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Friday, July 8, 2011

Math Secrets in Sports: Pitching Horseshoes

This week in the Excel Math Blog we are revealing inside mathematical secrets of popular, challenging-to-score sports. After dealing with tennis, bowling, and archery we have come to pitching horseshoes. If you participate in this activity, you will need to learn the rules and you may have to brush up on the math you learned in elementary school (possibly using our Excel Math curriculum).

Have you ever just barely missed a goal, a basket, or sinking a putt? You spun around in reaction, shouting "but I was so close!" And some wiseguy said, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades!" If so, here's your chance to find out what they mean - for in very few sports do you get a score for missing the target.

Horseshoes is an activity where 2 competitors on a 50-foot court pitch (throw) horseshoes at a 14 inch-tall metal stake 40 feet away in the middle of a sand pit. Here's a diagram:

Horseshoe events are divided into innings. Typically, 4 horseshoes are thrown per inning, 2 by each competitor. Both of your shoes must be thrown within 30 seconds, using the same hand. In most games, the person whose shoes are closest to the stake scores, and the other player gets no score in that inning.

Pitched shoes 

After all shoes in an inning are pitched, they are ruled either live shoes or dead shoes. A live shoe has been legally thrown and ended up in the pit area. A dead shoe was thrown illegally and/or ended up outside the pit, or was cancelled by an opponent's ringer.

A ringer is a live shoe circling the stake. A straightedge across the open end of the shoe must not touch the stake in order for it to be ruled a ringer. A ringer is worth 3 points.

Leaners or Close 
A live shoe that is not a ringer, but is resting 6 inches or closer to the stake (including leaning on the stake) has a value of 1 point.

Out of Count
A shoe resting more than 6 inches from the stake is out of count and has no value. A foul or dead shoe is out of count, no matter where it comes to rest. Foul or dead shoes should be removed before the next shoe is thrown. These infractions cause a foul shoe:
  • stepping over the line while throwing
  • not throwing within the time limit
  • throwing with the opposite arm
  • hitting an fixed object outside the court like fence, post, etc.
  • a shoe that breaks when hitting the stake is a foul
  • a shoe broken by another shoe striking it is not a foul and is scored where it lies 
  • a shoe hitting a moving object (falling leaves, person, etc.) is not a foul and can be rethrown
Horseshoes are normally made of forged or cast steel or iron, and must weigh no more than 40 ounces (1134gm). The opening may not be wider than 3 1/2 inches. They are thrown so they rotate in flight. Here's a site with a wide selection or horseshoes.

Players can buy special tools to remove sharp edges from horseshoes, to verify ringers, to lift mucky shoes, and to measure the distance from the stake.

If you like horseshoes, you may want to visit the National Horseshoe Pitcher's Association website. The 2011 World Championships will be held in Monroe, LA next week.

NHPA claims that around 15 million enthusiasts in North America are pitching horseshoes, because it's one of a few inexpensive, back-yard-friendly sporting activities.

A couple years ago, Alan Francis from Ohio went 19-0 in the championship horseshoe finals, setting a world record of 917 ringers out of 1,016 shoes pitched! Alan has won the world championships 16 times, and as of this week, is hitting 90% ringers in competition!  You can look at his recent scores here.

Joan Elmore from Tennessee has been the ladies champion 4 times, and is throwing about 84% this year.

Competition averages are calculated like this: Total ringers pitched are divided by total shoes pitched and the result is multiplied by 100 and calculated to 2 places past the decimal point (not rounded off like I did above).

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