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darts

darts evolved from throwing spears or shooting arrows. Hand arrows were a useful weapon, known as ‘dartes’, and this was one of the few games that medieval and early modern governments did not feel obliged to prohibit. It is possible that the modern dartboard developed from the cross-section of a tree trunk, brought indoors for practice. There were of course many local variations, including the use of blowpipes. The standard clock-face became established in the late 19th cent., and paper flights to fit the darts were patented in 1898. In 1908 a court action at Leeds held that darts was a game of skill rather than chance and could therefore be played in pubs, without offending the laws against gambling. In the 20th cent., two world wars (with much killing of time) followed by the spread of television helped to popularize the game, which has been controlled in Britain by the National Darts Association since 1953.

Nicholas J. Bryars

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darts

darts Indoor target game developed in 15th-century England. Three weighted, metal-pointed darts are thrown at a board 2.4m (8ft) away. The standard board divides into 20 even wedges, with a triple scoring band in the middle and a double scoring band on the outside, fanning out from two small circles in the centre (the bull, worth 50 points, and around it the ‘25’). Starting with a certain number of points (usually 501), the object is to reach zero, finishing with a ‘double’.

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Darts

DARTS

The game of darts is primarily a twentieth-century phenomenon, but its history goes back at least to the Middle Ages in Europe (and perhaps as far back as the Roman Empire), developing out of military training and soldiers' games. In the Middle Ages, English archers used thrown missile weapons called "dartes" during close combat. When not fighting, such weighted hand-arrows, small spears, and cut-down arrows were thrown at archery targets or cross-sections of tree trunks for competitive recreation. The naturally occurring tree rings proved perfect for scoring, and there is even evidence that the radial cracks that appeared as the wood dried eventually became the radial lines of the modern dart board. The size of the dart itself diminished as the game spread from soldiers to commoners and even to the nobility. It is believed that the Pilgrims played darts aboard the Mayflower, using the butt of a wine barrel as a target. For the rest of the dart-playing world, the game was introduced largely by soldiers of the British Empire, who threw darts in military clubs and bars set up for their recreation. However, not until 1908, during one of the most celebrated cases of "sport law," did the game gain acceptance by the general public.

Darts in America

The vast majority of people in the United States (and around the world) play the British-style game. Notwithstanding the Pilgrims' fondness for darts, for Americans the game first became popular among U.S. military personnel stationed in England or serving in close proximity to British troops during World War II. So while there is an American-style darts game, it did not pass down through American history from the Pilgrim settlers, but in fact developed alongside, and around the same time as, the modern British game. The growth of dart throwing among military personnel stationed abroad continued during the Cold War. Veterans of the Korean War and those of the Vietnam War have stated they "learned their darts" during service in those conflicts.

However, in America itself, the British darts game remained largely the province of English and Irish expatriates in the northeast United States, especially in and around Boston. While British-style dartboards could be found in Veterans of Foreign Wars clubs and American Legion posts, it was not until the 1960s that the game began to appear in more public places, particularly bars, and especially English-style pubs. Still, by 1969, there were fewer than 1 million darts shooters in the United States. In the 1970s, though, the game's popularity would explode so that by 1976 a reported 4 million Americans were shooting darts. In 1988, the National Sporting Goods Association estimated there were 17.8 million darts shooters. In the early 2000s, millions more played in the more than 100 national and regional darts leagues and associations around the country.

British Darts

The British-style game is played on boards of either fifteen or eighteen inches diameter. The round boards are generally made of elm, sisal-fiber, or cork. The face is split into twenty numbered and equally sized wedges. At center there are two rings known as the bull's-eye; the outer ring is worth twenty-five points and the inner, or "double bull" is worth fifty points. There are two narrow bands that circle the board, one along the edge of the gameface, the other halfway between the edge and the center, which double and triple respectively the value of the wedges they pass through. The board is hung five feet, eight inches from the floor to the bull's-eye. The shooting line, known both as the "hockey" and the "oche," is marked at either seven feet, ten inches; eight feet; eight feet, six inches; or nine feet from the wall. Most British-style games are based on beginning with a high number and shooting points until one person reaches exactly zero. Common starting scores are 1001, 501, and 301. Most competition-level games require a shooter to hit a double both before scoring can begin and in order to "zero out." As a result of the constant planning, the looking several throws ahead, and the shifting of scoring patterns, many shooters of the British game compare it to chess.

The British-style dart itself became more or less standardized as the game became a general pastime, but as shooters continue to look for the ideal combination of weight and balance, the dart itself continues to develop. Darts measure no more than six inches and weigh between nineteen and twenty-eight grams. Early darts had a four-inch wood barrel with a pointed steel tip in one end and a flight of feathers on the other. In 1898, an American patented a folded-paper flight. In the early twentieth century, flights were usually plastic and decorated with color patterns, illustrations, and designs. An all-metal barrel was patented in England in 1906; by the 1940s, copper and brass darts were standard. In the 1970s, lighter metals and alloys such as nickel, aluminum and tungsten became popular among serious shooters.

American Darts

American-style games and boards originated around the same time as the modern British-style games and boards, during the years following the Civil War. Nearly all forms of American-style darts games are a variation of "baseball darts." The two main variants of American-style games are based on the boards on which they are played. The Philadelphia-style board is numbered exactly as the British board, but the tripling ring is located much closer to the gameface's perimeter, near the doubling ring. Also, the numbers one through nine are generally distinguished in some way as the scoring sectors. Shooters each shoot nine rounds of three darts at the nine sectors, scoring a single, double, or triple based on the ring they hit. The highest possible score each inning is three triples (there being no home runs), and the bull's-eye being worth zero. Philadelphia darts was developed by coalminers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and by unskilled and blue-collar workers in and around Philadelphia itself—the center of American-style darts. The first darts equipment manufacturer, the Dart Board Equipment Company (DECO), was founded in Philadelphia, as were two other of the oldest darts companies in the United States. Founded in 1912, Apex Manufacturing continued in operation in the early 2000s, as did the Widdy Dart Board Company, which was founded in 1908, but did not begin manufacturing dart-boards and darts until 1930.

The Albany-style board has only the double ring, altogether leaving out the triple ring. As with Philadelphia darts, scoring is only possible in the numbers one through nine, but in Albany darts, the scores are one point for shooting in the single band and two points for shooting in the double. Missing the numbered sector or placing a dart in the bull's-eye scores zero points. There is evidence that the Albany-style game developed from the darts games played by Irish immigrants who dug and later ran barges on the Erie Canal. Another style of American dart-board does not use wedges and rings at all, but uses a baseball field's diamond pattern, and zones for hits, scores, strikes, and outs.

American-style dartboards are usually made of blocks of soft basswood joined together. American-style darts, or "widdies," are made of wood, with a longer and sharper tip weighted with lead, and use turkey feathers for flights. Philadelphia darts measure six inches, but Albany darts games are played with Apex No. 2 darts, which measure seven and one-quarter inches and can have as many as four flights. In both variants, the board is hung five feet, three inches from the bull to the floor while the distance from the wall to the hockey is seven feet, three inches.

1990s to the Present

Darts became big business in the 1990s, as plastic-tipped electronic darts machines became hugely popular after computerization produced more accurate scoring systems and microprocessors enabled multiple game choices and scoring systems. By 1994, as many as 250,000 electronic darts machines were in place around the country. Backed by corporate sponsors such as Anheuser Busch, darts promoters and large darts groups such as the American Darts Organization (ADO) and the American Darters Association (ADA, founded 1991) sponsored national tournaments drawing thousands of shooters competing for cash prizes in the hundreds of thousands. Since the year 2000, however, the sport of darts declined as a money- and crowd-generating pastime. Lawsuits among the manufacturers of electronic machines hampered or cut into the efforts to maintain and grow darts leagues. Continuing efforts for acceptance of darts as an Olympic sport continued to meet no success, as questions remained as to whether darts was a true sport or more simply a pastime. Still, even in the face of such a downturn, regional and national leagues continued to draw shooters and to host events. Darts clubs existed in every branch of the U.S. military, and darts continued to be very popular in the bars and pubs where the modern game originated in the first place.

See also: Bars; Board Games; Computer/Video Games

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carey, Chris. The American Darts Organization Book of Darts. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1993.

Hady, Edmund. The American and English Dart Game, Including Tournament Rules. Ashley, Pa.: Mayflower Grahpics, 1973.

McClintock, Jack. The Book of Darts. New York: Random House, 1977.

Peek, Dan William. To the Point: The Story of Darts in America: Including a History of the Sport in Great Britain and Ireland. Columbia, Mo.: Pebble Publishing, 2001.

Rees, Leighton. On Darts. New York: Atheneum, 1980.

Turner, Keith. Darts. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

Robert Arlt

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