If you don't watch curling, then you're making a huge mistake, because curling is the best sport ever invented. No, really.

Curling is simple to learn, yet intricate. It takes very little athleticism except a deft touch, strong vocal cords, and maid-like sweeping ability.

It's incredibly easy to imagine yourself being the best curler in the world while simultaneously marveling at a perfectly executed raise takeout. Most of all, there is little need for officials or umpires of any kind, a glorious and welcome respite from basically every other major sport.

It is not decided by judges, which automatically makes it better than many other Olympic events.

Since you probably haven't watched curling since the Vancouver games (if at all), here's a quick refresher on how the game works, some basic strategies, and the lingo so you can scare your entire family by spouting complete nonsense.

How It Looks

Curling has an insane amount of jargon, which is part of the reason why it's so awesome. In about three paragraphs, I'm going to be typing complete gibberish, yet you will understand it.

Here's what a curling playing surface (called a sheet) looks like:

curling_sheet
A curling sheet, via Wikimedia Commons

Teams are made up of four players. Each team alternates sliding 42 pound stones (also called rocks because they're made of dense granite) from one end of the sheet to the other, both shooting the same direction.

The thing that looks like a dart board is called the "house" and the bullseye is the "button" (this game is so delightfully homey and non-threatening; the whole premise of the sport is sliding stones slowly). There are a bunch of lines to keep things organized. The line that runs down the center of the sheet from one end to the other is reasonably called the centre line. A stone must stop between the hog line (21 feet in front of the center [sorry, centre] of the house) and the back line (you got this one) to remain in play. The tee line runs through the button perpendicular to the centre line. I imagined it was given this name because it makes a "T" with the centre line. That might not be true, but it makes sense.

The last technical thing you need to know is the free guard zone. On the image above, this is the green-ish highlighted area from the hog line to the teeline, but doesn't include the house. This zone exists because the first four rocks thrown (the term is "thrown" even though nobody throws 42 pound stones at each other) cannot be removed from the free guard zone. If they are hit, the rock is replaced and the shot doesn't count with no redo.

How Scoring Works

There are 10 ends, which are like innings, where each team alternates throwing eight stones each. The object of this flawless game is to have the closest stones to the button when an end finishes.

Scoring is very simple, even though it may sound a bit convoluted at first. You get a point for each stone closer to the button than any of the other team's stones. Only stones inside the house count. So if the Red team has two stones closer to the button than Yellow team's closest stone, Red scores two points. Some basic logic that follows from this: only one team can score per end, but if neither team has a stone in the house, neither team gets points in what is called a blank end.

Strategy

There are three main types of shots: guards, draws and takeouts. Guards block the house. Draws are designed to get around the guards and land in the house. Draws will often have really nifty curls, leading you to believe your high school physics teacher was a dirty liar. Takeouts are hard shots that knock other stones out of play. There are a litany of terms for good throws that accomplish several things at once, such as: double roll-in split, double takeout, draw raise, raise takeout, etc. Just know that Olympic curlers are masters at using stones like billiard balls.

Many tutorials describe curling as a "game of strategy, tactics and skill" which offers no helpful distinction whatsoever. Strategy is curling's most interesting element. Teams have to plot how to get their stones into the house while still maintaining guards so the other team can't execute a takeout easily or shoot their stone even closer to the button. (Remember what I said earlier about gibberish?)

Because you're super-observant, you're probably thinking that the last shot of each end is incredibly valuable. You're right! That's why the last shot of each end is called the hammer, easily the most violent term used in curling. To keep things fair, the previous end's loser gets the hammer.

curling_zone
via Wikimedia Commons
Although this isn't a perfect analogy, the team with the hammer is kind of like the team in football with possession. Technically speaking, either team can score, but it's far more likely the team with the hammer will, and they'll adjust their strategy by playing more aggressively, trying to keep the four-foot zone free (shown at right), shoot lots of draws towards the button, or set up corner guards so they have a way to get a stone into the house with the hammer.

When a team has the hammer, one point is generally considered a failure. If it looks like they might only gain one point, they will often try to "blank the end" by ensuring no stones are in the house. This way, nobody gets any points and they retain the hammer and can try again the following end.

Most people think of curling as the sport with sweeping. Indeed, it is fairly comical to hear the skip shout instructions at sweepers about 100 feet away in a perfectly quiet arena, but the strategy of sweeping is fairly obvious. The dudes with the brooms allow teams to have some influence over a stone's movement after the delivery, but suffice it to say: generally speaking, if the stone has too much weight, they won't sweep.

Although a lot more can be said here, the most intriguing part of curling is how varied the strategies can be. There's rarely a "right" thing to do and ends can evolve very differently. Some ends will be takeout after takeout, others will involve a crowded house with several guards, requiring elaborate draws or takeouts. Ultimately, curling is a game about the flawless execution of a plan. As far as sports go, there isn't a whole lot of room for luck.

What countries are good at curling?

Since it is a game played on ice, Canada is obviously the best, winning gold at the last two Olympics. The game was invented in the United Kingdom, so they're pretty good, too. The rest of the semi-competitive teams shouldn't surprise anyone: Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. China, the United States, Germany and Russia round out the men's top 10 in the World Curling Federation rankings. The women's rankings are very similar.

The following countries try to be good at curling but fail: Ukraine, Mongolia, Liechtenstein, Kosovo, Israel and Georgia. A for effort, gang.

You've convinced me. Curling is the greatest sport on the planet. When will it be on?

The short answer is: when you're normally sleeping. Qualifications start Monday, Feb. 10th and run every day until the 17th with start times of 12 a.m., 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The semifinals for both men's and women's are the 19th, the women's final is the 20th at 8:30 a.m., and the men's final is the 21st at 8:30 a.m..

Yes, it is unfortunate that curling will mostly be played while you're sleeping. That's another great aspect of curling: It's very, very hard to have a curling match spoiled since so few people watch or care about it. Fire up those DVRs people. Curling's back!