an (imperfect) zork


The Official FAQ of the Sport

a goal on a zork court
Q: Why is it called Zorkball? I mean, there's no ball in the game. The crushed aluminum can isn't a ball. It's not even called a a zorkball -- it's just called a zork. So why is the game called Zorkball?
A: Just because.
Q: So let me understand. You can handle the zork outside the hez, but inside it's like soccer, no hands?
A: Correct. However, although you can handle the zork outside the hez, you may not move with it. If holding the zork in your hand, you must remain stationary. You may either throw it (to or towards your teammate) or drop it to the ground and begin kicking it, but you may not run with it.
Q: Can you throw it by hand from outside the hez so it hits the post and scores?
A: Yes, but the chance of actually hitting the pole is pretty slim. Most points are scored by short-range kicks from within the hez. Occasionally a chipzorker gets lucky and hits the post or the sign. Throws by hand that score points are the exception, not the rule.
Q: And what's this chipzork business? What is out of bounds?
A: These two questions are related, so I'll answer them together. The court (upon which the signpost is found) is grass, but the grass abuts a sidewalk with curb into a street or parking lot. When the zork leaves the grass (i.e., goes into the street or parking lot), the opposition (the team that did not cause it to go out of bounds) is awarded a chipzork. In the early days of the game, whichever team happened to be the team to first yell "Chipzork!" was awarded the right to run after the zork and chip it back into play. However, this was changed to award the chip to the team not causing it to go out of bounds. There is sometimes a question as to who caused it to go out, though. In those cases, the chip is awarded to the trailing team or (if a tie) the team which had not last restarted the zork after a score or at the gamestart.

A chipzork is performed by placing the zork on the slope of the curb and then kicking it back into the field of play. Being on the curb when kicked gives the zork an upward loft unachievable by any kick off of grass. During a chipzork, the opposition must be on grass (may not be on the sidewalk) and may not make contact with the zork in flight with their hands. That is, unless you can jump and throw your body at it, the zork must be allowed to follow its trajectory off the curb. You can't swat at it.

Q: After a score, how is play restarted?
A: After each point is awarded, the opposition takes the zork in hand and starts to play it at some distance away way outside the hez.
Q: Do you play through a foul? Or is play restarted somehow?
A: All fouls immediately stop play and award a point to the opposition. Play is then restarted.
Q: Can you use other kinds of cans besides Dr Pepper? Is Diet DP OK?
A: Well, of course, a can is a can is a can. But to create the perfect zork requires the perfect stomp. If you aren't right on-center the zork won't be symmetrical. Another problem is that sometimes the can when stomped will tear and reveal pointy shards of aluminum that can be painful. The preference for Dr. Pepper cans grew out of a combination of subjective and objective data. We found that the darker colored cans (Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, 7-Up) seemed to hold up better and not produce as much sharding and that they also seemed to stay more rigid during the stomp, leading to a more symmetrical end-product. In contrast, lighter colored cans (Pepsi, Diet 7-Up, Diet Dr. Pepper) tended to shard more and produce off-kilter zorks, almost as if they were made of thinner aluminum. It was unfortunately a common occurrence that a good zork would be inadvertantly misplaced and a new zork would have to be produced from whatever trash we could find laying around. And if a zork were produced that was not symmetrical, as would often happen, we would immediately hunt for another candidate. We never played with anything but a perfect, puck-like, zork. So, whether the above conclusions regarding dark colored cans making better zorks are scientifically valid or not, they did seem to us to hold, and thus the best zorks we ever had were made from coke and Dr. Pepper cans. And the best zorks were not left on the field when the bell rang, at risk of loss. Which means that we would re-use said zorks. Thus it came to pass that the zorks used most often and to which we grew most attached were former Dr. Pepper cans. So this brand preference got put into the rules.
Q: Can you, as it were, catch a pass while running, if you stop as soon as is reasonably possible? Or does even one step with zork in hand constitute Walking?
A: Yes to both counts. It's a judgement call, but in theory, as soon as both feet hit the ground after catching it, you cannot move. No, this should not be taken to mean that you can hop with the zork, though.
Q: How about batting the zork with your hand? Can you run along, knocking it up in the air when it comes down?
A: Yes, you can do this. So you can "dribble" the zork by tossing it to yourself and running to catch it.
Q: So the hez is a semicircle, bounded by the edge of the sidewalk?
A: Zork courts can be of any configuration. Here is a rough drawing of the original court:

We original players always felt cheated that only one side of the court had a sidewalk with a chipping curb. It was also a pity that the pole wasn't situated in the center of a big circle, which would have allowed us a hez that is a full circle, rather than a semi-circle. One ideal zorkball court would be a big circle of curbed sidewalk, centered within which is a hez whose own centerpiece is the goalpost, which has a big globe on the top instead of a sign, with the globe being in play for point awards during chips.

The original court (roughly shown above) was actually not square at all, but more pie-shaped, with the point of the triangle being at the bottom, and the top being rounded (the traffic lane is slightly curved). Such a pie-shaped (triangular) piece of land would work fine, with the restart area being at the point of the triangle and all three sides of the "pie" providing chipping areas.

Q: Can you play this game in a place where there's not a sloping edge to the walk?
A: I'm sure you could. For chipping from out of bounds, some other something could be used to give the zork its loft. For instance, a piece of plywood could be set down and propped up to give a slight angle (ramp) for the zork to fly off of.
Q: Is the playing field of conceptually infinite extent on the non-sidewalk side?
A: No. As shown above, it was possible to go out of bounds on three of the four sides, and the other boundary kept the zork in play at all times because of the presence of a big building.
Q: I'm curious. Why is two-handing a foul?
A: Ah! I was wondering when you would ask this. The reason is because the play in and around the post is a constant jockeying for position. You want to be the one with your feet closest to the post when your teammate (or the opposition) gets the zork and tosses it in close. When that happens, of course, the feet closest to the post battle it out to be the ones to cause the zork to clang. So we found that one could gain a strong advantage by getting to the post and holding onto it for dear life. This was nicely countered by the two-handing rule, which made it very possible to knock a player off his primo position, but which preserved the fun of those battles for the "pole position."
Q: It seems you can presumably do something like an basketball stuff, where you leap toward the pole, catching a pass in midair and clanging it onto the pole as you go. Is this true?
A: It is. This is known, in zorkball parlance, as the "flying fool" attack. The extent of the hez was large enough, though, so that the best you could do was get yourself closer to the pole for a slightly more accurate toss. You could not leap all the way from outside the hez to the pole. Also, the reason it is called "flying fool" is because it is quite subject to the opposition player(s) within the hez having something to do with where and how you end up landing.
Q: How fast can the opposition count when counting to ten for a delay call?
A: Not unreasonably fast, but otherwise as fast as they want to. Roughly once a second is the standing rule, but double-time counts were okay, too, when penalizing zork-holders.
Q: Is it legal to delay by deliberately kicking the zork a long way from the pole inbounds?
A: Yes, but the court is usually not so large that this would actually cause any great delay. If a large field is used, this should indeed be delay, as follows: anytime a team that has not last contacted the zork feels like counting, the other team is forced to reach the zork before ten is counted or suffer a point penalty.
Q: How about by standing on it? Just mucking around with it with your feet and not letting the opponents get control?
A: Funny you should ask. The original zorkball resembled soccer and you gained a free kick by stepping on the zork and covering it to prevent it being kicked by anyone else. But later, the game was reinvented, and it was actually made illegal to cover the zork by standing on it (it constitutes grounds for beginning a delay count). You could, however, "muck around" with it, as you say. Your opponents, though, will invariably stick their feet in and "help" you muck so it didn't succeed very often to delay that way. The best delaying tactic was to throw the zork back and forth, playing "keep away" from the opposition. Because of the handzork rule, though, this requires both players to be outside the hez, so as soon as an interception is made, chances are one of the opponents is inside the hez waiting for a toss from his teammate to land on the ground next to the pole for an easy kick to the post.
Q: How much bodily contact short of Eastwooding is allowed?
A: Quite a bit, actually. Especially up against the pole. Eastwooding is very strictly defined as contact involving an embrace or a push to the ground or a use of a specifically heinous kind of footwear known as hiking boots. Pushes to gain position, body checks, etc., are just fine. Dan (Eastwood, after whom the rule is named) used a lapse in the early rules to physically grab an opposition player in a bear hug and tell his teammate to play one-on-one. This is the essence of Eastwooding: actual restraint from play. Knocking out of position is a big part of the game.
Q: Don't your hands tend to get cut up a lot playing zorkball? Or did you have zorkball gloves?
A: No, your hands didn't get cut up. A properly constructed zork has no sharp edges. As I said, Dr. Pepper cans seemed to have the greatest resiliency and would crush into nice round curves. They were actually very smooth all around.

Gloves are certainly not forbidden. Given the weather of the city where the game was invented, I imagine we did wear gloves often, actually, but I don't recall.

Also, because of the walking rule, the zork actually is held in the hands much less than you might think. There is the occasional handpass to a stationary opponent, who then waits for you to take a new position and toss it back to you ("give and go") but there is great risk of interception since you can't usually toss to a moving target, so most of the plays made by hand are tosses to a vacant part of the ground within the hez to which your teammate is breaking.

Q: When the zork is in action near the pole, don't you have situations in which both teams claim to have scored? What then? Jump zork? Pistols at twenty paces?
A: Yes, there are such instances. However, they were not as frequent as you might think. I would even say rare, which might be a bit of an overstatement. The rule in case of arguable credit for a point is that no point is awarded and the team that had not most recently restarted the zork (by taking it at some distance away from the post) does so. The employment of professional referees and television instant replay will make such issues relics of the game's lost past.

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