What else do you do in Ohio when you're bored?
- patron at Sneaky Pete's
Cornhole is a game that, at the time of writing, is sweeping the Midwestern US and is gaining in popularity in other parts of the country. It's an addictive pastime that calls to mind hot, lazy summer days in hot, dusty small towns where people are looking for something to do besides watching the grass grow.
What is Cornhole?
Also known as 'corn toss', cornhole is a variant of the beanbag toss. The object of the game is to sink small corn-filled sacks into a round hole in the top of a wooden box several feet away.
The box is not your normal rectangular affair. Two of the sides are roughly triangular, which makes the top side of the box sloped. A grapefruit-sized opening is situated close to the back. The top surface of the box is painted with a high-gloss latex paint, making it smooth enough so that the sacks can slide but not so slippery that they slide back down. The box is set up, with the low end facing the players, several feet1 away from the serving line, also called the foul line.
Formal games can be either for singles (two players compete against each other) or doubles (teams of two compete). Each person tosses four sacks in each round, or inning, of a game, and the first person or team to score a total of 21 points wins (the winner does not have to win by two or more points). Points are awarded as follows:
Three points for getting the bag into the hole (known as 'In the Hole').
One point for getting any part of the bag onto the box ('In the Count').
No points for missing the box altogether ('Out of the Count').
In addition, opponents' scores can cancel each other during an inning. The lower-scoring team's points are subtracted from those of the higher-scoring team, and the remaining points are awarded to the latter. For example, if Team A scores four 'in the count' and Team B scores two 'in the count', A is awarded a total of two points (one for each uncancelled 'in the count') and B is awarded no points. This means that games between equally-skilled teams can take a long time to complete.
Players tend to develop their own techniques for tossing the corn-filled sack, but most usually try to throw it onto the box a few inches below the hole. With the right amount of momentum, the sack will slide up the box toward the hole and drop in. Players have been observed trying to drop the sack directly into the hole without any sliding, but this method is nearly always unsuccessful. At any rate, no additional points are awarded for purity of technique or other aesthetic flourishes, so the emphasis is on getting the job done no matter what it looks like in process.
Like many popular pastimes, cornhole is the essence of simplicity. It is easily understood, doesn't require expensive equipment or clothing, and can be played by any number of people anywhere they can set up the box. And it's addictive because it's actually not that easy to get that little bag into the hole, let alone do it four times in a row. Finally, cornhole can be - and often is - played with beer or other alcoholic beverage in hand, which makes the game simultaneously more entertaining and more difficult. In fact, although the rules for organised play state that games end at 21 points, informal play frequently ends when the players are no longer co-ordinated enough to toss the corn-filled sacks or - in some cases - to remain standing.
As Ohio Goes, So Goes the Nation
Rumour has it that cornhole originated on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio, but it has grown far past its humble beginnings. Today the game has spread outside of Ohio to larger cities such as Chicago, and along the way it has acquired formal rules and associations such as the American Cornhole Organisation and the Cornhole Game Association.
Cornhole really hit the big time, so to speak, on Thursday, 4 August, 2005 when the American national television programme The Today Show broadcast a piece about the game. The segment was taped at Sneaky Pete's indoor Cornhole Corral in Milford2, but it didn't explain much about the game or how it is scored. It was more of a comedy piece along the lines of 'look at what those silly folks in the Midwest are up to now'.
Purists, however, may prefer to remember the game's roots as an informal pastime suitable for a night out with friends at the local 'watering hole' or as entertainment at small carnivals or other summer festivals. Cornhole is the essence of summer in small-town America, where fun can be had with just a little ingenuity, the materials at hand, and possibly some beer to encourage participation.