Autumn guide

Conquering conkers

As the days start to get shorter, the air gets colder and leaves turn brown and fall to the ground, we wave goodbye to summer and welcome autumn. During these golden months, the horse chestnut tree’s seeds fall from its branches, giving us conkers. For years and years primary school children have collected them for the battle game of the same name. Want to have a go? Our playground games correspondent and all-round expert Esme, aged seven-and-three-quarters, is here to tell you all you need to know.

Step 1: Finding your conker

During September and October, you can find conkers around the bottom of horse chestnut trees which are usually found in parks, streets, gardens and village greens. Surprisingly, they’re rarely found in woods which is a common mistake people make when they’re on the lookout. Conkers are dark-brown seeds wrapped in spiky green shells. Eventually, when they’re ripe enough, the shells split open to reveal shiny conkers inside.

Esme’s top tip: Every seed can have a few conkers inside, so you might not need too many to end up with a lot of conkers.

Step 2: Preparing your conker

So. This one’s a bit tricky. On the one side, old-school players of the game say that your conker shouldn’t be meddled with. You should just find one, put a string through it and off you go, may the best conker win. The other side argue that you should be able to do everything you can to make your conker strong and long-lasting. Which you choose is up to you, but here’s how you can prepare your conker if you don’t mind meddling.

A strong conker is a winning conker. And there are a few things you can do to prepare yours to help it get stronger. Esme’s provided a list of items you will need and step-by-step instructions to help you become a conkers champion – remember though, you need to ask a grown-up to help you with the preparation.

You will need:

  • your conker (we recommend an uncracked, firm and symmetrical conker for ultimate toughness)
  • a piece of string or a shoelace
  • a screwdriver
  • vinegar
  • a jug
  • a timer
  • an oven
  • a hard surface
  • at least one grown-up helper

Here’s how to prepare your conker so it has the best shot at winning:

  • Ask a grown-up to heat your oven to 250°C.
  • Leave your conker in a quarter of a pint of vinegar for two minutes.
  • Ask your grown-up helper to put your conker in the oven for one minute and 30 seconds. Don’t do this yourself as it could be dangerous.
  • After your helper has taken your conker out of the oven, let it cool down for a bit before asking them to put a hole through it with a screwdriver.
  • Thread your shoelace or piece of string through the hole and tie a knot so that your conker doesn’t slide off.

Now it’s time to learn the rules, then you’re good to go.

Step 3: How to play

The aim of the game is to smash your opponent’s conker or knock it off the string.

  • One of you holds your conker out at arms-length – keeping it steady so it doesn’t swing about.
  • The other player wraps their string around their hand, draws it back and throws their conker towards their opponent’s conker, aiming to break it.
  • The first player then takes their turn.
  • Take it in turns until one person’s conker is smashed or has come of the string.

Esme says: conkers is really good fun, but you have to be careful when you play. Make sure your string is long enough so the conkers don’t hit your hands and watch out for flying bits of conker when they start to break.

Conker scoring

If you want to get serious about conkers and keep track of your winning (or losing!) streak, then you need to know how to keep score.

  • If a conker hasn’t been used before and it manages to break another unused conker, it scores one point and becomes a ‘one-er’
  • If the same conker breaks another new conker in the next game, it becomes a ‘two-er’
  • And so on….
  • If the ‘two-er’ or ‘three-er’ or ‘four-er’ loses a game and the streak is broken, all the points are given to the other player’s conker.

But don’t worry if this way of doing it seems confusing, or if you do it differently. The purpose of the game is to have fun – so maybe you and your family or friends have different rules, which is fine. Or maybe you even want to make your own rules – there’s nothing wrong with being creative as long as you’re enjoying yourself. And may the best conker win.

So, there we have it, your conclusive guide to playing conkers this autumn. We’d love to see your creations and hear how you’re getting on – you can tweet us @YHAOfficial or tag us on Instagram @yhaofficial.

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