While all the frantic sweeping—done as close to the stone as possible without actually touching it—looks a bit ridiculous, the aggressive back-and-forth motion briefly melts the ice surface and reduces friction between stone and ice. As a result, the big stones travel farther and straighter. Less sweeping lets the stones curve or “curl” (hence the name)—a must for finessing certain shots. “You have to read the ice just like a green in golf,” says Kolesar.
Teams rack up points by sliding their stones closest to the middle of a 12-foot circular target known as “the house.” Scoring is similar to shuffleboard in that only the team that lands its stones closest to the center of the house (also called the “button”) scores any points.
A typical team consists of four curlers, each of whom will take turns sliding (also called throwing) two stones towards the house during each end. An end is completed once each team has thrown eight stones. Teams also designate one member to be the “skip” (short for “skipper”). Positioned at the far end of the ice, near the house, the skip determines the team’s tactics by shouting to teammates, pointing with a broom to tell the thrower where to aim and informing the sweepers how much force to apply with their brooms in order to land the best shot.
While some beginners find they can quickly master the act of aiming their stones near the bull’s-eye, Schaak says the tricky part is properly positioning enough of the big rocks to block those well-placed stones from the opposing players, who inevitably try to knock a rival team’s stones out of the way.
“The strategy is endlessly complex,” explains Schaak. “It’s been called ‘chess on ice’ by many people. You have to get the pieces to just the right spot on the ice, and you have to get them there while standing on ice yourself.”
But even if you’re not exactly Bobby Fischer your first time out, keep smiling. In another one of the convivial sport’s peculiar aspects, it’s considered sportsmanlike for the winners of each match to treat the losers to a round of celebratory ale—the Scottish kind, of course.
THE CURLING KIT
A novice’s guide to the equipment you’ll need to slide across the ice:
THE STONE TO OWN
The vast majority of stones used today are cut from Eifl Mountain in Northwest Wales or the 104-acre island of Ailsa Craig off Scotland’s southwest coast. Three times as strong as North American granite and much more dense, the rock quarried from these locales resists absorbing moisture from the ice’s surface (which can refreeze inside the rock, weakening the stone) and can endure up to 60 years of play.
Curling brooms have evolved from old-fashioned corn straw-brooms to high-tech gadgets with features like ergonomic S-curved handles fashioned from lightweight carbon fiber or graphite. Outfitted with either coarse strands of horsehair, hog’s-hair or synthetic fiber wraps that resemble a mop head, these modern brooms, when swept in front of a stone, help rocks travel about 15 feet farther.
GET YOUR KICKS
Packed with insulation such as Thinsulate, curling shoes not only keep your feet cozy on the 20-degree ice, but also lend much-needed stability with rubberized non-slip soles. Many varieties also feature one “sliding” sole made of materials like Teflon or even stainless steel, which allow curlers to glide across the ice when throwing their stones.