For the benefit of non-Brits, conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. Unlike sweet chestnuts, they are not for human consumption, but can be utilized for other things, namely, the game of conkers, which requires two players.
After finding a source of conkers, kids seek out the hardest and most symmetrical to drill holes through and place on strings about 25 -30 cm (10 -12 inches) long, and knotted at the end to keep the conker from slipping off. Upon finding what might be a potential champion, tradition dictates that the finder says, “Oddly oddly onker, my first conker,” to ensure that the chosen nut will serve well in the conker wars to come. To determine if a conker is indeed a potential champion, kids can drop them into a bucket of water, with sinkers being keepers, and floaters being discards. Conkers can also be hardened by being baked in an oven or soaked overnight in salt or vinegar. There are those who would considered this cheating, however.
To play, each child wraps the string of his/her conker around one hand, and then one of them, the striker, hits at the conker belonging to the other child in an attempt to crack or break it. Players are permitted three strikes each, and the game goes on until one of the conkers finally gets broken. If strings tangle (and they do), the first child to call out, “Strings!” gets an extra turn. Another hazard is whacked knuckles, so the game should not be undertaken by children with low pain thresholds.
Before horse chestnut trees were introduced to Great Britain in the late sixteenth century, similar games were played with hazelnuts and snail shells. Conkers are better and there are now even ‘Conker Championships’. Check out for the one taking place this weekend.
In an upcoming post, I’ll explain how conkers haven’t always just been used for playground combat. They once went to war for real.

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