A few years ago, during a summer weekend away from the city, a friend picked up an old outdoor game called “Lawn Shuffleboard” from a rummage sale. It was in pristine condition, but judging from the packaging seemed to date back a few decades. None of us had heard of it before.
The set came with balls rather than pucks, long pushing cues and wire wickets, which we used as goals like the painted goal area on a shuffleboard deck. We didn’t bother reading the instructions but figured the team with the most points wins, and we agreed to play to 50. It seemed reasonable enough. Teams were picked and we started sending balls skipping across the yard into the bushes. We competed as intensely as one does in the summer, fighting over the rules we had made up just hours before and, of course, proper shuffle form.
When I tried to find out more about the game, the only mentions I found online were a 1970 Popular Science article “What’s New in Outdoor Recreation” and an ad from the May 26, 1970, edition of the Pittsburgh Press. There it was on page 13 – right below the Lawn Darts and right above the Party Penny Pitch – for a modest $17.88. But that was it. No lawn shuffleboard leagues. No reissue sets. There weren’t even any sets to be found on eBay. Could we now be in possession of the last Lawn Shuffleboard on Earth?
The game was kitsch and fun. It surprised me that it could be forgotten like so many leisure activities of a bygone era, when summer meant a Tom Collins in one hand and a Posy Pitch disk in the other. Or maybe just a nice round of Bingit on the beach?
While many outdoor games have gone the way of Lawn Shuffleboard, a few have managed to endure. Badminton is still commonly available and frequently seen in certain manicured backyards. Croquet and bocci are still going strong. Others have evolved over the years: Horseshoes became cornhole and beer pong is the new, well, ping pong. Certainly one critical element in the survival of these dignified sporting pursuits is the free hand. On a hot summer afternoon, one wouldn’t want to exert him/herself too strenuously so as not to have a refreshing beverage in-hand. And if you, like me, regret all the time we spend throwing birds into other birds on our iPhones, fear not. According to a recent New York Times story, “The amount raised [on Kickstarter] last year for tabletop games exceeded the amount for video games, $52.1 million to $45.3 million.”
But what, you say, about those of the lawn variety?
Well dear reader, it seems there is a stunning lack of crowdfunded lawn games. No one – shockingly – has tried to bring back Lawn Shuffleboard. But all is not lost: I have ice in the freezer, domestic beer in the cooler and the last remaining Lawn Shuffleboard set on hand. And it’s just about your turn on the pitch…
John Peabody is the hands, eyes and voice behind The Hand & Eye, a blog on makers of all stripes and their ever-interesting stories, from surfboards, to bicycles to rum – oh my!
Leading image by Flip Schulke courtesy The National Archives.
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