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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Lawn darts became a popular backyard game in the late 1950s. Also called yard darts, garden darts, or jarts, the game is usually played with four darts and two players or teams. The darts are much larger than those used indoors at home or at pubs and are similar to the pumbatae or lead-weighted darts used by soldiers in ancient times and the Middle Ages. They are 12 inches long with a weighted tip at one end and three fins attached to a rod at the other end.

Darts are held by the rod and thrown underarm at a plastic ring laid on the ground. According to the rules, a player stands 50 feet from the ring and throws his or her darts. In practice, the distance will vary depending on the competence of participants and the size of the venue. The object is to land the darts anywhere in the ring and score a point or points for each dart. A dart must stick in the ground to score.

There are several variations of lawn darts, including traditional, handly cup style, and nuclear lawn darts where old maps are the targets rather than rings. Each variation can be played by two people or teams. In the team game, a member from each side stands at each end of the playing area but well clear of the ring.

In the traditional lawn darts version, a player scores one point if the dart lands within the ring. If the opposing player or team also lands a dart within the target area, the points will cancel each other out. Thus if the first team or person gets two darts into the ring and the second team or person gets one, then the score for that round is given as 1-0, or one point to the leading team or person and zero points to the other.

Variations to this scoring system can and do occur, such as the first team or person to get 10 darts into the ring or score 10 points. Sometimes a smaller ring might be placed inside the larger ring and additional points scored for hitting the bulls-eye. This might be useful where the playing area is small and getting the darts in the main ring becomes too easy.

In the handly cup style version, darts that land closer to the ring than the opponent’s darts earn points as well as darts that go in the ring. Darts that find the target are known as “ringers” and score three points each. However, this score can be cancelled out if the other person or team also gets a dart inside the ring, the same as in traditional lawn darts. In handly cup, any dart that lands closer to the ring than the nearest dart of the opposing person or team scores one point.

Thus if one side has two darts closer to the ring than any of the other side’s darts, they get two points. If one team or person has a dart in the ring and a dart that is outside the ring but closer to it than the other team or person, they would earn four points, consisting of three for the ringer and one for the dart closer to the ring. No additional points are awarded for darts closer to the ring if both persons or teams get one or more darts in the ring. This is because any dart outside the ring is farther away than the other person’s or team’s dart or darts inside the ring. It means that if each side gets a ringer and one side lands any number of darts closer to the ring than the other side, no one scores in that round as the two ringers cancel each other and the darts outside the ring don’t count.

Successive rounds are played until one team or person reaches a total of 21 points. At that stage, the leading team or person is declared the winner of the match.

Lawn darts were banned from sale in the US and Canada in the late 1980s as the darts caused the deaths of three children. The game hasn’t been banned in other countries, such as the UK. Nevertheless, great care should be taken, including some commonsense safety rules such as not allowing young children to participate or anyone to stand within a certain distance of the ring. Families might prefer to play similar games, such as kubb which uses wooden batons or cornhole which uses bean bags.