The Puddle Rule

Article 9 contains a sentence that I call the Dead Ground Rule

[The jack is dead] when an out-of-bounds area (un terrain interdit) is situated between the jack and the throwing circle.

It also contains another sentence that I call the Puddle Rule.

A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds (terrain interdit).

In the standard interpretation of these sentences, the Dead Ground Rule is the setup (if there is dead ground between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead), and the Puddle Rule delivers the punch (a puddle is to be considered dead ground). The logical implication is that if there is a puddle (a pool of standing rainwater deep enough to float a wooden jack) between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead.

There are also a couple of implications of the Puddle Rule that aren’t so obvious. (1) Because a puddle is dead ground, when throwing the jack a player must throw the jack at least a meter from such a puddle. (2) A boule that rolls into a puddle is dead, regardless of where the jack is on the terrain.

If you diagram the Dead Ground Rule and the Puddle Rule, you see a puddle casting a sort of “shadow of death” that kills any jack that enters it. (Note, however, that the shadow is not dead ground, and it has no effect on boules.)jack_dead_behind_puddle

There are practical problems with applying the Puddle Rule. You may need a spare wooden jack so you can determine whether a puddle is deep enough to float a jack. It may be difficult to determine the exact edge of the puddle, and to distinguish that edge from the edges of other nearby puddles. (The exact edge may be important, because it is what determines the edge of the shadow of death.) And you may need to do it in the rain, with the size and depth of the puddle constantly changing.

I think that if we look at the history of these two sentences, we can guess what the original intent of the Puddle Rule was. The Puddle Rule was added to the (then French national) rules in 1970. Probably the French umpires added the rule as a way of telling players what to do when it was raining and the jack was knocked into a pool of rainwater on the terrain. In 1970 Article 9 already contained the rule that the jack is dead if it is knocked onto dead ground. So the umpires simply added a sentence saying that a puddle should be considered dead ground. It was a quick-and-dirty way to add a rule saying that a jack floating in a pool of rainwater is dead.

Twenty-five years later, in 1995, the Dead Ground Rule was added to the rules. Probably it was meant to apply to games played on terrains with bends and indentations in the boundary lines. I don’t know if the umpires of 1995 intended that the new Dead Ground Rule should cause puddles to cast shadows of death, but that is what it did.

Now, if you ask an umpire, he will tell you that any kind of water on the terrain— including culverts, streams, fish ponds, and water fountains— counts as a puddle (flaque d’eau) under Article 9.

That seems to me to be a pretty stupid way to interpret the Puddle Rule, because I often play on open terrains where streams and rivulets are natural features of the terrain. But umpired competitions are usually played on nice orderly terrains, without streams runing through them, so it doesn’t seem to bother the umpires.


Note that the organization that grafted the Puddle Rule onto Article 9 in 1970 was the French national umpires committee (CNA), working on the French national rules. The French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules in 1984.

The illustration labeled "CNA-FFPJP-2013" is from a presentation (diaporama) by the French national Umpires Committee (CNA) called Apprendre les règles de la pétanque ("Learn the rules of petanque") which can be downloaded from the ffpjp-nord.info web site.

Before the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, the American (FPUSA) version of the Puddle Rule was "A jack floating freely in water is dead." However, in early 2017 the FPUSA lost that version of the Puddle Rule when it adopted the 2016 FIPJP rules "as written" as its national rules. That was a pity, because the FPUSA's old version of the Puddle Rule actually captured the original, 1970, intent of the rule.

See our other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.


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One thought on “The Puddle Rule

  1. The so called ‘Puddle Rule’ is a very silly rule. How can you know before that a jack will float or not in a puddle? And even more, for instance ten minutes later, when the sun was shining brightly, the same puddle will be less deeper, so that no jack at all can float. An also, there are jacks that will never float because of its specific gravity that is more than 1. That’s why I like the American and simple interpretation: A jack floating freely in water (or in a puddle) is dead.

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