When pushed-up dirt hides the jack

Revised 2021-05-25
Article 11 says–

If, during a mene, the jack is unexpectedly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, these objects are removed.

Players have been known to argue that Article 11 is about only leaves and pieces of paper, and therefore it cannot be applied if something else (a plastic bag, for example) blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. But of course that’s silly. Article 11 is clearly meant to apply to a whole class of things; it uses leaves and pieces of paper only as illustrative examples. The idea is clearly that

If something— anything— from outside the game comes onto the terrain and hides the jack from the player in the circle, then that foreign thing (or things) should be removed.

Article 11 should have been written using the notion of a foreign object,[1] not a list of examples. But it wasn’t. So, because of the way it was written, it leaves us with questions like these.

  1. A boule hits the ground in front of the jack and pushes up a small pile of dirt. Now the jack is buried, completely covered in dirt. ► Is the jack dead? (See Article 9: “The jack is dead when the displaced jack is not visible from the circle.”) Or should the pushed-up dirt be removed? (See Article 11: when the jack is hidden by a foreign object, remove the foreign object.)
  2. A boule hits a large stone on the terrain. The stone pops up, flips through the air, and lands in front of the jack, hiding it. ► Is the jack dead, or should the stone be removed?
  3. A pointed boule rolls across the terrain and encounters a leaf. The boule continues to roll, pushing the leaf ahead of it as it goes. When the boule finally comes to a stop, the leaf is sitting in front of the jack, hiding it. ► Is the jack dead, or should the leaf be removed?

When these questions were discussed on the “Ask the umpire” Facebook group, the consensus was that in all of these cases, the jack is hidden and therefore dead, as per Article 9. This is interesting. Article 9 is about “the displaced jack” and in none of these situations is the jack actually displaced. Why, then, was the consensus that Article 9 is the applicable rule?

Here’s what I think. I think that the consensus didn’t so much feel that Article 9 was the right rule, as that Article 11 was the WRONG rule.

Basically, Article 11 says—

If something from outside the game comes onto the terrain and hides the jack from the player in the circle, then that foreign thing should be removed.

The expression “something from outside the game” is of course vague. But after years of playing, players have an instinctive feeling about what is part of the game and what is not. The jack is part of the game. The boules are part of the game. So is the surface of the terrain. Soft dirt in some areas of the terrain, partly-buried stones in the terrain, even leaves lying motionless on the surface of the terrain… these are all normal parts of the terrain, and of the game. In these three situations, a boule moved parts of the terrain, but in none of the situations did anything come onto the terrain from outside the game.

Since Article 11 is not applicable, the applicable rule must be Article 9. The jack can’t be seen from the circle, so it is dead.

[1] The rules of Petanque Libre do use the notions of “game object” and “foreign object”. See also our post When a leaf hides the jack.

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