A different way to think about obstacles

Now that the FIPJP rules allow us to throw the jack right up to a side dead-ball line, I’m afraid we’ll never see the end of questions about whether a wooden surround is a pointing obstacle. All we can do is try to develop a clear answer to the question. Here is my latest effort.

The FIPJP rules define two types of obstacles— throwing obstacles and pointing obstacles. The FIPJP rules specify that the throwing circle must be placed a certain minimum distance from any throwing obstacle, and the thrown (or placed) jack must be placed a certain minimum distance from any pointing obstacle.

Naturally, this focusses our attention on potential obstacles, and we tend to think about these rules in terms of distances from the obstacle.

I think that it would be more effective to stop thinking about obstacles, and instead focus our attention on the the jack and the throwing circle. Rather than thinking about distances from obstacles, we should think in terms of obstacle-free zones around the circle and the jack.

The purpose of the rule about throwing obstacles is to establish an obstacle-free area around the circle so that a player, standing in the center of that zone, can throw a boule without danger of hitting a physical object that might injure his (or her) throwing hand. Basically, a throwing obstacle is a physical object that might hurt the player if it is too close to him (or her). That’s why the rule says that no such objects are permitted in the area around the player, i.e. in the obstacle-free zone around the circle.

The purpose of the rule about pointing obstacles is to establish an obstacle-free area around the jack so that there is no object that might physically prevent a boule from being pointed close to the jack. Basically, a pointing obstacle is a physical object that prevents a boule from being pointed close to the jack. That’s why the rule says that no such objects are permitted in the obstacle-free zone around the jack.

It’s as simple as that.



Using this point of view, let’s look at a question that came up recently on “Ask the Umpire”.

A boundary string separates lane A and lane B. There is a tree in lane B, close to the boundary string. Is it a pointing obstacle for lane A?

The answer is YES… in the following sense. If the jack is thrown out onto lane A, and if (when the jack comes to rest) the tree is inside the jack’s obstacle-free zone, then the tree is indeed a pointing obstacle. In that case, the thrown jack is not valid.

This answer assumes that boules from lane A can roll into lane B without dying, so the obstacle-free zone around the jack extends across the string and into lane B. But what if it is a time-limited game, and the boundary string is also a dead-ball line?

In that case, the jack’s obstacle-free zone extends only 8cm into lane B. If the tree is more than 8cm away from the dead-ball line, it is not within the jack’s obstacle-free zone. That means that the jack can be thrown right next to the dead-ball line and still be valid.

What is so magical about the 8cm distance? The maximum legal diameter of a boule is 8cm. As in the diagram (above), a boule can almost cross a dead-ball line and still be alive. But if it rolled any farther, it would die. That means that any object that is more than 8cm outside the dead-ball line can never be a pointing obstacle for a live boule. Any boule that reached it would be DOA: dead on arrival.

Conversely, a tree that is less than 8cm from the dead-ball line could be in the jack’s obstacle-free zone.


Since no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, the tree really could be a pointing obstacle. In this diagram (below) we see that the tree really could prevent a live boule from entering part of the obstacle-free zone around the jack. That’s why in this case the thrown jack is invalid.


Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

Our terrain is marked by dead-ball strings and enclosed by a wooden surround (boule-stop). Is the wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

The short answer is NO. But the long (and better) answer is IT DEPENDS. The long answer is exactly the same for the wooden surround as it was for the tree (which after all, like the wooden surround, was outside of the dead-ball string). A wooden surround that is less than 8cm from the dead-ball string can stop a live boule. So if part of the wooden surround is less than 8cm from the dead-ball string and less than 50cm from the thrown jack— inside the jack’s obstacle-free zone— the thrown jack is not valid. This is why a dead-ball string should always be installed more than 8cm from a wooden surround. The recommended minimum distance is 30cm.


Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle when there is no dead-ball string?

Our terrain is enclosed by a wooden surround, but we have no dead-ball strings. Is the wooden surround considered to be a pointing obstacle?

My answer would be YES. It is a pointing obstacle, and a thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from the wooden surround. That would achieve the intent of the FIPJP rule— to insure that there is an open area on all sides of the the jack, so that a player can point a boule anywhere into that open area.

HOWEVER… if there are no dead-ball strings on your terrain, you are not playing by FIPJP rules; you are playing by your own local rules— presumably adapted to your own local conditions. So in this matter too, you should adopt whatever local rule makes the most sense in your local conditions.


3 thoughts on “A different way to think about obstacles

  1. To the writers…..in the San Francisco Club many women play; same is true in other Northern California clubs. AND we are all trying to grow this sport and include as many people as we can. How about going gender neutral on the “him,” “his,” etc.

    • I’m totally on board with efforts to attract more players, female and male, to petanque. And I share your concern about gender-specific pronouns— it is an issue that I have wrestled with for a long time.

      Some thoughts—

      Historically, in English, masculine singular pronouns (e.g. “he”) have been used in two different ways—
      (1) as “marked” pronouns referring to a specifically male person, and
      (2) as “unmarked” pronouns referring to a person whose gender is unknown, unspecified, or irrelevant. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_neutrality_in_languages_with_gendered_third-person_pronouns#Issues_concerning_gender_and_pronoun_usage

      Sometimes it would be useful to have two different words to perform these two different functions, and there have been many proposals for a clearly unmarked English-language third-person singular pronoun. Candidates for an unmarked alternative to “he”, for example, include—
      – he or she
      – he (or she)
      – he/she
      – s/he
      – she
      – it
      – they

      Each of these candidates has its own problems, and none of them has yet achieved anything close to standard usage. (“They” seems to be popular, but using a plural pronoun to refer to a singular referent is especially problematic.)

      Given that fact, we’re all pretty much on our own in choosing how to deal with this issue. Personally, I try to be flexible— I try to write in whatever way seems most appropriate for the piece that I’m writing. For a piece in which I think it is important to make gender nonspecificity clear, I like the expression “he (or she)”. For a piece in which brevity and readability is the highest priority (as in a blog post), I will use simply “he” and trust the reader to recognize it as an unmarked pronoun.

      I also try to avoid the issue by using gender nonspecific expressions such as “the player”. For example, this post contains only two uses of “him” and one of “his”. They all occur in a single paragraph, and they all are clearly unmarked because their referent is the gender-nonspecific expression “the player”.

      Having said all that, it is still true that the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. And revising three pronouns won’t significantly damage the readability of the post. So I’ve made those revisions.

      • Hi Ann,
        My apologies for the verbosity! Trying to set my thoughts down in writing is, for me, the best way to work my way through a problem or a question.

        I also want to say that I really appreciate your comment. It made good points. It was clear, reasonable, and calm. In short, a super refreshing break from the usual vitriol on the web. Not even an emoji can express the depth of my delight and gratitude. 🙂

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