the pitch from the thrower.
I believe that view 5 and especially view 6 are the ones that fool people the most. Standing on the opponent’s baseline and looking down at a baton approaching base kubbs is the most distorted view of all views. These views are distorted in all three dimensions. Both view 5 and 6 appear to be illegal but we know that is not the case from view 1.
How can I judge the Hourglass Rule?
As a lifelong fan of baseball, I have seen plenty manager versus home plate umpire arguments. I am amazed at how managers will argue balls and strikes when they were watching the pitch from the dugout. Umpires do not just stand behind the catcher. They will crouch down to put their eyes inside of the strike zone. This is a great example of moving from a 3D vantage point into 2D. Even then, there is still a chance that the umpire can get fooled by a pitch on the edge of the plate.
In kubb, this can be just as tricky. The only real way to be certain that we are making an accurate call is to position our eyes at the same elevation and in-line with the path of the throw. There are only three positions on the pitch that can accommodate these requirements. Any other point of view around the kubb pitch is 3D and is subject to reasonable doubt. Think baseball manager here.
- The thrower has a great vantage point to see what the baton is doing. The baton is released somewhat near the same elevation as the thrower’s eyes (close, not perfect). I consider this the first choice because in the spirit of kubb, the thrower should be calling their own faults. The thrower is on the back end of the 2D vertical plane with minimal distortion of their view during the entire throw.
- If an opponent wants to judge a throw, I would ask them to cross the pitch and kneel directly behind the thrower’s throwing hand for a 2D view. Also in the spirit of kubb, if the throw appears to be a helicopter, I recommend asking the thrower if they thought their throw was illegal before actually calling it on them. Give them a chance to call it on themselves first. If a referee is available, I would ask them to position him or herself in this same 2D kneeling position.
- Another less desirable 2D option would be to crouch directly behind the targeted kubb so the throw is traveling directly at the viewer’s eyes. This could get dangerous and be very distracting to the thrower. You might lose some teeth in this location.
Different Continent, Different Rules: The Snowplow
If you ever get the opportunity to play in the six-person World Championships on the Swedish island of Gotland, I would highly recommend it. The people were very welcoming and fun to be around. Our club played there in the summer of 2016. There were a few rule variations that we had to adjust to. Everything mentioned here so far is consistent with their hourglass rule. The one difference is how they spear their batons. Their spears are allowed to rotate on a vertical axis up to 89 degrees to the right or left. From a bird’s-eye-view, the baton can rotate that far to either side and still be legal. As far as I know, this rule is only used on the island and nowhere else. There were several island teams that were very good at blasting with this technique. Watch this video to see how it was used by Joakim Ekelof for our opponent Berras Sorkar in the quarter-finals. At first, it was hard to watch this happen to us because it was not even close to how we judge our throws. Later on, my opinion changed because I realized how this throw could open up a lot of strange combinations for blasters. If we go back to Gotland, we will need this throw in our bag of tricks.
Chaska Kubb Rules!
In the end, we are all on the same team. We just want to enjoy kubb to the fullest. When Chaska Kubb gets together, we count on each other to call our own fouls. We have developed a lot of trust in each other because of this. No one wants to go home as the winner that broke the rules. Kubb suffers when this happens. No one player is greater than kubb. At the same time, the rules should be called from the best vantage point. There is a lot of room for error when the viewer is not in a 2D position.
This Takes Practice: Are You Smarter Than A Seventh Grader?
Also in 2015, I decided to make a 45 degree rule video to use when teaching junior high students about kubb. I show the same concepts you see here in print but in video form. Take the quiz in the second half of the video as a way to practice your skills. Write your responses down (Legal or Helicopter). I go over the answers near the end. No one will know your results. For the record, my seventh and eighth graders averaged 10.2 out of 13 on this quiz. That’s a C+. How well do you know this rule?