What is Curling?

by Jenny McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States

The phrase people with brooms may conjure up a variety of visual images. A resident of the U.S. might think of sweeping up after a large party. Someone else might imagine a stay-at-home father cleaning the kitchen after preparing a meal for his young children. For Canadians, this phrase might create visions of intense competitions between teams of dedicated athletics.

What Is Curling?

The sport of curling entails two primary pieces of equipment. Foremost is a large, round, polished granite stone weighing between 17 and 20 kilograms. The maximum allowable circumference is 910 millimeters. A colored handle is attached to the top of the rock that allows a player to aim it. The sweepers use push brooms made of hog or horse hair to buff the ice in front of the rock, reducing friction so that it can travel farther and straighter.

Two teams of 4 players take turns sliding their rocks down a long piece of ice toward a circular target, called the house. The dimensions of the piece of ice, or sheet, can be no more than 150 feet long and 16.5 feet wide. The house looks like a bulls-eye with three concentric rings. These 4 elements are

  • button — the small circle at the very center, gives the most points for landing a rock here
  • next bigger circle extending out by 2 feet (4-ft diameter)
  • next one by 4 feet (8-ft diameter)
  • final circle at 6 feet (12-ft diameter)

A rock does not score unless it touches at least the outermost circle.

Preparing the Surface

As you can imagine, the surface of the ice is very important. It is usually maintained at a temperature of -5 degrees Celsius. Before a match begins, the ice maker sprays droplets of water onto it that freeze and form a dimpled surface. These pebbles reduce the friction between the rock and the ice and also give the sweepers something to melt.

Rules of the Game

Each of the 4 players has 2 rocks to throw. When all rocks have been thrown, the team with the one closest to the button wins that round, called an end. All rocks closer to the button than any of the opponent’s rocks are given a point. Therefore, the maximum number of points than any team could gain in an end is 8.

Curling matches have 10 ends which each take about 15 minutes to play. The team with the most points at the conclusion of 10 ends is declared the winner.


Curling enjoys a high degree of popularity in Canada, where the climate is hospitable to a sport played on ice. The Canadian Curling Association is based in Ottawa, located in the province of Ontario. It counts over a million curlers in the entire country, which explains how Canada can claim more world curling championship titles than any other country.

Curling is more than an athletic pursuit in Canada, it is also a social occasion. The good sportsmanship that characterizes play on the ice influences the spectators’ courteous deportment. One tradition mandates that the winning team buy refreshments for the losing team after the match, with the losing team then returning the favor by purchasing the next round. Fair play, food, and friendly conduct? It sounds like a game I might try!

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Math Questions

  1. If a team has one rock weighing 17.5 kilograms, one weighing 18.75 kilograms, and one weighing 20 kilograms, what is the average weight of their rocks?
  2. What is the circumference of the 6-foot circle at the center of the house? What is the area of that circle? Calculate circumference and area for the other circles, too.
  3. If the maximum number of points any team can win in an end is 8, what is the maximum score achievable in one match?
  4. Since each end lasts for approximately 15 minutes, how long does a curling match take?
  5. There are 10 ends in a curling match, each match has 2 teams and each team has 4 stones. How many stones are thrown in a curling match?

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Social Justice Questions

Do you think it’s fair for women curlers to use the same type of equipment as the men, given that in many sports the equipment is different between the sexes? Why or why not?

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