The Puddle Rule

Is the jack dead?  French umpires say Yes.  American umpires say No.

Is the jack dead? French umpires say Yes. American umpires say No.

Article 9 contains a sentence— the Puddle Rule—which is interpreted differently by French umpires and American umpires.

Article 9 – Dead Jack during a mene
The jack is dead in the following 7 cases:
1) When the jack is displaced into an out-of-bounds area (terrain interdit)… A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds (terrain interdit).

Complicating the interpretation of the Puddle Rule is another sentence in Article 9 that I’m going to call Clause 2

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

The standard interpretation

Umpires of the French federation (and other national federations, following the French) use what I call the “standard interpretation” of the Puddle Rule. In this interpretation, the primary purpose of the Puddle Rule is to act as the setup for Clause 2. The Puddle Rule says that a deep puddle is to be considered “dead ground” (terrain interdit). Then Clause 2 comes along and delivers the payload by saying that the jack is dead if there is dead ground between it and the circle.

If you diagram it, you see a puddle casting a sort of “shadow of death” that (although it has no effect on boules) kills any jack that enters it. jack_dead_behind_puddle

Here is a diagram prepared by the Umpires Committee (CNA) of the French Petanque Federation (FFPJP).

Remember that the Puddle Rule makes the puddle terrain interdit. That means that a thrown jack must be at least a meter from such a puddle. It also means that any boule that rolls into the puddle is dead, regardless of where the jack is on the terrain.

The American (FPUSA) interpretation

In the American (FPUSA) translation of the rules

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


A jack floating freely in water is dead.

This is NOT an accurate translation of the French text. And the difference is not merely a matter of stylistic difference. Someone deliberately chose to change the wording of the sentence.

Is it possible that the FPUSA’s revised wording of the Puddle Rules is better? That is: that it comes closer than the original wording to capturing the true meaning and intent of the Puddle Rule?

I think it does. Here’s why.

The argument from common-sense

In the American interpretation of the Puddle Rule, the rule goes into effect only when the jack is actually floating in a body of water. The rule makes sense and is easy to apply. If you can see the jack floating, you must declare it dead. It is impossible to measure the distance to a jack that is floating and has no fixed location.

In the standard interpretation, Clause 2 goes into effect when the jack enters the shadow of death, whether or not the jack actually goes into the puddle. If the jack isn’t actually in the puddle, that means testing the depth of the puddle (presumably with a second wooden jack) to verify that it will float a jack. You must also determine the exact edge of the puddle (and distinguish it from the edges of other nearby puddles) because the exact edge of the puddle is what determines the edge of the shadow of death. In effect, you may be required to tell which part of the puddle is shallow and which part is deep enough to float the jack. And you may need to do it in the rain, with the size and depth of the puddle constantly changing. That’s crazy.

The Puddle Rule was originally developed to handle puddles of water created on the terrain by rain. But as you can see from the drawing prepared by the French umpires, water on the terrain of any kind is considered a flaque d’eau, including things like streams, water fountains, and fish ponds. This makes the rule very strange indeed. If a natural terrain contains a fish-pond and a boulder, then of course the teams must play around both of these features. But, in the standard interpretation, the fish pond casts a shadow of death, while the boulder does not. That’s weird.

The argument from original intent

The sentence “A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds” was added to the rules in 1970. The umpires wanted to add a rule to tell players what to do when it was raining and the jack was knocked into a puddle of rainwater on the terrain so deep that it floated. Article 9 already contained a specification that the jack is dead when it is knocked into terrain interdit. So they simply added a sentence saying that a deep puddle should be considered terrain interdit. This was an easy way to modify the rules to specify that a floating jack is dead.

Twenty-five years later, in 1995, Clause 2 was added to the rules. It was probably meant to provide guidance for games played on odd-shaped terrains. The standard interpretation, however, requires us to believe that in 1995 the FIPJP Umpires Commission realized and intended that the addition of Clause 2 would change the meaning and implication of the words in the Puddle Rule. That’s absurd. Even a casual reading of the FIPJP rules is sufficient to show that the rules are NOT carefully thought out and carefully worded.

Looking at the history of the evolution of the rules, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Puddle Rule was never meant to be interpreted as interacting with, and as the setup, for Clause 2.


The FPUSA translation of Article 9 correctly captures the intent of the Puddle Rule.

In retrospect one wishes that in 1970 the umpires had given the Puddle Rule its own numbered item in the list of conditions in Article 9, and simply said what they meant.

A jack floating freely in water is dead.

The illustration labeled "CNA-FFPJP-2013" is from a presentation (diaporama) by the French national Umpires Commission (CNA) called Apprendre les règles de la pétanque ("Learn the rules of petanque") which can be downloaded from the web site. Note that the organization that grafted the Puddle Rule onto Article 9 in 1970 was the French umpires commission (CNA), working on the French national rules. The French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules in 1984.

See our other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.


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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