Whatever happened to …

… Conkers?

Look at me go using technical terms.

I actually found it by doing some research to see if it was still a thing.   When I was growing up, we just called it “Chestnuts”.

Around this time of year, chestnut trees in my home town would drop their seeds … i.e. chestnuts.  I remember some of them actually dropping on sidewalks and paved streets.  The seeds were encased in a green prickly shell, but often when they would hit, they would split open to reveal the nut or nuts inside.  When they didn’t split open, I supposed we could have peeled them but it was easier just to pick it up and throw it against the sidewalk until they split.  Violence was a thing, I guess!

The nut inside was actually very pretty and very shiny when first pulled out.  Other than that, they weren’t of much use except to play chestnuts with friends.  We’d take a couple home and get a hammer, a nail, and a piece of string.  The nail would go into the nut and the string was tied to the nail.  You’d grab the other end of the string and have your game piece, or weapon.

We played the game by one person putting their chestnut on the ground and the rest of us would swing our chestnut on a string and try to whip it down on the opponents chestnut.  If you broke their chestnut, you were a winner.  If not, you’d switch places and the other person would try.  If my memory is correct, we ended up losing more often by missing the other chestnut and smacking our own against the sidewalk or pavement.

In other uses, they worked a bit like a bolo where you could swing it and hit someone or tangle it up in their legs or arms.  I do recall at the time messages going home to our parents indicating that these things were not allowed in school, not even for play at recess.

Ah, the joys of youth.  It was only when I did my research for this post that I found this article and realized that we played the game completely incorrectly.  Interestingly, I found that there is a championship and a technique for choosing the best conker.  I also wondered why the Ohio State University would have a chestnut as a school mascot.  Digging further, I found that a chestnut and buckeye are not the same thing although they are related.  My learning for the day!

I searched the app stores to see if someone had made the game into an app but didn’t find it under any of the names that I could think of.  There’s an idea for development or to let these Scratch or micro:bit experts have at it to develop one.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • did you ever play chestnuts, er conkers, as a child?
  • did you ever have chestnuts banned at your school?
  • did you ever try to roast chestnuts like in the song?
  • would you ever confess to using a chestnut as a weapon like I did?  (We were so young…)
  • what’s the name of the OSU mascot?
  • do you regularly see chestnut trees?  They’re not hard to find this time of year – you just have to look on the ground around them.  As I write this though, I can’t recall seeing any chestnut trees here in Essex County.

I’d be interested in your nutty comments and thoughts.  Please leave them via the comments below.

This is part of a regular Sunday series.  You can check them all out here.

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is created by me at the keyboard or as a result of an aggregator of my daily reading under the title OTR Links. On Fridays, look for my signature post "This Week in Ontario Edublogs" where I try to share some great writing from Ontario Educators. The other regular post appears Sunday mornings as I try to start a conversation about things that have gone missing from our daily lives.

9 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Good morning Doug!

    I had heard of conkers as a kid, but don’t really recall playing it much, if at all. Games like that would have indeed been discouraged for safety reasons. My mom and her sisters had played the game and told me about it.

    More visible in my childhood where the commercial variant, Clackers.

    I recall playing with Clackers at school, although I don’t know if I actually had my own set or whether I was borrowing a friend’s. I do remember that they were also a safety concern, as there were reports in the media of Clackers shattering and inflicting eye injuries.

    Probably my favourite plaything as a young kid was another naturally found item (like chestnuts) called “stick.“ You could find them anywhere and use them as all sorts of imaginary playthings. We were cautioned about them as well, since they could also cause eye injuries or welts if used as swords, but quite frequently my friends and I would use them at a distance where they were much safer. We would hide ourselves behind trees in a forest and then peer around and try and spot a friend on the other team and then make noises like “pow“ and “bang, I got you!” The game would sometimes lead to arguments and long discussions about whether or not one person got the other first, but invariably we would start up again and the game would continue. Of course, just as with Conkers, if you found a really good stick, you would keep it and use it for a long time.

    I still see kids wanting to bring a stick into the school at the end of recess because it has clearly been a source of fun for them. I have them leave it at the door, and sometimes they remember to stop and pick it up on the way back out. However, kids today are not allowed to use the stick at school as we did, and even when they use their finger in the place of a stick, we remind them that that is not appropriate in this day and age. Instead, some parent allow their children to simulate the “pow, bangl” game using virtual sticks with sound effects on computers and game systems.

    I know I am digressing from your original memory of Conkers, but sometimes a trip down memory lane leads to a little bit of pondering and editorializing.

    I will again make reference to Spirit of the West front man John Mann’s song, “When I Played Around with Knives,” as it speaks to this issue.

    Doug, maybe you can find a nice stick today when you are out for one of your walks with Jamie!

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  2. Doug, I don’t really have any memories of chestnuts, but I wonder, are they a nut? With the increased nut allergies nowadays, I see the possible concern about them being brought or used at school. Was this something we thought of less when we were kids? Somehow, I think we were also allowed to bring peanut butter to school. My how the world changes! Thanks, as always, for the weekly trip down memory lane!


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  3. No need to apologize, Andy. I’m happy that my look back inspired a look back on your own. I do appreciate that. I had to smile at your stick game. Was that a prelude to laser tag? I know that’s a popular birthday party thing around here. Personally, I’ve never played it although the new restaurant around the corner here has a zone. Maybe some day.

    As for banning games, don’t you think that that makes it more appealing as a kid? Isn’t Clackers the game where you move up and down and there are two metal things that clack together or am I thinking of something else?

    I also appreciate the fact that you take the time to either confirm or go off in a new direction with these Sunday blog posts. They’re fun to write and amazingly take just a minute or two to write even though experiencing them decades ago.

    It reminds me of an intro to an Eagles song “This took 40 years to write and 4 minutes to sing”.


  4. Thank you, Aviva, for being a faithful follower and commenter. I’ve never heard of chestnut butter sandwiches! I also seem to recall that there are different types of chestnuts and there is another that you’ll find often in Asian food – water chestnuts. They add a nice crunchiness and we’ll often buy a can to put in the stir fries that we make at home.

    Thankfully, water chestnuts are not nuts (at least according to this) so there’s not a worry if it show up in food. http://www.whatallergy.com/2012/01/chestnuts/

    As for peanut butter, it was a staple when I was growing up and even in my work life. We’re more conscious of such things these days; I used to take a cooler to work and leave it in my car when I knew I’d be out on the road. It remains a personal favourite of mine even today. For my daughter, there’s a restaurant in Windsor that makes a burger with bacon and peanut butter. Talk about covering all the food groups!

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  5. Hi Doug,

    I tried to include an image of the Clackers in my original comment, but it somehow didn’t display. I will try once again.

    Yes, Clackers where the hard plastic spheres connected by a pair of strings with a metal ring in the middle. The goal was to move the ring up and down at the correct rhythm to cause the balls to clack at the top and the bottom. You can now buy them with training wheels where instead of two strings, you have a stick with 2 v-shaped pieces of plastic with the balls at the apex of the V. Takes all the skill out of it.

    If image doesn’t appear below, then you can also check them out on the cover of Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood is posing with a pair.

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  6. Conkers! I had to wait until we visited my best friend in Toronto to teach my kids about conkers, because there aren’t any in my neighbourhood, (there’s a great tree on the corner of Avenue and College View, if anything ne’s interested).

    I always wanted to try roasted ones, because of reading too much Dickens as a kid, but they were a big disappointment.


  7. Extra points to Andy, who made me cry just by posting a photo of the amazing John Mann, who, heartbreakingly, has had to stop touring/ playing due to his early onset Alzheimer’s.


  8. I’ve never played conkers and don’t remember anyone playing it at school. There is a huge chestnut tree across the road from my parent’s house near Comber and several in my neighbourhood when I lived in Walkerville. I’ll have to pay more attention when I’m out for a run to see if there are any in my new neighbourhood. When I was in Munich a few years ago, there were lots of street vendors selling warm roasted chestnuts. They smelled delicious, but with my peanut allergy, I was too afraid to give them a try.

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