2663: Tetherball Configurations

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Tetherball Configurations
Ground-pole-ball-pole can be fun if you shake the first pole to get the second one whipping around dangerously, but the ball at the joint gets torn apart pretty fast.
Title text: Ground-pole-ball-pole can be fun if you shake the first pole to get the second one whipping around dangerously, but the ball at the joint gets torn apart pretty fast.


Tetherball is a game for two players with the objective to wind a rope completely around a pole. The rope is attached (tethered) to the pole on one end and to a ball on the other end. The players try to wind the rope in opposite directions and do so by hitting the ball at the rope's loose end with their hands or with paddles. Randall has the usual configuration last with five stars, preceded by several humorously inane configurations with fewer stars:

Ground-rope-ball receives only one star because there is no way to keep "score". Megan holds the rope while looking at Cueball holding the ball. What to do...

Ground-pole-ball receives only one star because there is no way for anything to happen. The pole is fixed in place, and the ball is fixed in place at the top. Ponytail can be seen waving her hand at the ball at the top of the pole, but it's too tall and she can't even reach it. Hairbun has just given up.

Ground-rope-pole-ball is slightly better than the previous configurations and therefore receives two stars instead of one. The players have some way to keep score by seeing which way the rope is wound around the pole, but a player who is behind can reset the score by pushing the rope windings off of the pole. Also, twirling the rope in order to rack up point windings would be awkward—and possibly even dangerous to the other player, depending on how long the pole is. Lastly, the ball serves no purpose in this case. Ponytail holds the rope while White Hat holds the ball from which the pole goes up.

Ground-pole-rope-ball is the best and therefore receives five stars. Players can accumulate point windings by hitting the ball past the other player, and gravity and the pole's height prevent the player who is behind from unscrupulously resetting the score. This is the configuration that is used in real life. Back to Cueball and Megan, who are getting ready to play a regular game of Tetherball.

In the title text a fifth alternative is mentioned, where there is no rope, and instead a second pole rotates freely around a joint made out of a ball: Ground-pole-ball-pole is mentioned to be fun, because if you shake the pole stuck in the ground, the loose one connected via the ball could begin whipping around dangerously. Whether this is actually entertaining depends on whether you get hit by it... Again, You would not be able to keep score in the same way as regular tetherball, but you could count who got hit by the second loose pole first, or, for instance, the first to 10 hits. Alternatively, you could score a point by managing to make the free pole make a complete rotation without your opponent managing to change its direction. If the pole is not padded, or made of a soft material, this would likely be dangerous,[citation needed] or at least painful. Randall also remarks that the ball would probably get torn apart as it acts like a joint between the two poles. No rating is given, but, given that he calls it fun, at least 3 stars might be expected.


[Four panels show four different configurations in which the elements of a tetherball game could be connected. Two persons are trying to play each of these configurations in each panel, in a side view of the ground and the people and their particular game upon it. Below, within each panel, a star rating with five stars (progressively filled or empty) is shown. Above, within each panel, a label states the combination of parts in use. Above all four panels, there is a heading:]
Tetherball configuration playability ratings
[Megan holds on to the rope with both hands while looking at Cueball holding the ball in both hands, who is looking back at her. They are standing at equal distances on either side of where the rope is connected to the ground. The rope goes from the ground to the left up and through Megan's hands and then to the right over to the ball. The configuration has a one-star rating, with one filled and four empty stars.]
[Ponytail is stretching as high as she can while waving one hand towards the ball that sits at the top of a pole much taller than she is. Hairbun is standing on the other side of the pole looking at Ponytail. The configuration gets a one-star rating, with one filled and four empty stars.]
[Ponytail is looking at and holding on to the rope to the left of, but close to, where it is tethered to the ground. The rope then goes up to the top of a pole, but this pole is supported only by its attachment at the other end to the ball, which White Hat looks at as he holds it in both hands to angle it steeply up in Ponytail's direction. The configuration gets a two-star rating, with two filled and three empty stars.]
[Cueball is standing to the left of the pole, from where a rope goes down to the right to a ball that Megan balances on one hand while preparing to hit it with her other hand. She is looking at the ball and Cueball is looking at Megan. This standard configuration of tetherball gets a five-star rating, with five full stars.]

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Is anyone else reminded of the "classes of a lever" sort of classification? Where the load, fulcrum, and force are permuted. I know that's not explicitly connected to this comic, but it feels like a similar vibe, since you've got 4 (or 3 out of the 4) elements, and you're just changing the order they're oriented relative to each other. Dextrous Fred (talk) 03:52, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

Ground-rope-ball is arguably a playable cooperative configuration. Player 1 whirls the ball above her head like a bola; Player 2 attempts to hit the ball and get it to reverse direction. Play continues until the ball hits the ground. The final score is equal to the number of reversals. 06:29, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

Ground-rope-ball is actually quite legit - I have one of these somewhere in the basement... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FT0Z95kN4w Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 06:59, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
How does that base stay on the ground? --NeatNit (talk) 07:52, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
It's quite heavy. You could have the same result by somehow connecting the rope directly to the ground. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:35, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
Ground-rope-ball (GRB) definitely looks good. If you just place it in a playground and let some kids mess around, I guarantee they will eventually come up with rules that make for a fun game. It might not be Tetherball, but it's gotta be worthy of at least 4 stars. --NeatNit (talk) 07:52, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
Not agreeing that it would work in any way related to Tetherball. But a call stuck in the ground like this would definitely get kicked by kids. So as a game it might be used, gut not as Tetherball. --Kynde (talk) 08:27, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
Though I take your point that the original comic probably intends the meaning of the rating as being "how good AS tetherball" I disagree that it's that bad at being tether ball. There is still a ball, it is tethered and you can even kick it and have it orbit back towards you. Nbrader (talk) 12:20, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
GRB is great for kids in small gardens - you spend a lot less time asking neighbours for your ball back.
I also remember Leg-Rope-Ball from my schooldays: the rope had a small hoop on one end that you could put your foot through, so the ball swung around your ankle. You had to dance to stop it catching on the other foot. If you stood by a wall, the ball could bounce back and forth in a semi-circle. 15:01, 27 August 2022 (UTC)

I feel like this comic missed some opportunities:

  • Pole-Rope-Pole: Nunchuks
  • Ground-Pole-Rope-Pole-Ground: Tightrope
  • Pole: This configuration could be used at the same time as the above for added stability

I'm sure there are more!Nbrader (talk) 12:20, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

"Pole" could also be for Festivus. RandalSchwartz (talk) 04:36, 26 August 2022 (UTC)
No, that would require it to be ground-pole. But you could transform it. That’s what you do. 13:09, 27 August 2022 (UTC)
If it doesn't have a ball, can it really be called tetherball? I think the ball and rope are the minimum requirements. Barmar (talk) 13:48, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
Rope: Otherwise known as Tug-of-war. 10:22, 26 August 2022 (UTC)

In Denmark I never played this game, but often played Totem tennis (tether tennis or swingball). Had to find out what it was called in English first before I could write it here. --Kynde (talk) 08:27, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

I always assumed that tetherball/swingball was effectively the same whether entirely freely pivoting/rolling-over or as the helical-track system (which just automated the 'scoring' system, and undeniably triggered the top to pop up when either limit of travel was reached) that I recall from my teen years. Not sure if it was branded to Mookie Toys, but was definitely more than a decade before the 1993 date that this article appears to suggest the helix-version was created (by some interpretations*) so it could have been amongst the properties it says they bought at that time.
(* - I'd check exactly what it should mean and rewrite that article accordingly, but my mobile IP at any given moment is almost always on Wikipedia's no-editting list, so I'd need to wait to be tethered to a landline broadband again, and by then I'll have forgotten...)
I also recall a 'ground weight'-tethered version (with optional peg-holes for further immobilisation if placed upon peggable ground, like your average lawn) in the box of sports equipment taken on cub-/scout-camps, which was full of many other (and often not very Health-And-Safety-compatible) outdoor 'toys' and sports equipment like lawn-darts and several rather antique-looking boxing gloves. Can't recall any branding. 09:03, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
In wikipedia it mentions something I think which is similar: "An early variant described in Jessie H. Bancroft's 1909 book Games for the Playground... involves a tethered tennis ball hit by racquets, with similar rules of the game." It sounds like this would be a rather dangerous version, with kids swinging racquets wildly in close quarters. Are there a lot of racquet-related injuries? Gbisaga (talk) 11:42, 25 August 2022 (UTC)
Wait, I didn't even notice thst thetherball was not played with rackets. Whatever-it-was-I-played used rackets (probably light plastic toy rackets/flyswat-griddle-alikes), though, not full-blown competition tennis rackets with a strung wooden frame. 13:39, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

In France, we have "Jokari" which is pretty similar to the first scenario, except that the rope is a rubber band, played by two people. It's a bit like tennis but without the net and with a ball that comes back. Totally playable. The article on English Wikipedia is not the same thing. 10:17, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

Ground-Pole-Ground is described in What-if 157: https://what-if.xkcd.com/157/

Pole-Rope-Ground is like the biggest flail ever. But where do you stand? 20:42, 25 August 2022 (UTC)

Is there the reason why the Explanation focuses so much on keeping score as a playability measure? Is it a Western/American thing? E.g. ground-rope-ball becomes very playable with a somewhat elastic rope, even single-player. ˜˜˜

I agree that it seems a little odd, to me the better metric would be how playable the actual game is in terms of being able to have fun with it. --Mapron01 (talk) 00:46, 27 August 2022 (UTC)

On another note, thinking the third one could be another example of White Hat's odd powers? He seems to be quite casually holding the ball and appl, which must be pretty heavy. --Mapron01 (talk) 01:48, 27 August 2022 (UTC)

It's not a wrong change, but I've seen several times where the likes of "...but this pole supported only by..." has been changed to "...but this pole is supported only by...", amongst a general grammatical/punctuating clean-up. Maybe it's a dialect thing, yet I find the original to be just as correct. And possibly even flows/scans better against the text that runs into and out of it at either end. (c.f. "(a pole...), but supported only by (...the ball)". I'm less sure about "They are standing equal distances on either side of..." (now "They are standing at equal distances on either side of..."), which I may instead have (re)written as "They are standing, equally distanced, to either side of..." if only had I assumed authorship of these bits myself, but I think it fits under verbing noun-phrases or adjectival verbs or somesuch practice. Yet it seems to me slightly picky when there are other interesting and obvious grammatical elisions that were peacefully left in elsewhere. — But not to complain, just to get my thoughts into the open after seeing such slight (and, IMO, unnecessary) tweaks being made often enough to make me begin to wonder if it's a personal vernacular issue. The more cumbersome form works just as well, however, so let it stand regardless. Not really seeking discussion, just opening the steam-valve a little, lest it build up inside me and I run amok. ;) 11:39, 27 August 2022 (UTC) In my idiolect "This pole only supported by..." is only possible if you insert a comma to make it "this pole, only supported by...." which doesn't fit with the remainder of the sentence because it requires an additional clause. That is to say it would take the form x, y, z rather than x is y. 04:15, 29 August 2022 (UTC)

Just don't confuse pole(object) with Pole(nationality) EvilGeniusSkis (talk) 08:54, 31 August 2022 (UTC)