At first, I fully expected the guy at the hardware store to ask me if I was a magician. I’d asked him to cut me off two stubby sections of four-inch PVC pipe, and told him to point me toward the nut-and-bolt aisle. “I’ll be right back,” I said. “I need to get a handful of two-and-a-half inch flat washers.” Then I walked away, rattling a can of OSHA orange spray paint, and I heard his mutter of recognition:
Yup. It’s the sport that’s sweeping the nation. Or at least my backyard. In some circles it’s known as Trailer Park Washers, or simply, Washers. Half horseshoes, half ring toss, and one-third alcoholism, Texas Washers is the perfect summer pastime for people who dig any outdoor game they can play with a beer in their hand and some trash talk on their lips.
The premise is so simple, it’s practically criminal. Two holes are sunk into the grass, twenty-five feet apart. You and your opponent take turns, horseshoe-style, trying to throw your washer into the hole. Closest to the hole gets a point. In the hole—three points. Honestly, it could not be more simple.
And yet, it can be insanely hilarious. The game of Texas Washers is apparently considered an offshoot of Cornhole, a beanbag toss involving a hole in a flat wooden box and a corn-filled bag. There’s even a straight-faced website, http://www.playcornhole.org/rules.shtml
If you’ve played a decent amount of horseshoes in the summer, you’ve probably seen someone get brained by a shoe. It’s inevitable: some joker wanders into the line of fire on his way to the ice chest, and takes some iron to the melon. Next thing you know, he’s hosting a talk show on Fox News and running for president on the Libertarian ticket.
Although the concept is the same, i.e., trying to throw a thing at another thing from a prescribed distance, a diaphragm-sized washer poses a lot less danger than a horseshoe. Or maybe even a beanbag. But you have to know the rules. I mean, if you don’t know a cornhole from a PVC pipe, well, good luck in prison.
Rules for Texas Washers are kind of nebulous on the internet, and standards are soft. The two-and-a-half-inch diameter washer with a one-inch hole seems to be the one constant. My friend Jonathan turned me onto the game, and I was instantly hooked after playing a few rounds at a backyard barbecue at his place this summer. I surprised him when he showed up at my house a few weeks later, and I’d installed a court of my own. One trip to the hardware store with a ten dollar bill was all it took. A post-hole digger is exactly the right diameter (probably no coincidence), and my new obsession was in place in about 15 minutes. There is some discrepancy concerning the official diameter of the holes, however. Jonathan swears by a three-inch hole, a mere half-inch wider than the washers, but my court features gaping chasms of four inches. When he plays at my house, Jonathan likes to joke about tripping and falling into the holes. Ha ha, good luck in prison, I tell him.
While the concept is insanely simple, our natural dude-driven inclination is to overthink it. Some guys put a huge arch on the throw, others zip a shallow fling. Jonathan, an inveterate disc golfer, incorporates a pseudo-Frisbee backhanded spiral, trying to minimize travel of the washer after the bounce. I’ve experimented with a fussy backspin delivery designed to stick the washer where it lands, a la Tiger Woods, pre-Vegas nookie buffet era, but now I just let it slip out of my palm and figure, if it doesn’t plop into the hole, let the projectile land where it may.
Simple, easy, dumb and cheap, Texas Washers may be the ultimate All-American game. It’s designed for the short attention span, it takes little skill and even less brain power, and you can install a court anywhere you can punch a four-inch hole into the ground.
Note to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton: if you want to spread democracy across the globe, you might want to start with a trip to the hardware store.