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story.lead_photo.caption Sasha O’Quin (from left) and Ramona Hicks watch as Kyle Hicks tosses a baton at wooden blocks called kubbs during a game of Kubb at Burns Park in North Little Rock. - Photo by Sean Clancy

How to describe Kubb, the Scandinavian lawn game played with wooden blocks and batons and pronounced "koob"?

"It's like cornhole and bowling combined, but nothing like that," says Kyle Hicks with a laugh.

Hicks, 38, of North Little Rock, learned about the game from an Army buddy who grew up in Wisconsin and who gave Hicks his own set of Kubb pieces.

"It's a fun, easy game that anyone can play," Hicks says on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon in May. He is at the field across from Burns Park's Funland Amusement Park, 25 Funland Drive in North Little Rock, where he and his Kubb-playing pals usually meet each Sunday at 3 p.m. to do battle on the pitch.

Well, battle may be a little strong. There's a story, seemingly apocryphal, that Kubb was first played by Vikings with the skulls and femurs of their vanquished foes.

Nowadays, using skeletal remains "is frowned upon," says Kubb player Chris O'Quin of North Little Rock. This version of the game uses batons tossed at rectangular kubbs -- which is Swedish for blocks.

Hicks is setting up the 27-feet-by-17-feet Kubb pitch in the field with his wife, Ramona, as fellow players Mitch Vire, O'Quin and his spouse, Sasha O'Quin, prepare to play.

Once the area is staked off, Hicks, who teaches ninth-grade social studies at North Little Rock High School, places five kubbs that are about 6 inches tall and spaced evenly apart on opposite sides of the pitch. In the middle is the king, a larger wooden kubb. The object of the game is to throw your baton, underhanded, and first knock over the opposing team's kubbs, then knock the king over.

But wait! There's more.

Once a rival's kubb is knocked down from where it sits on the baseline, the kubb is tossed back to your side of the pitch. You then stand the kubb upright and your opponent has to use his baton to knock the kubb down before he can proceed to knocking out your baseline kubbs.

There are myriad rules and strategies involved, including how kubbs are positioned upright after being tossed back onto the opponent's side. Hardcore Kubb teams even have specialists.

"Some really good teams have one person that just throws the kubbs," Ramona Hicks says.

Kyle Hicks adds, "We're not that good yet."

Kubb might not be as common as horseshoes here in the South, but northerners have long played this game also known as "Viking chess.'' Eau Claire, Wis., the home of the National Kubb Championship, is the Kubb Capital of North America, according to the tournament's website, usakubb.org. In 2017, 128 teams with 455 players participated in the national championship.

"It's popular in areas where they have a Swedish or Scandinavian population," Hicks says. "It's real popular in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and it's starting to gain popularity on the East Coast and moving down South."

Hicks has started a facebook page, facebook.com/centralarkansaskubb/, with information on local matches and a primer video on rules.

Mitch Vire first heard about Kubb four years ago while attending a ukulele festival in Indiana.

"A lady who had a Scandinavian background brought a Kubb set to play," says Vire, who wears a T-shirt and a black kilt and puffs on a pipe. "I played, but it wasn't regular."

He started playing more often when he learned of Hicks starting up a weekly game last summer.

Vire also mentions other games to describe Kubb.

"It's kind of like horseshoes and chess," he says.

Kubb can be played with just two people or with teams of up to six. On this Sunday afternoon, Vire and Chris O'Quin are playing against the Hickses and Sasha O'Quin.

Like most things in life, Kubb is not as easy as it looks. Good Kubb players can use their batons to take out several kubbs at once, but batons, which fly end over end, often hit the ground and take wacky bounces.

Vire says, "It's not that hard, but there are some days when you just can't hit anything."

"Ramona, you've been robbed every time," Kyle says as a baton thrown by her just misses a kubb.

Despite being outnumbered, the team of Vire and Chris O'Quin win the first match on this day.

Kyle Hicks says that anywhere from six to a dozen players usually turn up for the weekly games.

His dream, he says, is to create enough interest to have organized teams or even a league: "It would be so cool to do something like that here."

Let's Do This is a (very) occasional column about things to do off the beaten path in the Natural State. Pass along suggestions to:

sclancy@arkansasonline.com

Style on 06/12/2018

Print Headline: Kubb is sort of like bowling, but not really

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