Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally is a traditional throwing game. The term is often used metaphorically to mean something that is a target for criticism. In particular, referring to the fairground origins, an Aunt Sally would be "set up" deliberately to be subsequently "knocked down", usually by the same person who set the person up.

The game

The game was traditionally played in British pubs and fairgrounds. An Aunt Sally was originally a figurine head of an old woman with a clay pipe in her mouth, or subsequently a ball on a stick. The object was for players to throw sticks at the head in order to break the pipe. The game bears some resemblance to a coconut shy or skittles, and may have developed from the blood sport of cock throwing, in which a chicken was tied to a post and people took turns throwing coksteles (special weighted sticks) at the bird until it died.

Today, the game of Aunt Sally is still played as a pub game in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The ball is on a short plinth about 10cm high, and is known as a 'dolly'. The dolly is placed on a dog-legged metal spike and players throw sticks or short battens at the dolly, trying to knock it off without hitting the spike.

Modern rules of play

Two teams of eight players throw six sticks each per leg. The game is played over three legs, or 'horses'. The largest number of dolls scored per team wins each leg. If there is a tie in the decisive leg, each team can throw three sticks and then one until there is a decisive result. In the league system, however these days legs can be tied, with two points being awarded for a leg win and one for a draw. If a player fails to score in a leg, it is called a blob with the ultimate embarrassment of a three blob game often being published in the local newspapers sports section. It is a custom that the winner of the fourth (beer) leg is bought a drink of their choice by a member of the opposing team.

Other kinds of Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally appears as a character portrayed by Una Stubbs in the television adaptation of the children's serial Worzel Gummidge, produced by Southern Television for ITV from 1979 to 1981. She is a fairground doll of the type used as a target for throwing competitions but nevertheless considers herself to be of a superior class to Worzel, a scarecrow and her frustrated suitor.

The term 'Aunt Sally' is in limited use as a political idiom, indicating a false adversary or straw man, set up for the sole purpose of attracting negative attention and wasting an opponent's energy.

See also

References

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