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Step 1: The conker

Picture of The conker
The "conker" is the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum).  Not actually a chestnut (conkers are, in fact, slightly toxic), it has been an important commercial tree, with uses as broad as raw materials for explosives to providing deep shade to keep beer-gardens cool enough to make winter ice last longer.

The conker got its name from the game, rather than the other way round - before the horse-chestnut was introduced to Britain, the game was played with acorns or snail-shells (the word conker actually means "hard", and comes from the same root as the French conque, meaning "conch (shell)").

Step 2: Preparation.

Preparing conkers for the game is very simple - drill a hole through the conker, then thread a knotted string through it.

Being a playground game, the drilling has been done with many tools, typically screwdrivers and found nails, and the string is often a shoelace.

The neater and rounder the hole, though, the less likely the conker is to split.  Use of a power drill is therefore recommended, as seen below, with #2 son helping me prepare for a Cub Pack contest.

The drill-bit used should match the string being used - thread the conker onto about 30-45cm (a foot to 18 inches) of string, then tie a good fat knot in the end of the string to stop the conker slipping off.

Shoelaces have an advantage, with a built-in threader (the aglet); you may have to resort to a large needle, awl or bent paperclip to thread the string through.

astroboy9072 years ago
Wow. I need to...

-Finish High school
-Go to college
-Marry someone
-move to England and have kids who will play conkers and have British accents.
-Move back to the U.S and spread the love

Thanks for writing this- ive heard the term conkers before (usually on top gear), and never really knew what it meant.

Never actually did this or many other games as a child. Mostly due to being homeschooled. I got quite good at "slapjack" and spoons though :D

lol top gear is where i first heard it to XD

Oh, I actually went to Europe last year and picked up a few horse chestnuts... I think I still have them (dont tell customs!). Hehe.
kakmer1 year ago
In Ohio, these are known as buckeyes. We used to create something similar!

yeah same in Illinois

Kiteman (author)  kakmer1 year ago
Cool.
myboyzx42 years ago
this was cool I was just looking through when I found your conkers how too its funny but my boys were watching a childrens show "charlie and lola" and they mentioned the game conkers and I was curious as to how it was played thanks again
Kiteman (author)  myboyzx42 years ago
You're welcome!
clesiter2 years ago
Can these be found in australia
Kiteman (author)  clesiter2 years ago
If they are, they will be in temperate zones, and will have been deliberately planted by settlers.

See wikipedia.
Mutantflame3 years ago
A great instructable about perhaps one of my favourite games of all time! Five stars for you!
Kiteman (author)  Mutantflame3 years ago
Thanks.
d2j55 years ago
I have read that they are poisonous not just slighly toxic.
Kiteman (author)  d2j55 years ago
"Poisonous" implies fatality.

The skin of the nut contains toxins that cause vomiting, but the peeled nut used to be boiled, dried and ground into a flour.
d2j5 Kiteman4 years ago
aesculus hippocastanum several similar species,Aesculus and other buckeyes like the sweet buckeye a.octandra are all poisonus. all parts of the plant and nut contain a dangerous glycoside. nuts should not be eaten even after thorough soaking.

look for: Peterson field guides
Edible Wild Plants
eastern/central north america
by Lee Allen Peterson

a pretty usefull guide to have handy if you like those types of things but thats where i get the reason to belive they are poisonus. i got a copy at a borders book store for around $20.00.
Kiteman (author)  d2j54 years ago
I'll take your word for it.

They still used to eat the flour over here, though.
d2j5 Kiteman4 years ago
really? thats interesting what country are you from?
Kiteman (author)  d2j54 years ago
The UK.  I think the flour thing is old, though - medieval, even.

We used to make coffee out of acorns as well, but that was down to WWII shortages.
d2j5 Kiteman4 years ago
cool, can also make coffee from dryed dandylion roots, fritters from the unopen buds and salad from unsprayed leaves :D

hmm im not shure if the book i mentioned earlyer is avalable in the UK or not i but still consider looking for it.
Kiteman (author)  d2j54 years ago
I've tried dandelion coffee - it is foul!
d2j5 Kiteman4 years ago
eewwwouuuhh ill skip it then.
d2j5 d2j53 years ago
i know this is an old comment but it just kinda came to me....

one: i live in the U.S. and you live in the UK, so it is possible that the "horse chestnut" could be two different things. to me i know it as poison but to you it COULD be perfectly safe.

two: DANDYBLEND IS HORRIFIC (dandylion coffee)

-that is all.
Neon Panda3 years ago
I'm English, and have grown up in a small town in the north of England.
I can remember my grandmother teaching me all these things when I was really little :) great game- still haven't grown out of it lol!!
Huh, we never had a version of this in the US. Strange how one culture that evolved from the other can still be so different, even in the games their kids play on the playground. *Sips iced tea looking contemplative*

Nice instructable by the way!
Kiteman (author)  dungeon runner4 years ago
Thank you.

What games did you play? 
I think I remember playing marbles, but to be honest, the games we played were a lot less organized than this (hey guys, whoever can run to the other side of the playground the fastest doesn't get punched in the face!)

I'm kidding, of course. Nobody ever got punched in the face :).

(We were some pretty creative kids)


-Y
You never played the classic game of "If you run faster than I throw this rock I won't hit you with it"? I belive I shall write an ible' about it. Victory will be mine!
Ah, classic fun for all the ages ;)...
What a fantastic instructable Kiteman! It really brought back a lot of memories of being an expat kid in London, down to the errant shouting/shoving matches.

In America, there isn't really an equivalent, given the lack of quality conkers lying about. The closest game in spirit would be pencil fighting, in which the defender holds his pencil between thumb and forefinger in both hands and the attacker flicks their pencil in an attempt to break the defending pencil in two - which was really just an excuse to not do homework.
I've never heard of pencil fighting, but that sounds like something I would do as a kid :).

Maybe that should be an 'ible.

-Y
Sure, we had it in Rhode Island.  We played it at the bus stop so it didn't matter whether the school banned it.  My knuckles are getting a chill as I think about it.  Our variation on "one-ers, two-ers, etc." was that a ten-er was a "kinger". 
big-jamie4 years ago
 i used to play conkers with my uncle a lot as he had a chestnut tree out his back door, great way to pass the time. Conkers also got banned at my primary school many years ago as too many kids were getting bloody knuckles and broken fingers lol.
greytown4 years ago
we all ways played bloody nuckles.one person would spin a quarter,if the other person stops it standing up they get to spin but if it falls when they try to stop it they get the quarter slammed into there nuckles
General_Zod4 years ago
OMG! I used to play this when i lived in Hamilton, Ontario. I thought we made that odd game up. Awesome to see it here!
usbfuse4 years ago
if u say its kind of a explosive but in a plant or tree usually are friendly but if this has raw explosives then u should of put this on becuase terrorist will put this stuff in their c4
Kiteman (author)  usbfuse4 years ago
No, conkers do not contain explosives, but they can be made into explosives.

C4 by itself is far more destructive.
Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Step number 4 on our tour of Instructables: our esteemed British friend explaining to a numpty that C4 is a more powerful explosive than conkers. 

No, it's not all that unusual, why do you ask?

Right, next up we have a real cultural experience - a duck into the K*nex Ghetto...not even the police admins go to this part of town...
Kiteman (author)  Lithium Rain4 years ago
In my next project, I will be demonstrating that cutting down horse chestnut trees causes a radical reduction in alcohol-related diseases...
IdahoDavid4 years ago
In the U.S. these are also called "buckeyes."
 I thought those game pieces looked familiar!
Kiteman (author)  IdahoDavid4 years ago
I saw that somewhere - they look like a deer's eyeball, apparently.

Redfrk Kiteman4 years ago
In Puerto Rico we have a similar game called "Gallitos" (fighting cocks).  We use the seeds from the Algarrobo tree (Hymenaea courbaril).  We drill a hole through the flat side and tie a string around it so that the "gallito" lays flat.  The defending "gallito" lays on the ground in an approx 6" diameter circle and the attacking one attempts to hit it.  All the other basic rules are the same.  This is a cool instructable that brought back some childhood memories.  It's awesome to see that even in cultures as different as British and Puerto Rican there can be such a similar game. Thanks!
Bunglebogs5 years ago
 I guess the rules vary greatly depending on where you grow up. In my neck of the woods (Nottingham) the rules were slightly different:
- Players took alternate turns, regardless of whether the last swing was a hit or not.
- "strings" was called "snags" and rather than just deciding whose turn it was the players would tug hard on their string in an attempt to pull their opponents conker off the string (or the string out of their hand), thus facilitating a "stampy" opportunity.
- conker scores were not cumulative. If a "sixer" beat a "niner" it just became a "sevener"!

But all the same, a great instructable - brings back great childhood memories!

Kiteman (author)  Bunglebogs5 years ago
As I said in step 4;
The rules of the game vary playground-by-playground.  These are the rules that I followed decades ago:
NickTyr Kiteman4 years ago

Nice to see some one bother to catalogue the games 'everybody knows the rules of' . the problem is that not everybody does know them, It is imporant that someone writes them down before there are so few people who DO know, that you lose half the rules or the finer points.
 

The call for 'strings' that I knew was 'tangles one, two, three. In Birmingham, both methods of scoring were used, which lead to considerable confusion! Also it was considered bad form to deliberately tangle the string and attempt to pull the other conker off. 

A player had won  when there was no conker remaining on his opponent's string, This meant that it was possible for a very damaged conker to win a fight, only to be completely destroyed on it's next hit. 

Any treatment such as holding conkers over from one year to the next, baking or pickling was considered legal, but injecting epoxy resin between the shell and kernel was a definite infringement of the rules, as was having an overlarge knot at the bottom of the conker. This was because you could use it to hit your opponent's conker, rather than letting your conker take the impact.

I had never heard of the 'Stampsies' rule, that would have been regarded as the worst form of cheating imaginable! Likewise 'Scrambles' was new to me.

There are loads of games I played as a kid that are dying a slow death now, partially due to schools being over cautious with health and safety, and partially due to the rise of  computer games, (don't get me wrong I LOVE computer games, I spend far too much time with them), but even when I was young there were games that were slowly dying out, Marbles are still out there, but who knows how to play 'Cat's Cradle' now ?

Kiteman (author)  NickTyr4 years ago
"...but who knows how to play 'Cat's Cradle' now ?"

In that case, consider yourself obligated to produce an Instructable!
Hi,
I do not think conkers grow anywhere near me, but I have a whole bin of slightly past there prime hazelnuts, would they work?
Thanks
Kiteman (author)  circuitbreaker4 years ago
Worth a try!
I made a few last night, they worked fine!
It wasn't all that fun with 12 inch strings, because there were not many hits, but with 7 inch strings it is way more fun :-)
Thanks
Kiteman (author)  circuitbreaker4 years ago
You're welcome.
Haha, nice. This is the ible I needed like 2 years ago...actually, I think I maybe in actuality finally signed up (after much lurking) just to ask you what a conker was...
Kiteman (author)  Lithium Rain5 years ago
Haha!

I got there in the end - I have a long "to do" list!

I have two more major projects to post in the next week or so...
More like a to ible list lol
Kiteman (author)  xproplayer4 years ago
Oh, you've just coined a term; t'ible list.
OOH Sweet spread it around!
gmjhowe5 years ago
 A most fact filled, and well explained instructable. Much better than I expected!
Kiteman (author)  gmjhowe5 years ago
Er, thanks, I think?

Better than you expected? Sheesh!
LOVE  the tiny text thing! lol i copied into word and enlarged so i know what it says and i agree to the max!
nice work "Better than you expected? Sheesh!"
 
It's Backhanded Compliment Man!
 Thank you for your unique naming.
bowmaster4 years ago
OH MY GOSH!!!!! A few days ago I got a BUNCH of those nuts!!!! I have like 100!!!!!!
old_code4 years ago
Wow, thanks for the post.

I played this when I was a kid (in Canada). I remember winning several games when my opponents "conker" (we didn't have a name for them, or this game) struck the back of my hand and split. Hurt like hell, but I won.

Also had different rules for strings tangling; we would pull apart until the strings untangled or one of them split.

Never thought of injecting them with glue; hmm, is there an Instructable for a time machine? At least I know now how I could be a winner on that aspect of the school yard.

Does this ever bring back memories. Again, thanks.
kelseymh4 years ago
Thank you, Kiteman!  I had seen the name "conkers" in Britsh-authored books, but of course they never actually explain what it is.  Now I have yet another piece of limited-utility knowledge in my brain :-)

And you're one I'ble closer...
Kiteman (author)  kelseymh4 years ago
#99 is in the shed as I type (although it seems to be going wrong!), and #100 happens on Friday morning (hopefully posting Saturday).
Kiteman (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
It is going pear-shaped, literally!

Time to switch to Plan B...

...rushes off to formulate Plan B.
BeanGolem4 years ago
 My friends and I used to just leave them in the pokey shell and throw them at each other. Not sure which one ends up safer...
Kiteman (author)  BeanGolem4 years ago
Haha!
nepheron5 years ago
This is the greatest thing ever. Are conker weapons allowed?
cini.bmp
Kiteman (author)  nepheron5 years ago
Haha, if vinegar-soaking is banned, I'm fairly sure that titanium armour and a flamethrower would raise a few eyebrows.

However, it would make a brilliant Instructable (throws down gauntlet).
Yes, yes, Indeed!

insert
evil laugh
Bigev5 years ago
until recently, I had never heard of this game. Being from the states, this is not unusual.

Thank you for finally filling me in on what exactly Conkers is.
stinkymum5 years ago
I can never resist picking up conkers, they are so shiny and nice.  I gathered many this month in Ipswich in the park.   However, they soon go dull and wrinkly.    I left them all behind in my sister in law's kitchen in a saucer!
Kiteman (author)  stinkymum5 years ago
That's how we had so many - there are only half a dozen or so horse-chestnuts between home and school, but #2 son collects every conker he sees, and usually has a couple in his school bag or coat pocket.

Some of his friends even call him "Conker".
Goodhart5 years ago
Hmmm, very interesting.   I wonder if this would become more exciting with them left in their original husk,  or better yet,  use a regular chestnut in it's original husk :-) 
 
Aesculus_hippocastanum_fruit.jpgChestnut03.jpg
Kiteman (author)  Goodhart5 years ago
Coo, have you ever picked up an eating chestnut in your bare hands?  Youch!
VERY carefully (the second time around anyways ;-) 
 
If you were to come to my house to challenge me at this, I would CONKER YOU!!!
andycyca5 years ago
Being from the new continent, I had never heard of this game and it looks very fun. Thanks for sharing!
Whoohoo conkers!!  My brother and I would always degenerate to whacking each other with them, ahh memories.
I love it. We used big shells. I dont know what kind though, but they worked just as great.
This looks fun. I wonder if it would work with acorns? We don't have any horse-chestnuts around i don't think.
Kiteman (author)  LuminousObject5 years ago
Acorns were used before horse chestnuts, so give it a try.
bumpus5 years ago
Neato!
BIG FAT KNOT. :D
AndyGadget5 years ago
Ooooooh, this brings back lots of memories.
You've forgotten to mention the hard-hat, goggles, rhino-hide gloves, hardened chest-plate and steel toe-cap boots which some organisations seem to think is required to play the game today.

One of those little tidbits which I remembered from a chemistry lesson all those years ago is that conkers contain saponin - a foaming agent.  When my sons came to do the standard GCSE geography project of making a volcano and having it erupt, I suggested they grind up a couple of conkers which I found in a drawer and mix it with the sodium bicarbonate before adding the vinegar.  Guess whose eruptions were the best :¬)
That'd make a good ible :D
Jayefuu5 years ago
Nice. I used to love conkers. Some good pictures too!

I'm suprised you're still allowed to play it with cubs though, I guess so long as no one gets hurt they don't ban it.
Kiteman (author)  Jayefuu5 years ago
The HSE ban was always a myth.
Jayefuu Kiteman5 years ago
Ahhhh. Bring on the fun!
lemonie5 years ago
Nice seasonal job - I've got a few myself so maybe I should string them

L