When you think about it, baseball is kind of an absurd game: hit a ball with a stick, and then run around a square as fast as you can. But that’s nothing compared to these real games and sports played around the world.
Contest: The Tough Guy
Played in: England
How it’s played: This grueling competition begins with a 10-mile cross-country run. It’s followed by an obstacle course (shown above) with an electrified fence, underground tunnels, underwater tunnels, barbed wire, and waist-deep patches of mud. And it’s held in the winter, so the temperature is well below freezing. Around 4,000 people compete every year; their entry fees are donated to charity.
Contest: World Screaming Championships
Played in: Poland
How it’s played: The rules are simple: One by one, participants step forward and scream really, really loudly. Loudest scream wins. The record scream was produced in 2000 by Dagmara Stanek, who registered a scream of 126.1 decibels, as loud as a jackhammer.
Played in: Flanders, a region of Belgium
How it’s played: In vinkenzetting, or “finch-sitting,” competitors put a male finch in a box cage. Whoever’s bird makes the highest number of complete calls in an hour wins. Winning birds usually make several hundred calls per hour. In one competition, a bird called 1,278 times, inviting doping allegations.
Played in: South Asia
How it’s played: Two seven-player teams each occupy half of a court about the size of a soccer field. The teams take turns sending a “raider” into the opposition’s territory; the raider tries to tag as many players as possible—without getting blocked or tackled—and then return to his home side…all in one breath. To prove he’s not inhaling, the player has to chant “KABADDI” throughout the raid.
Played in: North Carolina
How it’s played: Invented by Max Chain, owner of an Asheville bar called the Root, it’s a combination of horseshoes and lawn bowling, played outdoors on a court made of sand. Two metal stakes are placed 32 feet apart. The player stands at one stake and tosses a plastic ring at the opposite stake, and then tosses a spiky plastic ball. The closer to the stake, the more points awarded, with bonuses for landing the ball inside the plastic ring, throwing the ball through the ring, leaning the ring against the stake, etc. (It’s patented, by the way.)
Played in: The American South and Southwest
How it’s played: It’s not exactly a sport. A 200-year-old tradition along the Mississippi River, it’s catfish fishing without a pole, without a net, without even bait. Noodlers stick their arms (called “noodles”) into stagnant river water where catfish are usually found, often behind or inside of large logs. When they find a catfish, they splash in the water to get the fish’s attention, then plunge their arms directly into the throat of the fish, which may weigh as much as 50 pounds. The fish—who are often guarding eggs—respond to the attack by clamping down on the angler’s arm. It’s so dangerous—hazards can include drowning or being bitten by snapping turtles and water snakes—that it’s illegal in 11 states. It’s popular (and legal) in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, and Missouri.
Contest: Unicycle Hockey
Played in: England and Germany
How it’s played: It’s actually been played since 1925, when European unicycle manufacturers first suggested it as a new use for the one-wheeled contraptions. No skates are used, and it’s played on flat pavement, not ice. Ice hockey may be hard, but balancing on a unicycle while reaching out with a stick to hit a plastic ball is even harder. It’s actually more like polo than hockey…if polo were played on wobbly horses.