It’s possible that shepherds of old gave us more than astronomy and syphilis. They may have originated the game of croquet by knocking round stones through hoops made of willow branches with their shepherd’s crooks, called croche by the French, who always have to have different words for our things.
In the 1300s, when they weren’t busy burying plague victims, French peasants picked up the game and called it paille maille. By the 1600s, it was pall mall, played in the courtyard of England’s Charles II—another one of their kings, no doubt.
Supposedly it died out until around 1830 in Ireland where they called it crooky, from the Gaelic cluiche, meaning play. Must have been a popular sport to have their word for play named after it.
Twenty years later it was popular in England again. Maybe the British grabbed it for good measure as they took Ireland’s grain harvests. It quickly spread throughout the British Empire: India, New Zealand, the Faulkland Islands, and so on. The United States became home to many Irish escaping the Great Hunger, perhaps bringing the game of crooky with them, since it didn’t interfere with drinking.
English-speaking societies got strangely uptight about sex in the latter half of the 1800s, and the combination of sunshine, drink, and fresh air was considered too likely to lead to impure thoughts. It was, after all, played with both men and women on the same lawn—mixed swimming wouldn’t be allowed for decades yet—and looser women would sometimes brazenly expose an ankle when making a foot shot.
Naturally, the sport was banned in Boston.
Repression usually backfires. Croquet and sex were revived in the 1920s and have been popular to varying degrees since then. Official clubs and international competitions have grown in the past 30 years, but that’s another story. We are concerned here with the garden variety popular in the backyards of North America: “American nine-wicket.”
American nine-wicket rules vary from yard to yard, with players often making up their own. And so it was with the evolution of Zombie Croquet.
I had an old croquet set from a yard sale, and one sunny summer day when some friends were over we decided to play a round. All the mallets and balls were there and coat hangers replaced missing hoops, but no one remembered exactly how, so we just made it up as we went along, combining rules from our collective childhoods.
The first to get back to the starting peg was the winner, with others coming in second and so on, until the combination of humiliation for being dead last, and impatience to start a new game forced players concede. All this changed when someone visiting from out of town joined in. “Don’t you play poison?” she asked.
Poison improved the game as much as early basketball must have been when they took the bottom out of the basket. Poison ends a game decisively and keeps it interesting right down to the last shot.
We renamed it Zombie Croquet, due to personality transformations which occur when a player’s goal is killing everyone else. Zombie is more than just a status, it’s an attitude. A side of friends you never knew existed may come out when they join the ranks of the stalking undead.
Zombie Croquet is actually two games over-lapping each other. First is the race around the course from Hither peg to Yon peg and back again. Last is the blood-lust which kills all players except for the winner, usually. It most closely resembles “one ball” with poison version of Backyard Croquet, described here: USCA rules.
Hither peg at one end, Yon peg at the other, each in at least two mallet heads from the boundary. Center hoop aligned halfway between pegs. One hoop at each of four corners of imaginary square which has center hoop in its center. Corners half the distance between double hoops at pegs and center hoop, creating a pattern like the five on a die or playing card—called a double diamond. Two hoops at each peg, in line with opposite peg, first hoop placed three mallet heads from peg, second is two more heads out. Distance from Hither to Yon pegs determined by size of greens and players’ preference.
There’s no particular reason the third hoop is to the right and not the left, however, almost all backyard games in the US follow this route, avoiding potential confusion when playing on another course.
Order of play:
In sequence by color from top of peg down. Player’s color determined by blindly drawing mallets or balls. After first game of day, new players draw first, first killed in previous game draws next, winner draws last.
One mallet head from Hither peg in any direction. Must run hoops in order. Center hoop is negotiated twice, as are the two hoops next to each peg, once in each direction.
Two maximum accumulation at any time.
One shot per turn, plus:
Extra shot for running a hoop in the right direction and order. Ball has negotiated hoop if a mallet handle run down the entry side (jaws) does not touch it.
Two shots for hitting another’s ball with your ball (a roquet), with four options:
1) Take two shots from where your ball lies.
2) Place your ball one mallet head away from hit ball, in any direction (as shown), and take two shots.
3) Place your ball against the hit ball, place foot on your ball, and strike your ball. One continuation shot is taken from where your ball lies after sending hit ball.
4) Place your ball against the hit ball and strike your ball without placing your foot on it. Hit ball must also move, though not necessarily change position, or continuation shot is lost.
You must negotiate your next hoop before you can gain extra shots by hitting same ball again.
Stroke is used up by striking ball with mallet and making it move, though not necessarily change position. Ball may only be shot with a mallet, any part of mallet. Exception is slapping peg or hoop with mallet to propel ball, when permitted.
Extra shot(s) are lost when negotiating next hoop or hitting Yon peg in order. Exception: in one shot two hoops are negotiated in order, player retains both shots.
Hit Yon peg: Play ball from where it lands in hard peg, place ball one mallet head from peg in soft peg. You have one shot.
Hit Hither peg: You become a Zombie and are in limbo immediately upon contact with peg.
“Not evil, just satanic.”
Upon hitting Hither stake:
1) Remove ball from greens until turn comes again. Known as “Zombie in limbo.”
2) Hunt begins one mallet head from peg in any direction.
3) One shot per turn.
4) Striking non-zombie player’s ball, or their ball striking a zombie’s ball, puts them out, kills them.
5) Zombie is put out of game, killed, when hit by another zombie’s ball. Also dies by going through any hoop, or by hitting a peg, either is known as being “konged.”
6) Last Player alive or undead is winner. It’s possible to win without becoming a zombie.
Ball sent through hoop by another’s
ball: Hoop counts as negotiated but no shot gained.
Placing ball through hoop one mallet head from hit ball does not count as negotiating hoop.
Peg is same as hoop, except that contact is all that is necessary to consider it negotiated, or pegged. All extra shots are cleared upon hitting peg in proper order.
Generally, the last thing that happens is what counts.
“Alive.” Not dead nor undead
“Association play.” USCA rules when it comes to croquet rules. They generously accept non-traditional versions without being influenced by them.
“Attire”. Traditionally, croquet whites are proper attire, but in Zombie Croquet no attire is preferred over any other attire—whatever’s appropriate.
“Chop shot.” Ball rests near peg or hoop, and mallet is slid forcefully down peg, or upright of hoop, to squeeze ball forward. Peg or hoop may be held in place with hand or foot.
“Continuation shot.” Second stroke of the two gained by hitting another player’s ball.
“Croquet stroke.” Shot used to send hit ball, with either a foot shot or by sending both balls.
“Dead.” Player who has been killed, put out of the game.
“Dead on ball.” Ball which player has hit and gained two shots off of. Must negotiate next hoop or peg to be live on that ball again.
“Do or die shot.” Shot which, if missed, will likely result in death.
“Extra shot(s).” Also “bonus strokes“. Gained by negotiating hoop, hitting peg or another player’s ball.
“Fault.” A mistake. Often ends turn. Examples: Making croquet shot without foot, and sent ball doesn’t move. Hitting ball which player is dead on, expecting two shots. Shooting out of turn. Shooting wrong ball. Fault must be called before next player shoots to be a fault, except for shooting out of turn.
“Foot shot.” Player places ball next to hit ball, places foot on top of their own ball, and strikes it so that other ball is sent. Outlawed since 1870 in Association play. Legality of anchoring ball with body parts other than foot determined locally.
“Forward motion.” Ball rolls back after negotiating hoop, lying where it’s not through. Counts as negotiated.
“Greens.” Croquet playing field. Also, yard, lawn, greensward.
“Hard peg.” Ball is played from where it lies after hitting peg. In “soft peg,” ball is placed one mallet head from peg. In both cases, player has one shot after hitting peg.
“Hit.” Player’s ball makes contact with another’s ball. Called a “roquet shot” in Association games. Contact is made even if a blade of grass prevents actual contact. Leaves or other debris lying between balls doesn’t count as touching.
“Hither peg.” Starting and finishing peg. See also Peg and Yon peg.
“Hoop.” Also “wicket.” Consists of two uprights and a crown. Made of whatever works: coat hangers, pvc pipe, official wickets from croquet supply. Width varies with local preference. Official size is between 3 and 11/16ths and 4 inches. Sloppy hoops go better with rougher greens. Six inches isn’t too loose.
Hoop shown is made of 3/4 inch PVC with
tent pegs bolted into uprights.
Wire hoops are hard to see, so white cloth “ribbons” tied at tops may help prevent tripping over them.
Also may be purchased from a Pro Shop: nine for $25 to $929.
“Hooper.” Player one hoop and a peg from Zombiehood.
“Jaws.” Side of a hoop which a player’s ball enters to negotiate it.
“Kill.” Putting someone out of game.
“King konged.” Zombie kills self on first shot.
“Konged.” Zombie goes through hoop or hits peg, resulting in death.
“Landscaping.” Changing layout after game begins. Narrowly defined: altering lay of greens, or hoop and peg positions—movable obstacles may be moved. Broadly defined: includes moving obstacles like lawn chairs, barbecue, spectators, etc.
“Live on a ball.” Player may hit each ball once, gaining two shots each time. Player is dead on hit ball until negotiating next hoop or peg, at which time they are live on all balls again. Local option is to be live on all balls at beginning of each turn.
“Lurking.” Zombie awaits, usually near Hither peg, for a live player to kill.
“Magic spot.” Elusive spot in front of starting hoops where a lying ball can’t be hit by a Zombie coming in from limbo, and from which last hoop or two may be run.
“Mallet.” Must have a head and a handle. Limits and specifications determined locally. Any part of mallet may be used to make shot, stroke.
“Mallet head!” Reminder to place one’s ball a mallet head in from boundary line before shooting. Also a standard unit of measurement for setting up hoops, and slang for croquet fanatics.
“Negotiated.” Commonly “through,” also “run” in fancy play. Ball going all the way through hoop in proper order and direction. Also refers to hitting peg in proper order. Ball has negotiated, run, a hoop if mallet handle doesn’t touch it when run down jaws (entry side) of hoop.
Red ball is not quite through.
“Obstacle.” Object (Except hoops, pegs, and balls) on greens or so close to boundary that shot is
hampered. May be moved or not—local rule.
“One handle per mallet!” Reminder that excessive advice is being given to a player.
“Out of bounds” Ball is returned to the point of exit, one mallethead in, perpendicular to the boundary. If ball rolls or bounces back in, it’s not back in play at that point. Balls are always a mallethead in from boundary, except when placing it against another ball for a foot shot “Pass.” To forego a turn. Legality locally determined. When not legal to pass, player must execute a shot, or stroke, when turn comes around.
“Peg.” Also, “stake”. See “Yon peg” and “Hither peg.”
“Peg to peg.” Run from Hither peg to Yon peg, or vise versa, in one turn.
“Pool shot.” Using handle of mallet like pool cue. Mallethead may not be removed.
“Push shot.” Mallet speed increases during shot. Not legal, but length of time mallet remains in contact with ball without being considered a push is determined locally.
“Roquet shot.” See “Hit.”
“A Run.” Series of hoops negotiated in single turn.
“Send.” Causing another player’s ball to move by placing one’s ball next to it and executing a croquet stroke/croquet shot, either “Foot shot” or not.
“Shooter.” Player who is up, whose turn it is. Also “striker.”
“Shot.” Also “stroke.” Mallet makes contact with ball, causing it to move, even if it rolls back to starting position. Exception: slap stick shot where legal.
“Slap stick.” Striking Yon peg instead of ball resting against it, sending ball forward. Peg is usually held in position with one hand. Also called “slapping the peg.” May also apply to striking a hoop upright. Not legal on all greens, due to definition of “shot.”
“Slider shot.” Also “Hoover maneuver“ referring to similarity with vacuuming floor. Mallethead is slid along greens and into ball.
“Soft peg.” See “Hard peg.”
“Stake.” See “Peg.”
“Stand by yer ball.” Advice given to those who stray too far from their ball and thus delay game. Important when few players remain alive and/or undead.
“Stroke.” See ”Shot.”
“Through (a hoop).” See “Negotiated” and “Run”.
“Turn.” Player’s turn to shoot based on sequence of colors. Continues until strokes are gone, either by using them up or by faulting.
“Twoper.” Player two hoops and a peg from zombiehood.
“Unanimous consent.” Request by any player in case of fault, such as accidental stroke. Like juries in US criminal courts, players can overlook rules in a specific case without creating a legal precedent. Only one voiced “objection!” by an active player voids unanimous consent. Silence is consent.
“Undead.” State of being during zombiehood.
“Wicket.” See “Hoop.”
“Yon peg.” Peg at end of greens opposite starting peg. Also, “turning stake.”
“Zombie.” Player who has negotiated all hoops and hit Hither peg. Called “poison” or ”snake” in some versions of croquet. Also known as the “living dead“ and the “stalking undead“. Non-zombies are yet alive.
“Zombie feeding.” Sending another player’s ball into a Zombie’s ball, or so close to it that the Zombie won’t miss, their turn coming before other player’s turn allows escape.
“Zombie in limbo.” Upon striking Hither peg, ball is removed until next turn. If player’s ball is sent into peg by another player, causing them to become a Zombie, they must remain in limbo past their next turn, the turn which they would have used to become a Zombie.
“Zone of possibility.” Area on jaws side of a hoop from which a ball can be sent through. Additional zone area gained with pvc pipe hoops, which allow balls to bounce off uprights.
When taking two shots a mallethead from a
hit ball, place your ball to the side rather than in line with your target
location. This gives room to swing.
You won’t get far in one shot, so hit another player’s ball whenever practical. This gives you one to set up and one to negotiate the hoop. If a zombie is lurking near your next hoop, you’ll need two shots: one to set up, and one to run away if the set up shot didn’t turn out good enough.
Look beyond the hoop you are aiming at to see if other balls are lying where you can hit one with the shot gained by negotiating the hoop. Strike hard enough to land near them, hit one, and use your two shots to negotiate the next hoop.
When hitting another’s ball lying on the jaws side of a hoop, it often pays to send it to the other side—through the hoop if you’re nice, around if you’re naughty—where you’ll be able to pick up two more shots when you become live on that ball again.
My preferred stroke is called the golf stance, which one writer says is “. . . ineffective in croquet. It allows the striker to hit the ball hard, but pinpoint accuracy is impossible because the striker can’t sight over the ball to the target. No top-flight croquet players use a golf stance. You shouldn’t use one either—except perhaps to hit a long shot on a thick lawn.” Oh well, whatever runs your wicket.
Despite all the above, new situations arise on the greens which require new rulings. A majority then determines precedent. Rules may be revisited on request by any Player, preferably before a new season begins.
The USCA has published official rules for Backyard Croquet. They accept the fact that many variations exist, but see the need for a standard to deviate from. Our main deviances are:
We have no partners—it’s every player for themselves.
There’s no scoring and so no points to keep track of.
Any part of mallet may be used for a shot, and it’s okay for a mallet to contact a hoop or peg.
Extra shots are lost when hitting Yon peg.
Zombie ball (poison) may not be killed by non-Zombie.
If you adopt Zombie Croquet as your version of backyard croquet, I welcome you to share your experiences with us.
Mondo Croquet includes zombies and the same basic rules, with variations too numerous to list here. A downtown Portland public park becomes their greensward one day per year.
Options after hitting another's ball: all
Landscaping: narrowly defined.
Layout: traditional double diamond, strictly aligned.
Kong: segment of King Kong song played when kong committed.
Passing turn: not permitted—shot must be taken.
Zombie ball: newer live ball traded for battered undead ball. (90% of damage to balls occurs in zombiehood).
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US Croquet Association includes Zombie Croquet in their 9-Wicket Group webpages.
How do you play Zombie Croquet?