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5 favorite summer backyard games

By Joshua Nichols, Staff writer
Published On: Apr 10 2012 02:08:41 PM CDT
Updated On: May 29 2013 09:33:13 AM CDT
grass lawn and white picket fence gate

Shune Pottier/SXC

It's summertime and the living is easy. In fact, you can almost hear the backyard calling your name.

Sure, you could just sit back there and watch the world go by, but what fun is that? Stock the cooler with ice, call some friends and turn relaxing into a competition.

From the time there first was a backyard, there have been backyard games. Whether it's something as simple as tossing the Frisbee around or something as foolish -- and fun -- as Jarts (Remember those? What were we thinking?), it seems we just can't relax without making a game out of it.

But when you have so many choices for your recreation options, how can you possibly be expected to choose? That's where we come in.

So grab your favorite cold beverage, slap on the sunscreen and join us for a look at the five best summer backyard games.

Up first, what's better than badminton?

Volleyball net in backyard

No. 5: Volleyball

Isn't it just the American way to take something British and make it even better? Things like liberty, "The Office" and badminton.

Don't get us wrong; badminton, a sport invented nearly 300 years ago in British India and popularized in England, was fun enough -- as long as you could master serving the shuttlecock while not giggling at the word shuttlecock.

But then, in 1895, a Holyoke, Mass., YMCA physical education director looked at that badminton net and said, "Ditch the racquets and somebody bring me a ball."

The resulting sport was called "mintonette" but soon came to resemble the sport we play in backyards, high school gyms, beaches and even sand-covered bar parking lots today.

Just something to think the next time you spike the ball while Kenny Loggins' "Playing with the Boys" blares in the background.

Now remind us, close only counts in ... what?

horseshoes in pit

No. 4: Horseshoes

While there have been many variations -- and even some improvements -- on the classic backyard game of horseshoes over the years, the original still remains as American as it gets.

OK, so the sport actually has its roots thousands of years ago in Greece, but it was actually soldiers tossing mule shoes in Union Camps during the Civil War that gave birth to the backyard sport we know today.

What makes horseshoes so great is that, unlike many other sports, you don't have to be perfect to score, hence the "horseshoes and hand grenades" saying. Oh, and you can also play while holding a can or bottle of your favorite beverage in one hand.

And, honestly, is there really any other measure of a great backyard game that matters as much?

Horseshoes are great, but do you really want to bring people together?

bocce balls

No. 3: Bocce ball

Bocce, like most of the games on our list, has evolved over a long period of time. Originally played in Ancient Rome, the sport found a country to love it in Italy.

And, really, has there ever been a better matchup, apart from peanut butter and jelly?

In Italy, bocce found not only the name it's widely known by to this day, but also its true character. Even with the occasional point of the game being to knock out your opponent's bocce, violently denying them victory, the game has a relaxed, social feeling to it.

Seriously, as you toss the bocce around the backyard, you can't help escape the feeling you should be sipping a strong shot of espresso between turns.

If you want a game that involves everyone, regardless of age or ability, it's hard to go wrong when you bust out the backyard bocces.

That's great, but what if we add some hammers?

girl playing croquet

No. 2: Croquet

Croquet may bring to mind images of tea and crumpets or "Alice in Wonderland," but what's not to love about a sport involving mallets?

While the supposed point of the game is to be the first one to knock your wooden ball through all the hoops, everybody knows the real thrill of croquet is when your ball hits an opponent's ball.

That's because you then get the choice of either planting your ball against your opponent's and smashing it clear into the neighbor's yard or -- and, who are we kidding, nobody ever chooses the "or" -- taking two free shots.

If you ever played this game growing up, you know that actually playing by the rules soon became secondary to sending croquet balls flying in any and all directions.

There's just something so vicious, and personal, about the game that belies its starched, proper British upbringing, making it perfect for some backyard fun.

Last up, ask yourself, how do you improve on a classic?

ladder ball in parking lot

No. 1: Ladder ball

Somebody somewhere once took a look at horseshoes and thought to him or herself, "I can do better."

And that's exactly what they did.

Whether you call it ladder ball, ladder golf, ladder toss or even redneck horseshoes, the game involves tossing bolas, two balls joined by a string, at a three-rung "ladder" constructed of PVC pipe. Points are scored by getting the rope to wrap around one of the rungs.

But, wait, there's more. Standard ladder ball etiquette -- or at least the way we play it -- encourages you to make as many distracting remarks, sounds and/or movements possible in the name of throwing your opponent off his or her game.

It's no wonder the game has caught on despite easily being the newest on our list. From summer barbecues and picnics to tailgating parties, ladder toss has become the ultimate backyard game.

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