Saturday, July 19, 2008


So one day Brian, Kyle, and I were in the front yard of our tiny rental house publicly demonstrating our professional-caliber skill at millin’, which is similar to chillin’ but with more movement. Usually the movement is back and forth between the living room and the refrigerator, but today we were taking our act to the people by millin’ on and around our front porch.

Millin’ is like a canon in music. You know, like Row Row Row Your Boat, where one person starts, and then another starts a few bars in, and so on. Each additional element adds a level of richness to the piece that belies the simplicity of each individual part.

Soon the combination of our individual ‘mills’ was a veritable ballet of slouching, whacking the hedge with a piece of wood, and chucking pinecones at FreeVan. It was beautiful. The glorious radiance of our millin’, combined with the low afternoon sun, inspired passing motorists to don their shades as they approached.

As the complexity of our millin’ increased, an amazing thing happened: Kyle, casually swinging his groundscore piece of lumber in the general vicinity of our neighbor’s hedge, happened to catch an errant van-ward pinecone in his sweeping arc.

The pinecone rocketed right into the side of the house, exploded, and a new game was born. There would be no need to find additional activities today.

After using the plank to generously deposite some pinecones around the front yard and into the street, we began launching them over the house into the backyard. The sharing of the plank became tedious, being that there were three of us, so we figured we needed to get some reinforcements. Fortunately, we had a pile of scrap wood in the backyard, and we had also, conveniently, just relocated some pinecones back there anyway.

We each chose a plank that suited our fancies and weren’t covered in spiders or anything. One of them was a No Parking sign we had stolen from outside the bar down the street. We found some of the pinecones we had crushed over the house and resumed redistributing them throughout our neighborhood. However, with three planks we ran out of projectiles in, like, two minutes, so we had to go back to the front yard with a bucket to get some more.

Yeah, so that bucket didn’t last very long, so we had to shake the pine tree to get some more pokey brown rockets to blast. At this rate we wouldn’t have ANY pinecones left in 20 minutes or so. We had already investigated alternate sources of projectiles, but rocks were even harder to find than pinecones, and the over-ripe plums from the backyard just kind of exploded over everything in a big sticky mess. We needed to begin a progressive pinecone rationing plan.

Phase one of the pinecone rationing plan was to use just one at a time. I think this is like the diet I read about on the back of a Corn Flakes box where you eat slower so your body realizes it’s getting full sooner. This was also like returning to our pre-three-plank roots of half an hour ago, so I guess there was a nostalgia factor as well.

Phase two involved researching the limited reusability of pinecones. You can whack a pinecone approximately three times before it just kind of becomes a weird moist sawdust lump. We sent a three-person away team to retrieve reusable pinecones from the street and the top of FreeVan.

Phase three involved realizing that we didn’t want to have to hold back three times before uncorking on those helpless little seed pockets. We wanted to launch them now!

Phase four had us realize that hitting pinecones at each other is hilarious.

Phase five brought the discovery that the planks could also be used to shield one from enemy ‘cone fire.

Phase six was sending Brian in to get some Coke. Wailing on stuff is thirsty work.

Phase seven was whacking enemy fire back to the sender.

Phase eight was whacking enemy fire at the other guy who doesn’t expect it. Sucker!

Phase nine was whacking enemy fire at another other guy and having him whack it right back.

Phase ten was sending the pinecone around in a circle and then obliterating it into the neighbor’s yard just as it was becoming a pulpy little blob. Plankball!

The secret to Plankball is being disciplined in your approach. To ensure the pinecone makes it around in a full circle before launch, we had to develop a volley strategy. After several iterations and more Coke and some tortilla chips shaped like little scoops (to hold the salsa in), we ended up with the following system:
  • Players stand in a triangle.

  • Player One “serves” the pinecone toward Player Two with a long narrow plank. This allows him to hold the 'cone in one hand and the plank in the other.

  • Player Two “bumps” the pinecone in a gentle upward arc toward Player Three with a No Parking sign held with both hands. The extra width greatly improves accuracy.

  • Player Three “sets” the seed back toward Player One with a mediumish plank chosen for its lack of spider eggs or earwigs. This is best done with an overhand stroke to project the pinecone in a roughly horizontal trajectory, much like a baseball pitch.

  • Player One then wheels around toward our sketchy neighbor’s backyard and TOTALLY UNLOADS ON THAT GRODY LITTLE LUMP! VICTORY!

You might be thinking “Hey, ‘serve’, ‘bump’, ‘set’... this sounds a lot like volleyball,” and you are right! Plankball is more like volleyball than any other sport. Similarities include:
  1. Both contain the word “ball”, although in Plankball it is not exactly a ball, it is actually a pinecone.
So after we honed our skills at Plankball, we could complete a full volley about 50% of the time. This is like batting .400 in baseball. It is likely that future Plankball players will harp for the days of yesteryear when the pioneers of the sport were Gods rather than mere mortal college students. I predict that the future of Plankball will find standardized plank dimensions, rules against treating planks with gross plum juice, and probably they will use synthetic pinecones. The sport that we love will have sold out.

Also, I think the future of Plankball will find a whole grove of pine trees in our neighborhood in 50 years.

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