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Play Conkers

by Bryony Harrison (follow)
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conkers, horse chestnuts

Conkers is a traditional British game played by schools children. It used to be popular in the fifties and sixties, but is rarely seen these days. I think that is a shame because it is a form of 'self-made' play, using nature, and is highly entertaining.

Basic gameplay is for two opponents to strike one another's threaded horse chestnuts (known as conkers) until one of them breaks. The winner is the one with the horse chestnut still intact.

There are many ways to improve your chances of winning, but it all comes down to the strength of your conker.

Time: 10 minutes - 1 year, depending on method used.

Horse Chestnuts
Glass of water
Vinegar (optional)
Nail strengthener (optional)
Oven (optional)


The first step is to find the right horse chestnut. During autumn, horse chestnuts will fall from their trees in abundance, so go out and collect as many as you can.

conkers, horse chestnuts
Go out in search of your horse chestnuts

Once you have your collection, it is time to give them a critical eye in order to decide which it best to use. You want one that is big, round, shiny, and undamaged.

conkers, horse chestnuts
These ones are out of shape

conkers, horse chestnuts
These ones are cracked

You then need to perform the sinking test. Some horse chestnuts may look like they will make good conkers, but they might be leading you into a false sense of security. Put your conkers in a glass of water. If they sink, they're good, but if they float, they have lost their density and become full of air, making them weak.

conkers, horse chestnuts
Only the one that sank is any good

Once you have your perfect specimen, there are various ways of making it stronger. The traditional and most honest way is by aging the horse chestnut. As long as you have patience, this is easy. Just store your horse chestnut somewhere safe for a year or so, and it will harden naturally.
If you haven't got any aged horse chestnuts and want to play right away, then there are other methods to speed up the process:

1. Coat your horse chestnut in nail strengthener

conkers, horse chestnuts

2. Soak it in vinegar for about three days

conkers, horse chestnuts, vinegar

3. Grill it in the oven for two - three minutes

conkers, horse chestnuts, vinegar

My recommendation would be a combination of two and three, as it makes it easier to thread the string. To do this, tie a string around the end of a corkscrew.
Using the corkscrew, pierce the horse chestnut to make a hole through it.

conkers, horse chestnuts, vinegar

The string should come out the other end with the corkscrew. Take it off the corkscrew and tie a knot at the bottom to secure it in place.
Find an opponent and take it in turns to whack one another's conkers.

conkers, horse chestnuts, vinegar

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>Coat your horse chestnut in nail strengthener

I did say that ageing is the honest method.
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