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Daily Mail, October 15, 1994
HOW TO...; Play Conkers
BY: TIM BROOKE-TAYLOR
ALWAYS pick your conker off a tree; never pick one up off the ground - that's only for sissies. When you spot a likely conker in the tree, get a piece of wood, reach into the tree and knock it down. Don't climb the tree - that's too dangerous. When I was a conker-playing 11-year old, we were very competitive about our conker trees. The aim was to find a really good tree that no one else knew about. It was very upsetting when another boy discovered a tree you thought only you knew.
Look for a medium-sized conker - a conker that's too big will be an easy target for your opponent. Using a kitchen skewer, put a hole through the heart of the conker, then thread a piece of string through the hole, tieing it at the unshiny end of the conker.
Don't play your new conker immediately - it'll be too soft. I used to cheat by baking them in the oven for five minutes to make them really tough. To disguise the crime, varnish the outside to make the coat as shiny as a brand new conker. You can also toughen them up by pickling them in vinegar, although I never did this. I suspect really clever people pickled their conkers, then baked them. I think almost everyone cheats, but it's impossible to prove. The person with the 'superior' conker always starts the game as the attacker. A superior conker is one which has beaten other conkers. So if your conker is new and you beat a conker with four wins on it already, your conker's score goes up to four. Then if you beat a conker with nine points on it, your conker is worth 13. My record prize fighter of a conker was a 1,400-er. If you are the attacker, hold the string in your right hand and the conker in your left hand with the string taut in between. Unleash the conker by slamming it down on to your opponent's. I had a special way of sending it sideways to give an arc to the swing, which worked well for me. The idea is to smash the other boy's conker into a thousand million pieces. But too often, the conker comes down on your opponent's knuckles, making it too painful for them to play for long.
Just William is the conker-players' hero, and every schoolboy wants to be like him. But you can play conkers at any age. When my sons were younger, they used to give me a ready-made conker on a string to persuade me to play. But they were cunning and always gave me a weak conker. I never had a chance.