Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that wins at every game it plays… and refs
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I’m Shea, and this week I learned
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Following up from episode 22 — see, I told you we’d revisit stuff — it’s time for another exciting round of sports!
With the Tokyo Olympic Super-Spreader Event just weeks away I thought I’d review some of the finest sports to ever grace the… well… not Olympic stadium, I’d say for most of these we’re shouting about “local pub” level.
Last time we sportsed we talked about pulling one’s goose. Typically, by the head. Until it fell off.
Well, today’s installment of contact sports you can play with a bird isn’t much better.
It’s Cock Throwing or Cocky-skying, which I gotta say sounds like two wildly different activities separated by a wild gulf of willingness to show people your dick.
Sometimes called throwing at cocks, the more apt name, this sport is simple. We’ll go by the official rules found in a 1737 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine. But don’t worry, that’s the last time “gentle” and anything else will appear in this story because Cock players certainly weren’t.
First, you get a rooster and tie it to a post, because it’s ye-oldie times and cruelty to animals was what got people out of bed in the morning. Then, contestants took turns throwing “coksteles”, a special weighted stick make for the game, at the rooster until it dies.
So that’s terrible.
The game is said to have come from the British people’s anti-Gallican cultural phase. That is, that one time when they didn’t like the French, which is, according to Wikipedia, over now but… I’m not sure that’s a true.
The game was especially popular for kids because they’re all little narcissistic sociopaths—especially back in the day.
Other variations include Goose Qualling, which is the same but with a goose, cock trashing, or cock whipping, in which the rooster was put in a pit and given the piñata treatment. And the hard-mode of the group, a variation for Sussex that hangs the rooster from a four or five-foot rope so it can move about.
In 1660 there was an attempt by Puritan officials in Bristol to forbid the game (as well as cat and dog tossing) on Shrove Tuesday. After the multi-day riot ended, the sport became closely tied to Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday, the day when people who believe in zombies put dirt on their foreheads. But hey, at least they’re not beating animals to death… anymore.
Cock throwing’s popularity slowly waned in England, as social values changed and animal welfare became a concern. William Hogarth depicted it as a barbarous activity, the first stage in a “slippery slope”, in The Four Stages of Cruelty in 1751, and Nathan Drake credited this in part for changes in public attitudes to the sport. The Anglican divine and political economist Josiah Tucker also dismissed the sport as a “most cruel and barbarous diversion’ in his ‘Earnest and Affectionate Address to the Common People of England Concerning their Usual Recreations on Shrove Tuesday’ (1753), drawing attention to the suffering and ‘lingering tortures’ of a ‘poor innocent creature’. From the middle of the 18th century, magistrates began to deal with the problem more harshly, a marker of its loss in popularity among the “respectable” classes, imposing fines for public order offenses, and local by-laws banned the practice in many places.
Sticking with the medieval theme of British Shrove Tuesday sport is Shrovetide Football. This two-day game is played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday… I guess around church hours… in the town of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—this is some stupid pub game where I kick you in the balls and you give me a beer.
Well, it’s not. That’s bally-beer.
Also, I’m thirsty…
Shrove Football is not entirely dissimilar to real football. By which I mean the NFL, not Celsius or whatever the rest of the world calls it.
The game began in the 12th century, a leftover from the reign of Henry II (1154-89). It’s also called “Hug Ball” because, well, you hug the ball closely. The exact origin is unknown because ye-oldie ESPN didn’t make backups and the Royal Shrovetide Committee records office burnt down in 1890.
But we do know for a fact it was played in 1667, presumably a vestige of the 1660 “I like to hurt animals for points” riot we just heard about.
The game is played between the two towns of Derby. I guess there was a poem by some dude named Charles Cotton about how they would face off in football instead of, you know, the war that had sustained them previously. This rivalry is said to be the source of the term “local derby” though horse people are quick to contest the claim.
According to a cool chart on Wikipedia, this is apparently a precursor game to rugby and American Football. And like both games, you can get hurt playing it.
The game is played from one end of town to the other, which used to be a separate town dontcha know. The players are Up’Ards and Down’Ards. The Up’Ards are traditionally those town members born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down’Ards are those born south of the river. Each team attempts to carry the ball back to their own goal. The goals are about 5k apart and are now commemorative stone and wooden odalisques, the buildings that used to be goals having long since been blown up or whatever. Upon a goal the player who “goaled the ball” is carried on the shoulders of his team around the courtyard of the Green Man Royal Hotel, and will probably get free beer. Or at least he should.
The ball is the size and looks of a medicine ball but it’s filled with quark so it floats.
Also hundreds of people from either end of town play at the same time, with one ball, and they are allowed to knock you over. But, you know, nicely as “Unnecessary violence is frowned upon” which is very British, but also part two of rule one. The first half being “committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited.”
Yep, that’s rule one. So do with that what you will.
And while I’m sure you’re wondering “how much of a problem was that” I’ll add that the game has only been skipped in 1968 and 2001, both times for outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. This means that yes, it was played during both world wars including in the trenches. So yeah, probably some people got shot over it.
If you’d like to know more Sean Bean of all people made a documentary about it called Wild in the Streets in 2013.
Ending tonight’s show on a … high note? Is Haggis Hurling. The angry Scottish sport is exactly what it says it is. Despite claims that it’s an ancient sport, Haggis Hurling was invited in 1977 by Robin Dunseath when, at the Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh, he hit someone with a haggis. Needing a way out of what I’m sure would have been a hell of a scrap he claimed it was a practical joke, later using it to raise money for charity and the Highland games and, I’m sure, cement his excuse before the McClouds could cement his shoes.
The game is played by throwing haggis. The end.
The current world record for tossing one’s lunch—that’s funny if you’ve had haggis—is 217 feet by Lome Cattart at the Milngavie Highland Games in June of 2011, unseating then 20-year record holder Allan Pettigrew’s 180 feet. While unofficial, Australian Cricket player Tom Moody has purportedly heaved his haggis an impressive 230 feet.
Modern Haggis Hurling… yep… is judged by distance and accuracy to the target. If your haggis explodes or ruptures on impact you’re disqualified. Per the rules, the haggis, once landed, should be fit to be eaten.
Apparently, there was some controversy over the Highland Festival in Melbourne some time ago when they tried to introduce a fake haggis.
The crowd was all “but we don’t want to be covered in haggis splatter” and the Melbourne committee caved, probably suffering from kangaroo poisoning. Haggis hucking purists, however, rebuke the fake food, insisting instead that only a real animal stomach full of its own organs, pudding, oatmeal, and veg should be considered proper… “food”
Ok, I know I said that was the last one, but this one is only like two lines long.
Apparently, in the Edo period in Japan (1503-1868) there was a game called He-Gassen, or Hoiuhi-Gassen.
IN this most noble of games, samurai would chase their friends down and fart on them. Also, you could far on cats sometimes.
There’s a screenshot of a scroll depicting the event on your phone. It’s Eukio-e so it’s probably ok, but there’s some peen so, you know, NSFW-ish.
The full scroll
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Well since Aaron chose to talk about the wonderful world of sports I thought I’d follow suit. I chose a ye oldie game that is still incredibly popular today. Invented in the 15th century and played by kings it is also the only sport to be played on the moon. I’m talking, of course, about golf. Just a fyi for listeners, my knowledge of golf could fill half a pamphlet if I’m lucky…
Golf originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland, in an area close to the royal capital of Edinburgh. In those early days, players would attempt to hit a pebble over sand dunes and around tracks using a bent stick or club. During the 15th century, Scotland prepared to defend itself, yet again, against an invasion by the ‘Auld Enemy’. The nation’s enthusiastic pursuit of golf, however, led many to neglect their military training, so much so that the Scottish parliament of King James II banned the sport in 1457.
Although people largely ignored the ban, it was only in 1502 that the game gained the royal seal of approval when King James IV of Scotland became the world’s first golfing monarch.
The popularity of the game quickly spread throughout 16th century Europe thanks to this royal endorsement. King Charles I brought the game to England and Mary Queen of Scots introduced the game to France when she studied there; the term ‘caddie’ derives from the name for her French military aides, known as cadets.
One of the premier golf courses of the day was at Leith near Edinburgh which hosted the first international golf match in 1682 when the Duke of York and George Patterson representing Scotland beat two English noblemen.
The game of golf officially became a sport when the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first club in 1744 and set up an annual competition with silverware prizes.
The first reference to golf at its now recognized historic hometown of St Andrews was in 1552. It was not until 1754 however that the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to compete in its own annual competition using Leith’s rules.
The first-ever 18-hole course was constructed at St Andrews in 1764, establishing the now recognized standard for the game. King William IV honored the club with the title ‘Royal & Ancient’ in 1834, with that recognition and its fine course the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was established as the world’s premier golf club.
And thus there was golf! Now if you noticed golf requires a few key elements to play, a field or green with a hole in it… pretty simple, a club and a ball, seemingly simple and that is where I will start our real story today.
We will start with the balls, you really have to grab golf by them if you want to play. Today golf balls as we know them are dimpled plastic spheres with good bounce, also known as rubber Haskell balls.
In 1898 Coburn Haskell made a discovery when he wound a rubber thread into a ball and bounced it. Haskell discovered it had a lot of bounce and upon a suggestion to put a cover over it, the rubber Haskell golf ball was born. Initially, the Haskel golf balls were made with bramble patterns, very similar to today’s golf balls but the dimples poked out so the ball was covered in bumps. However, in the early 1900s, it was discovered that inverting the dimples to go inward and concave gave the ball a better flight pattern which was easier to control. Thus bringing the modern look of the golf ball that we’ve become accustomed to. Through the years the basic design of this ball hasn’t changed much, modern materials and construction methods changed mostly, the ball still looks the same.
By many accounts, it is presumed that the earliest games of golf were played with a wooden ball in the 14th century. It’s been refuted that wooden balls were never used in links golf in Scotland, but instead, they were used in early games that were similar to golf. The evidence of the use of wooden golf balls is scarce, hence the debate around whether they were used by golfers.
From 1486 through 1618, the Scottish received and used the hairy golf ball imported from the Netherlands. The hairy golf ball was a hand-sewn round leather ball filled with cows’ hair or straw. In 1554 the hairy golf ball was being produced in Scotland by the “cordiners and gouff ball makers of North Leith.” These balls continued to be used even after the introduction of the featherie golf ball in 1618 because they were less expensive, thus becoming known as the ‘common’ ball. They were used up until the early 18th century.
In 1618 the ‘Featherie’ golf ball was introduced, which was made similar to the hairy golf balls but with goose or chicken feathers. Since the featherie golf ball was filled with feathers it was able to be stuffed more full than the hairy, making it harder thus able to fly farther. To make a featherie, the feathers and leather would be shaped while wet. Upon drying the leather shrank and feathers expanded creating the desired hardness for the ball. Once dried the featherie would be painted and the ball-maker would add their mark. This process of making a featherie was very time-consuming which made them more costly. A few drawbacks to the featherie was that it was hard to get perfectly round, it lost distance if it got wet, and would potentially split open upon impact.
In 1848 Dr. Robert Adams Paterson invented the Gutta-Percha ball, or Guttie. The guttie was made by using dried sap from the Malaysian Sapodilla tree. The sap had a rubber-like quality to it and upon heating could be formed into a sphere. The gutties soon gained popularity as they were less expensive to make, were easily reformed if damaged and had better aerodynamic properties than the featherie. The guttie evolved further when it was discovered that the marks left on the ball after hitting the guttie with the club actually made the guttie more aerodynamic.
Moving away from the original smooth surface, makers of gutties began intentionally indenting the surface of the balls to achieve a better and more consistent flight pattern. By 1890 gutties were being produced with molds which made their quality consistent and increased their affordability. One of the commonly used patterns on the guttie was known as the bramble, which were raised spherical bumps along the surface that made it resembled bramble fruit.
And that brings us back to the modern ball used today.
You might be asking, what about the golf clubs? Good cause that’s what the rest of my story is about!
Since the inception of the game of golf, players have continually tried to improve upon their equipment. The earliest golf clubs were initially carved by the golfer themselves and typically out of wood. Golfers soon turned to skilled craftsmen to produce higher-quality equipment. The first record of commissioned golf clubs was by King James IV of Scotland, who hired William Mayne, a bow-maker, to craft him a set of clubs and made him the Royal Club Maker. Fun fact a century earlier Mayne’s grandfather was also making clubs for the crown and also spears, and the clubs were for hitting people, not golf balls.
In the early to mid-1930s many of the clubs came from Scotland and later from America. Clubs were all made of wood and designed by the players themselves, who created their shapes. The wooden clubs generally had a metal-base plate and a lead-weight added to the back of the head with face inserts of ivory or bone to reduce wear. To secure the head and grip to the hickory shaft, whipping of black, waxed linen thread was used. Later the set was developed to perform specific shots. The wooden clubs took an age to craft and the cost was extremely high. Ultimately this influenced the decision to move to iron heads which were much harder. Traditional egg-shaped head irons varied greatly in their loft, and the shapes determined the playing characteristics of the club.
The transition to modern clubs was completed in the late 1930s, early 1940s. In the 1930s Spalding Sports Goods Company introduced its number system into sets of golf irons and standardized the numbering from 1 to 10. In the earliest days of golf, and up into the mid-1800s, there was very little uniformity from one clubmaker’s clubs to another’s, and sometimes little conformity even within different sets made by the same clubmaker. Not much was standardized, from set to set, about those old golf clubs. Over time, however, such uniformity and conformity did begin to emerge.
By the turn of the 20th century, the old names of golf clubs did imply certain common characteristics. One clubmaker’s mashie, in other words, was roughly the same as another’s (but not necessarily identical in playing characteristics). Yes, you did hear correctly the club was called a mashie, before we had woods and irons the clubs all had, in my honest opinion, much better names.
The Mashie, which was a well-known and used club at the time is similar to today’s 5 iron, used for kind of midrange on any surface.
Play Club (grass club, long club): The historical equivalent of the driver. Golfers used the “play club” to “play away” from the teeing ground.
Brassie: The closest equivalent in use to modern 2- or 3-woods. It had that name because of a brass plate on the sole.
Wooden Cleek: Used in the manner of a modern 4-wood.
Spoon: Used as one would use a modern 5-wood. When spoons first appeared (going back to the 18th century, perhaps earlier), some had concave faces. Shaped like a spoon, in other words, giving them their name.
Baffie (baffing spoon): Equivalent to a higher-lofted wood (such as a 7-wood) or even a hybrid. In fact, some modern golf manufacturers have used the “baffie” name on hybrid clubs. It’s sometimes spelled “baffy.”
Spade Mashie: Equivalent in use to a 6-iron.
Mashie Niblick: Had the role of the 7-iron among antique golf clubs.
Pitching Niblick (lofting iron): Comparable to an 8-iron in use.
Niblick: Along with the mashie (and mashie-niblick), the best-known among the old clubs because of its distinctive name. It was kind of 9 iron-ish. Some golf manufacturers still break out the “niblick” name for wedges and chippers, when they want to try to capitalize on club nostalgia.
Jigger: You can think of the jigger as an old name for what today we call a chipper. The jigger typically had a short shaft but not a lot of loft and golfers used it for chip shots and other short shots around the green that did not require high loft.
Putting Cleek: Used for — you guessed it — putting. It had a narrow, flat, or very low-lofted clubface, shaped more like a long iron blade than like modern putter faces.
Then there is my personal favorite club, which unfortunately has fallen out of favor:
Sabbath Stick or Sunday Stick: Golf was not encouraged on a Sunday by the Church of Scotland, so the enthusiastic golfer had to find a solution. Clubs were disguised as walking sticks, and the head fitted comfortably into the palm. When out of sight or unobserved, it would be turned around, and a few shots played.
Well, now you know more about golf than you wanted too but that’s okay because now you have more useless knowledge to talk about this week. Also, one big thing I learned researching this story is there are so many fun names to call your Scottish friends, you lousy niblick!
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that to be the MVP of any given sport, all you have to do is make that sport up!
I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and co-hosts.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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Interesting If True is a comedy podcast that tells stories, debunks nonsense, takes quizzes, plays games, and generally tries to have a good time.
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