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The best summer lawn games — and how to win them

CROQUET
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Everything you need to know about croquet, cornhole, and the other popular games of summer.

Ah, summer. Time to coat ourselves with mosquito repellent and gather with family and friends to cook outdoors and play random lawn games usually relegated to traveling carnivals and Victorian novellas. I mean, who actually owns a croquet set anymore?

Your Aunt Mabel, that’s who. And she’s got it all set up for your July 4th family gathering. Of course, the mature adults among us will smile nostalgically before attempting a half-hearted tap or two with the mallet and then wandering away in search of another mint julep. But you and me, we’re not mature. We’re something better — we’re competitive. And when we see that croquet course, this is what we think:

The question is, how?

Never fear, my little competition-mongers — Outside Onlinehas us covered with the definitive guide to winning at summer lawn games (and life, amiright?). From croquet to slackline, they’ve got us covered. Witness exhibit A: summer croquet strategy.

The Premise: Shepherd a ball through a course of wickets using a wooden mallet while saying things like, “Well that was a sticky wicket.” Ball busting — in the literal, billiards-like sense — helps you slow your opponents down. The first person to reach the end of the course wins.

How to Crush Your Opponents: Like golf, proper positioning is essential. Square up your body and place the ball slightly in front of you, says Michael Medeiros, Club Manager at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Cape Cod, where croquet is a longstanding tradition.

“The biggest mistake in croquet is thinking the game is simply a race around the court through the wickets. The most valuable skills in croquet are patience and strategy,” says Medeiros. Do take the time to throw others off course, but don’t take so much time away from advancing your ball forward that you are surpassed by your challengers.

Is this not the best summer guide ever?! Seriously, we had a croquet set growing up and I was terrible at it. I always lost, and my dad always won, and at long last I understand why. I had my eyes on the prize — the finish line. All I focused on was getting my ball through those hoops and to the end before everyone else … and that was my downfall.

My dad, on the other hand, used this strategy. Sure, he got his ball through the hoops, but he took the time along the way to knock our balls way outside the course. It used to make me so angry that half our croquet games ended in tears and abandoned mallets (much to my dad’s amusement).

Now that I know the key to winning, I seriously wish we still had that croquet set. I might even get a new one just for kicks. But croquet is a little too low-key for my exuberant ninja warrior offspring, so I’d have to pair that croquet set with a few other classic summer lawn games — like cornhole and slackline.

Cornhole is that game where you try and toss beanbags through the hole in a board that’s slightly elevated at one end. Here’s a picture:

Outdoor Online says that when it comes to cornhole, the two crucial elements are the spin and the arc. The bag needs a big of a side-spin to keep it from hitting the board with too much momentum and rolling off, and the arc needs to be high — high enough to carry it up and land it gently just at the top of the board, where the angle will carry it backward through that hole.

Sounds easy enough, right? I’m not gonna lie, my underhand tossing skills are weak, so y’all will need to test this one out and report back to me.

But slackline — slackline is right up my alley. A slackline is exactly what it sounds like: a thin strip of nylon secured by rachets with significantly less tension than a tightrope. The slackness of the line creates a dynamic, unstable line that stretches and bounces — kind of like an unholy union of the tightrope and the trampoline.

If this sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone. Slacklines look harder to master than tightropes because they are. They require a lot more core strength than a traditional balance beam or tightrope, along with a higher degree of joint stability. So if you want to be a slackline champion at your office’s summer bash or your neighborhood block party, work that core! Outdoor Online recommends planks, side planks, and standing on one leg — your friendly personal trainer (that’s me!) suggests that you pair this with some extra joint stability exercises, like a standing single-leg toe touch.

Master this, along with your croquet aim and your underhand toss, and you’ll be the summer lawn game champion this year! Really, what could be better?

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