MIDDLEBURY — In the cold depths of winter, people have long turned to indoor pastimes. But recently, two traditional Canadian games have made a steady rise in popularity on this side of the northern border, right here in Vermont — say hello to “Crokinole” and “Pitchnut.”
Both are tabletop wooden board games that resemble something between pool and shuffleboard. In Crokinole, players shoot wooden coins to a central hole guarded by a ring of pegs, and game-play is similar to bocce. Pitchnut more closely resembles billiards, in which coins must be sunk in any of four corner pockets.
In Ontario each June, the World Championship of Crokinole is taken quite seriously. Some believe that Addison County residents aren’t quite ready to compete for that kind of event. But Benjamin Meader has organized the first Addison County Croki-Nut Day, which will give locals a chance to brush up their skills in these two tabletop amusements.
The day is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19, at Lincoln Peak Vineyard on River Road in New Haven. Organizers hope to introduce new people to the game and will host a friendly competition in the afternoon. Meader said participants are expected from as far away as Montreal, Maine and Massachusetts.
The games developed a little over a century ago — Crokinole in Ontario, Pitchnut (which is spelled “Pichenotte” in Quebecois French) in southern Quebec — but both have enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade.
Crokinole is already played extensively by Canadians from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, Meader said.
“But it took Massachusetts boardmaker Lee Larcheveque to revive the game of Pitchnut from his own grandfather’s sleepy hometown in southern Quebec,” he said. “The number of players for Pitchnut is on the rise in the Northeast, Larcheveque has sold 100 boards to date; and both games are as addictive as they are easy to learn.”
Meader, who works as a GIS instructor at Middlebury College, grew up inventing different types of games.
“I think it specifically started when the movie ‘Jumanji’ came out — my imagination has always run wild with them,” he said. “By the time I was in high school I’d built five or six board games and made up a few dice and card games, only two of which we ever really played as a family.”
He said he got into Crokinole about a decade ago during middle school in Maine when he and his sister ran across a strange looking board in their nana’s attic.
“She said a family friend had made her board and they used to play with some folks up the road,” he said. “She knew the game was Canadian but not much else.”
As a student at Middlebury College, Meader continued his game-making habits. He invented a hexagon-shaped game board called Hyrojasan with a community of friends. The game borrowed from Crokinole and a variety of other inspirations. He also sought to research the Indian game of Carrom, the supposed ancestor of all of these types of tabletop “flicking” games. In his research he came across Pitchnut.
His interest in Crokinole and Pitchnut continues unabated.
“They’re both great games, but are really just a part of a larger history of folk-games,” Meader said. “Like ‘skittles,’ ‘horseshoes,’ ‘cornhole,’ ‘bocce’ and ‘candlepin bowling’ they have no one nameable inventor because most great games have no one author, and are handed down person to person. Rules differ from place to place because people always shape games into what they like.
“I hope Addison County gets excited about being a part of this living history.”
The entrance fee for Croki-Nut Day is $5 in advance and $8 at the door. Advanced registration is strongly encouraged by emailing Meader at [email protected]. More information is at www.lincolnpeakvineyard.com/events.php.