Everything You Need to Know to Watch Curling at the 2018 Winter Olympics
Curling is one of life's great mysteries. Of the little more than a dozen sports included in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, it's the one that every knows they know nothing about. You also probably have no idea what's involved in biathlon, but there's something about watching adults aggressively brush ice that boggles the mind.
But no more. Today you're going to learn exactly what this game is, how to play it, how to watch it, and who to watch out for, because that's what the Winter Olympics are all about: coming together to celebrate those sports that aren't in the summer Olympics, sports that we don't really understand but are excited about anyway.
What is curling, anyway?
Curling is one of the world's oldest team sports, invented in 16th-century Scotland and played on frozen ponds, but it was only added to the Olympics in 1998. Two teams of four players play on a sheet of ice and slide a 38- to 44-pound rock called a stone across the ice toward a target (called the house) and get as close to its center (the button) as possible.
It's honestly a lot like cornhole -- except that as the stone slides across the ice two sweeps stay abreast of it and vigorously brush just in front of it to control the amount friction and thus how far it glides. The person who slides the stone is called the thrower. The skipper, aka captain or skip, stands by the house and sets the strategy for the team, often by tapping the spot for the thrower to aim. A typical Olympic game lasts two hours and forty minutes. So, yes, it's long. Curling is called "Chess on ice" because of the insane amount of strategy involved, and each team is given 38 minutes just for strategy time per game.
How points work and other scoring rules
To score points, you must land your stone closer to the button than the opponent's stone. The different colors of the house are only to make it clearer where a stone lands; points only come relative to your opponent's stones. But only stones that settle inside the house count. Only one team can score per end, but it's possible to score two points or more if you have two stones closer to the button than your opponents stone, etc. The team that loses the round holds "hammer" (has the last shot) on the next round, which is the stronger position because you can knock their stones out of the way.
Sweeping in curling, explained
This is probably what you picture when you ponder the mysteries of curling: adults with brushes on ice attacking nothing in particular with great resolve. But this isn't as insane as it looks. These sweepers are monitoring the amount of friction that 44-pound rock is undergoing as it slides to the house. If they need it to go farther, they sweep faster. If it looks like it's going too far, they'll slow down. They can also decrease the amount of "curl" on the stone, aka how much it rotates and how much its trajectory curves. Finally, they may be literally sweeping debris from the stone's path. It actually kind of makes sense, right?
How many ends are in Olympic curling?
Ends are are a lot like innings in baseball. There are ten ends, with eight stones per team per round. Who holds hammer (has the last shot) by the previous end, with the team that didn't score holding hammer. The totals from the ends are added up at the end of the game, and the team with the highest score wins -- not unlike a parallel universe's bizarre, icy version of baseball.
When’s the last time an American won in curling?
America's only Olympic medal in curling was won back in 2006 at the Turin Games. The team won bronze with John Shuster as skip. He'll be skip for Team USA again this year, so we might have a shot at the podium.
2018 Olympic curling events and when to watch them
The first curling event happens on February 8 before the opening ceremony, then the matches continue until February 25. Because the extreme time difference, however, the first match will be at 7pm EST on February 7, and the last will be at 7pm EST on February 24. Head to the PyeongChang website for the full schedule. The two biggest matches actually airing at a reasonable hour are the Mixed doubles gold medal on February 13 from 5 to 8pm on CNBC and the women's gold medal on February 24 from 7pm to 10:30pm on NCBSN.
Jennifer Jones, Eve Muirhead, and other curlers to look out for
Skips tend to get most attention in this sport. They are, after all the brains behind the operation. Canadian Jennifer Jones was skip of the first women's curling team to go undefeated in Olympic competition at Sochi 2014. She was also the top skip of that tournament and curled at 86%. British Eve Muirhead is another one to watch this her third Winter Games. At Sochi 2014 she became the youngest skip ever to win a Winter Olympics medal when she led Team GB to a bronze medal at just 23. Finally, you should know that aforementioned American John Shuster. As the one person ever to get the USA to the podium in curling, he surely deserves a place US history, albeit a small one. This will be his fourth Winter Games, with the highlight obviously being his 2006 bronze win. Since then there's been no such luck, but fingers crossed.