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Low-tech game is a hit at Mayfair

Kubb, a popular sport in Sweden, requires wooden batons, good aim.

05/26/01

By WENDY E. SOLOMON
Of The Morning Call

Kubb, a game played by the Vikings and now the hottest game going in Sweden, is being promoted in the United States by a Quakertown company and attracting curious onlookers at the 15th annual Mayfair Festival of the Arts in Allentown.

Kubb, pronounced "koob," is like bowling and horseshoe, except there are no bowling balls or horseshoes involved. But there are wooden batons that players throw at wooden pegs to try to knock them down. That's the essence of the game, tossed in with various rules and strategies to make it interesting. And it's not easy.

In Sweden, adults and children have joined the kubb craze. They play it in parks. They play it in back yards. They walk around with little kubb satchels. No right-thinking adult would visit a friend without making sure the kubb kit is in the car.

"It's real big hit in Sweden," said Ulla Dunkle, who with her husband, Plummer, and two other couples, co-owns Old Time Games Inc. of Quakertown, which makes wooden kubb sets. That is, the Dunkles cut ash and oak pieces in their basement, another couple sands the wood and the third couple stain, package and do the paperwork. They sold out of the game when it premiered at the Leif Erickson Festival in Budd Lake, N.J., last fall.

Dunkle, who is Swedish, hit upon the idea of bringing the game over from her homeland after seeing how popular it had become last summer. "You go out in public parks and there's always someone playing kubb."

"I thought, it's such a good game, why isn't it sold in the U.S.?" said co-owner Paul Thenstedt.

"The unique thing about the game is that a team can be winning one minute and then it can turn around the next minute," Thenstedt said.

Played by the Vikings, kubb may have its origins in Scandinavia or France some 1,000 years ago. Lore has it that young Viking children invented the game when they gathered firewood. The word kubb means log or firewood. Swedes have been playing the game for centuries, particularly on the island of Gotland in southern Sweden, where some 200 teams will compete in the kubb World Cup.

"It's addicting," said Andy Troutman, 17, a Saucon Valley High School junior who had just lost a round against senior Erich Fritchman, 19. Troutman lost when Fritchman knocked over "the king," a wooden peg with a crown in the center of the 20-by-10-foot playing area delineated in a sandlot at Mayfair's recreational corral. "That was a good game. It just might catch on," Troutman said.

The promoters might have an uphill battle winning over American youth obsessed with Gameboy, PlayStation and other electronic games. There are no flashing lights or sound effects, except for the occasional wayward kubb accidently flung at an opposing team member or spectator.

Never pick up a baton from the ground until all of them have been thrown by the opposing team, Dunkle explained to a group of first-graders from Ironton Elementary School. That's because you might get hit in the head, she said. "It won't kill you, but you may get bruised," she said.

Kubb is completely low-tech -- and perhaps that's the joy.

On the Net:

http://oldtimegames.homestead.com/kubb.html

  • Reporter Wendy E. Solomon

    610-820-6780

    wendy.solomon@mcall.com

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