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Perennial autumnal favourite conkers has remained inured to change for countless generations. The rules are straightforward enough: one gathers conkers (the seeds of the horse chestnut tree) and prepares them for battle by threading each one onto a string or shoelace, holding them in place with a large knot at the bottom end.

An actual conkers battle takes place between two opponents who each wield their own conker and take turns to try and hit the conker of their enemy by swinging theirs in a violent arc. If they succeed in smashing the other person's conker they are declared the victor.

Individual conkers collect a "score" after each victory. If one conker beats another, it becomes a "two-er." If the same conker is triumphant again it becomes a "three-er" and so on. However, a conker that beats another conker also inherits that conker's tally. If a "two-er" beats a "thirteen-er" then it automatically becomes a "fifteen-er" and so on.

Conker Hardening Techniques

Conkers in their natural state have a certain yielding softness which means they are naturally difficult to shatter, but that also makes them unlikely to shatter a harder object. As such, an arms race of techniques has developed over the years to toughen conkers up. There are dark secrets to the art, which are zealously guarded by their practitioners and adherents. Some consider all forms of hardening to be cheating.

  1. Natural Drying
    Simply leaving a conker lying in the dark will, over time, cause it to harden and dry. One notable downside to this is that the core of the conker will become a lot smaller than the shell, leaving a gap between the two. The brittle shell will easily break - although that doesn't preclude a conker from winning.
  2. Pickling
    Many is the child over the centuries who has kept a jar of conkers in vinegar. It is believed that a pickled conker somehow becames harder - yielding the ideal mix of slight pliability and overall hardness.
  3. Baking
    By putting a conker in the oven, some of the problems inherent in the natural drying method are overcome. The shell and the core dry at a more consistent pace, making a hard - albeit potentially brittle - conker.
  4. Varnish
    At the outer limits of acceptability is the notion of coating one's conker in a layer of varnish. This highly controversial practice is frowned upon by most players.


Possibly all those who have played conkers remember a notorious cheat. In my own case, two spring to mind. One boy tried to pass an acorn off as a conker (which failed at the first hurdle). The second scandalised the conker playing community for many a long year afterwards when it discovered that a boy had had his father inject his conker with some kind of resin, making an almost indestructible plastic core.

Variations in the Rules

As with all games, there are various subclauses that apply to the main rule. These are exercised by verbal agreement before a contest and probably differ by region and local tradition.

"No stampies"
This rule precludes an opponent simply stamping on a conker if it is dropped during the contest.

Official Championships

The enduring popularity of the game and its spread overseas (similar games are played throughout the Americas) has led to various 'world championships' being held, as well as regional championships. This clip shows ITN's coverage of the 2006 World Championships, held in Ashton.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 26th September 2014 | © Weird Island 2010-2019
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