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.


When the dead-ball string is moved

Every petanque player knows the basic rule that a jack or a boule is dead if it completely crosses a dead-ball line. Almost always, the dead-ball line is a physical object— a string— that was installed on the playing area by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition. Determining whether a ball has completely crossed a dead-ball line therefore is a process of inspecting two physical objects—the ball and the string—and determining their spatial relationship.

There is something about this process that the FIPJP rules do not say, but that international umpire Mike Pegg has made clear in multiple answers on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum— in order for this process to take place, the dead-ball string must be in its correct location.[1] The string’s correct location is the location where it was installed by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition.

Problems can arise if the string is not installed properly. Article 5 says that the string should be thin enough that it doesn’t affect the smooth running of the game, but in practice the diameter of the string is less important than the way it is installed. A string needs to be taut so it is straight, and it needs to be flush to the ground. If the surface of the terrain is irregular, with humps and bumps— hills and valleys, as it were—the string may stretch across low spots, suspended in mid-air like a bridge. In such cases, the string can be high enough above the ground to interfere with the movement of a rolling jack or boule. In this photo the string is far enough above the ground for the jack actually to be caught beneath it.

In such cases, a player can trip on the string, or a rolling boule or a player’s foot may catch the string and move it out of its correct location. And that’s when players start asking questions about what to do when the dead-ball string is moved.

There are two types of situations that raise questions.

  • Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.
  • Something (typically a boule) pushes the string out of place… and the string remains stuck there, out of position.


Let’s look at some examples of the first type of situation. Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.

A boule is moving toward the dead-ball line when it is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. In the scenario shown in the picture, did the ball cross the dead-ball line or not? What prevails— the string itself or the lane limit it represents? Is the boule dead or alive?

Here’s another example. This one involves the jack rather than a boule.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been. When I lifted my foot, the string snapped back to its normal location, knocking the jack back in-bounds. Our opponents did not see this, and neither did the umpire. The umpire ruled that the jack was still good.

What these situations have in common is that the string was in motion throughout the incident. There was never a point in time when observers could visually compare the location of the ball to the location of the string in its correct location. Given that fact, all that players and umpires can do is to wait for everything to come to rest, and then compare the location of the ball to the location of the string. In both of these cases, the ball ends up inside the dead-ball string, so it is still alive.

Note that these situations are different from a situation in which a boule rolls across the string and then, because of a slope in the ground, rolls back in-bounds. In such a case, the string remains in its correct location. Observers can see the string and they can see the boule, and they can see that the boule completely crosses the string before rolling back in-bounds. The boule is dead.


In the second kind of situation, something pushes the string out of place, and the string remains stuck there, out of position.

In this photo we see that a boule has pushed the dead-ball string outward from its correct location. The jack is on the out-of-bounds side of the dead-ball string but still touching the string.

The question is—Is the jack dead?

The answer is— We don’t know. We can’t tell, because we can’t compare the location of the jack to the location of the string when the string is in its correct location.

The solution to the problem is to put the string back into its correct location.

Then we can make a decision based on the locations of the jack and the string.

We need to be extremely careful when moving the string back to its correct location. In this case, we can’t move the string without moving the boule, so we mark the boule’s location. We then very carefully remove the boule, allowing the string to move back to its correct location. Then we compare the location of the jack to the location of the string.

Judging from the photograph, we will probably find that the jack is out-of-bounds and dead. However, if we discover that the jack is alive we return the boule to its marked location and carry on with the game.


Now that we know how to handle such situations, we can see how a variation of one of our earlier situations should be handled. In this case, the string is moved but it isn’t allowed to snap back into place. It is held out-of-place by a player’s foot.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been.
Surprised, I froze in position. When the umpire arrived, he held the string while I extricated my foot. Then he carefully lifted the string over the jack and returned the string to its normal location. At that point the jack was clearly out-of-bounds and the umpire ruled that the jack was dead.


Finally, in a situation where the string was so poorly installed, Mike Pegg points out that there is one more thing to be done.[2]

The umpire is not responsible for the string line being tight or fixed down, although before the games started the umpire should have checked that everything was in good order. As soon as the end in question is over, the umpire should arrange with the venue organisation to have the line re-tensioned or fixed down.

 


FOOTNOTES
[1] See Mike Pegg’s reply to Rob Brealey (June 2, 2018) https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1583415321755911/

Rob— What’s the ruling when team A is holding the point and team B shoot successfully but team A’s boule moves the dead ball line causing both boule to still be in?

Mike – I’m assuming the string is being prevented from returning to its correct position by one of the boules. In this case the string should be carefully moved to its correct position— without disturbing the boules— and then check to see if the boules have crossed the string. You should also fix the string so that it cannot be moved again.

See also Mike’s follow-up post https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1584258958338214/

[T]he string line has to be in place to determine if the boule has fully crossed it….

 
[2] https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/posts/4553615681402512/


2020 rules – new rules about placing the circle and the jack

[revised 2021-05-30]
[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
The FIPJP rules have changed. Article 7 of the 2020 version of the rules makes dramatic changes to the rules about where the circle and the jack can be thrown or placed. Basically, the new rules specify minimum required distances from three things— boundaries, other games, and obstacles.

Boundaries
Previously, the rules defining the landing strip were quite complex. Now there is only one simple rule. The jack can be thrown or placed anywhere on the assigned lane, except within 50cm of an end (short side) of the lane.

There is no longer any requirement that a jack must be a minimum distance from a side line or a dead-ball line. As long as the jack is touching the ground of the assigned lane, it is valid. It can touch a side line, and even extend over it, and still be valid. (A thrown jack is not like a hit jack, which can be resting on ground outside the dead-ball line and still be good.)


 

Other games
The rule now is simple. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

Obstacles
Formerly, the circle and the jack had to be at least 1 meter from any obstacle. The distance for the jack was reduced to 50cm, so now the minimum distance from an obstacle is different for the circle and the jack.

  • The circle must be at least 1 meter from any obstacle.
  • The jack must be at least 50cm from any obstacle.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: there are three simple rules.

  1. The thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from an end line or a pointing obstacle.
  2. The circle must be placed at least 1 meter from any throwing obstacle.
  3. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

Worst-case scenarios under the new rules
The new requirement that the jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack, has raised concerns that it would create problems, especially when playing on a narrow 3-meter-wide lane.

One worst-case scenario occurs with active jacks in neighboring games kissing the boundary strings on both sides. The full width of the lane is available only if you throw the jack to 6-7 meters. There is no place on the lane where you can throw the jack to 8.5 meters. (In this diagram, pink areas show the landing strip for the jack.)

Perhaps the very worst scenario is this one. The neighboring jacks are offset from each other, so that there is virtually no place where the landing strip extends the full width of the lane.

Obviously, such situations will be extremely rare. But they are possible.


Can the thrown jack straddle a side boundary line?

The 2020 rules removed the requirement that a jack must be some minimum distance from a side line. This has prompted players to ask questions like this one on Ask the Umpire.

Must the thrown jack be 100% inside the side line of the lane? Or can it straddle the side line and still be valid, like a boule or a hit jack?
 

The rules say that the jack must be thrown on the assigned terrain (see Article 6). So the question essentially boils down to this—

What does “on the assigned terrain” mean?   Is a thrown jack straddling a side guide line considered to be “on the assigned terrain”?

The answer to this question was provided by Mike Pegg. In order to be valid, the thrown jack must be touching the ground of the assigned lane. A jack that is touching the ground inside the line is valid even if it is also touching the the line (string) around the assigned lane. Because the jack has a round shape and is larger than the string, if the jack is touching the string, it will also be slightly bulging over the string. That’s OK. The jack is valid.

Note that this is different from the rule about “entirely crossing the line” in order for a boule or jack to be considered dead. In that rule, a boule or jack may be resting on dead ground, or even on the string itself, and still be alive. That is DIFFERENT from the rule governing a thrown jack.

Because a plastic throwing circle doesn’t have the same kind of round shape as a jack, the rule for the throwing circle is different. To be considered “on the assigned lane”, the entire circle must be inside the boundary lines of the lane. The side of the circle may touch the line, but the circle cannot extend over the line.

Some players have asked—

What if one throws the jack up to the side line string, the jack rolls and touches the string, and then curves back in and comes to rest in a valid position. Would the jack be considered as valid?

The answer is clearly YES. If the jack had rolled up to the string and stopped right there, touching the string, it would be valid. And rolling away from the string afterwards doesn’t change that.

But consider a more radical question.

What if one throws the jack. It crosses the terrain boundary-line, hits something on the ground near the line, and bounces back inside the boundary line of the terrain. Is the thrown jack valid?

There is a difference between a jack being alive and being valid. Mike Pegg says that the thrown jack comes alive when it leaves the player’s hand. It is alive as it flies through the air. When it comes to rest on the terrain— if it is in a valid location, and if it is still alive— it becomes valid. On the other hand, if the jack in its journey crosses the dead ball line, it is dead on arrival. It cannot become valid.

Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

updated 2022-06-21

Players sometimes ask— Is a wooden sideboard an obstacle? What they mean is— If the circle is less than a meter from a sideboard, should we move it (the circle) away from the sideboard?

The question comes up because there is a concern that if the circle is too close to a wooden sideboard, a squat pointer or a player in a wheelchair might hit a hand on the sideboard when throwing.

On “Ask the Umpire” Mike Pegg has given different anwers to this question at different times. First he ruled that a sideboard is not an obstacle— a concerned squat pointer must stand, not squat, when pointing. Later he stated that a sideboard higher than 20cm is an obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player.” Still later he stated that a board of 25cm is an obstacle. (At this point it was clear that he was just making up rules as he went along.) Finally (as of January 2021), his position seems to be that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

The problem here is that the FIPJP rules never define the word “obstacle”, so it’s an open question whether any particular thing (such as a sideboard) is a throwing obstacle. So we need to begin by defining “throwing obstacle”. I propose this— a throwing obstacle is something that might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or something that might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form.

We cannot specify an exact height (in centimeters) at which a wooden sideboard becomes a throwing obstacle. The notion of an “obstacle” just doesn’t work that way. The operational concept here is not height or centimeters. It is at least interference, if not outright harm and danger.

In normal circumstances a wooden sideboard is not considered an obstacle— it doesn’t interfere with a player’s normal throwing form and it poses no danger to a player as he stands in the circle and throws a boule. But in some situations it might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or it might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form. In those situation, a wooden sideboard should be considered an obstacle, and the circle should be moved away from it.

So the answer to the question is:

Normally a wooden sideboard is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but in some cases it is.

Moving the circle away from a throwing obstacle is something that should be done before the jack is thrown. That means that if one of your team’s players is a squat pointer, or plays from a wheelchair, and you’re concerned about the wooden surround, don’t hesitate— SPEAK UP! Don’t wait until after the jack has been thrown to voice your concerns, because by then it is too late.

See also our post on What is an obstacle?

What is an obstacle?

revised 2022-03-18

This post has been updated to reflect the 2020 rules revisions. The 2020 rules about placing the circle and jack are discussed HERE.


The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?

In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.

In most places in the rules, the word “obstacle” simply means “something”. In Article 19, an “obstacle” is something that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds. In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something that gets in the way of measurement.

Article 10 says that a player may not pick up or push down an “obstacle” on the terrain. This poor choice of words has led many players to use the word “obstacle” when they should say “feature of the terrain”. The next time you visit Ask the Umpire and see a question that ends with the words “or is it simply an obstacle?” you can be sure that what the questioner meant was “or is it simply a feature of the terrain?”

As I’ve said, in most places in the rules, the word “obstacle” simply means “something”. There are, however, two cases where this is not true— two kinds of obstacles that require special discussion. They are throwing obstacles (obstacles around the circle) and pointing obstacles (obstacles around the jack).



THROWING OBSTACLES — obstacles around the circle

Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that no “obstacle” can be closer than 1 meter from the circle. This rule is designed to insure that there is an obstacle-free zone around the circle, so that it is possible for a player to throw a boule with a normal throwing form, and do it safely. So a good definition of a throwing obstacle is—

  • a feature of the playing area
  • that is less than 1 meter from the circle
  • and might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form.

The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

Circles and jacks in other games are not technically “obstacles”, but the rules do specify that the circle must be placed at least 1.5m from a circle or a jack in another game.


POINTING OBSTACLES — obstacles around the jack

Article 7 says that after the jack has been thrown or placed, no “obstacle” can be closer than 50cm from the jack. This rule is designed to insure that there is an obstacle-free zone around the jack, so that it is physically possible for a player to point a boule close to the jack. So a good definition of a pointing obstacle is—

  • a feature of the playing area
  • that is less than 50cm from the jack
  • and prevents a boule from occupying the space that it occupies (because no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time).

Typical examples of pointing obstacles include— a tree or tree root; a telephone pole or lamp-post; a fire hydrant; a wall, a concrete curb or sidewalk. The notion of a pointing obstacle is vague, so there may be objects or terrain conditions (a large clump of pampas grass? a large rock? a patch of muddy ground?) about which players and/or the umpire need to make an ad hoc decision— Shall we consider it a pointing obstacle?

According to the 2020 FIPJP rules, the end dead-ball lines of an oblong terrain are in effect pointing obstacles, so a thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from any end (but not side) dead-ball line.

Circles and jacks in other games are not technically “obstacles”, but the rules do specify that the (thrown or placed) jack must be at least 1.5m from a circle or a jack in another game.


For more about the concept of an obstacle-free zone, see our post on A different way to think about obstacles.



There are a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about obstacles.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Over the last few years, international umpire Mike Pegg has changed his position on this question. At one time he held that a wooden surround is not a throwing obstacle, because a squat pointer can always stand, rather than squat, when pointing. Then he held that that a surround that is higher than 25cm is a throwing obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player”. As of January 2021 his position seems to be that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

I agree. Players always should be able to use their normal throwing form, and be able to do so in safety. Normally a wooden surround is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but if a squat pointer expresses concerns when the circle is less than a meter from a wooden surround, the surround should be considered to be a throwing obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it. See our post on Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?
Generally speaking, a wooden surround is not considered to be a pointing obstacle. There are two exceptions to that general rule. A wooden surround is considered to be a pointing obstacle (1) if the terrain has no boundary strings, or (2) if the wooden surround is less than 8cm outside of a dead-ball line. Why these two exceptions? Why 8cm? See our post on a different way to think about obstacles.

Are trees considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
YES. A tree trunk is both a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks. There is no clear-cut rule however— in some cases it would be reasonable for the two teams to agree to consider a really large root a pointing obstacle.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and bounces back onto the terrain. Are things above the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something above the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The issue here has nothing to do with what counts as being an obstacle. It is about what counts as being out-of-bounds. The REAL question here is— “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And to that question the answer is NO.

Think of the dead-ball lines as invisible walls that the dead-ball lines on the ground project up into the sky. If a ball stays inside those invisible walls— if it stays directly above the terrain— it stays in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain without going through one of those invisible walls, it is still alive. The photograph (below) shows an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain. If a boule hits one of those light fixtures and drops onto the terrain, the light fixture may be damaged but the boule will still be alive.

seaside_terrain_with_overhead_lights

Is there really any difference between a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle? Aren’t they all just “obstacles”?
Some things (e.g. a wall) can be an obstacle to both throwing and pointing, but that’s not true of all obstacles. In this photograph the jack is located less than half a meter from a large tree root. The root is big enough to constitute a pointing obstacle but not big enough to constitute a throwing obstacle. (Boules have been placed on the ground to give a sense of scale.)

In this photograph (below) the jack is located more than half a meter from the trunk of a mesquite tree, so the tree trunk isn’t a pointing obstacle. But at the start of the next mene the low branch, which is only about 4 feet above the jack, would make it impossible for a player to stand upright in a circle placed around the jack. That makes the tree branch a throwing obstacle— at the start of the next mene the circle must be moved a meter away from the branch.

Here is a similar situation. The rail fence isn’t a pointing obstacle; it is possible to point to within half a meter of the jack in any direction. But at the start of the next mene it will be a throwing obstacle— the circle must be moved a meter away from the fence.
petanque_throwing_obstacle_rail_fence

The string is not the boundary line

A playing area contains an indefinite number of terrains defined by strings… —Article 5 – “Playing areas and regulation terrains”

Boundary lines are like invisible walls rising up from the ground, separating lanes from other lanes and from out-of-bounds areas. When the authorized officials lay out the lanes in the playing area, they are in a sense doing two things— installing the invisible walls, and installing strings to show players the locations of the walls.

A string shows the location of a boundary that was installed by the authorized officials. But the string itself, as a physical object, is not the boundary line, and moving it does not move the boundary line.

Recently a question was posed to international umpire Mike Pegg.

A boule moving rapidly toward the out-of-bounds line is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. Like this.
boule_stretches_stringIn the scenario depicted in the picture, did the ball cross the boundary line or not? Is the boule dead or alive?

Mike answered

[T]he boule would be considered live if it has not fully crossed the dead ball line. … In the diagram the boule has not crossed the line…. so it is not dead.

In Mike’s view, the string is the boundary line. It follows that if a boule moves a string, it moves the boundary line.

I disagree. In my view—

  1. The string is not the boundary line.
  2. Anybody or any thing can move the string. But the boundary moves only when the string is installed or moved by an authorized official.
  3. In the diagram, the boule moved the string. But it did not, and could not, move the boundary line.
  4. The boule completely crossed the boundary line. Therefore, it is dead.

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.


The “landing strip” for a thrown jack

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

updated 2021-05-25
The rules governing the thrown jack were dramatically changed in the 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules. Under the current (2020) rules, the landing strip covers the entire lane except for two small areas, 50cm deep, at each end of the lane. For more about the new rules, see THIS.
The information in this post is now obsolete. The post has been retained for any historical interest that it might have.


Article 7 specifies a number of distance-related constraints on a thrown jack. One of them is that “the jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from … the nearest boundary of an out-of-bounds area.”   This can create a problem on narrow lanes.

We are playing on a marked terrain that is 3 meters wide. Does the one-meter rule in Article 7 mean that the area where we can legally throw the jack— the “landing strip” as it were— is only one meter wide running down the middle of the terrain?

The answer to the question is “Yes, but it really depends on whether or not the terrain’s side lines are also dead-ball lines.”

The landing strip

Suppose that we have a playing area that contains only one marked terrain (one lane, piste, cadre), so that the boundary lines of all four sides are dead-ball lines. The lane is 4m wide and 15m long. If we measure one meter in from each of the four boundaries, then we have a landing strip in the middle of the lane that is 2m wide and 13m long. If the lane is only 3m wide, the landing strip is only one meter wide.

Things get more interesting when we have a big playing area that we divide into a grid of lanes using strings. The strings around the exterior of the grid, and the strings across the short ends of the lanes, are dead-ball lines. The other strings (the ones that cut up the playing area up into separate lanes) are “guide lines”— they indicate the boundaries of the lanes, but they aren’t dead-ball lines.

landing_strip_for_grid

Look at lane A. On its left side is an exterior dead-ball line; on its right side is a neighboring lane (B). So the landing strip for lane A is lop-sided. On one side, the landing strip stays one meter from the exterior dead-ball line, but on the other side it goes right up to the guide line with lane B. If the lanes are 4m wide, the landing strip for lane A is 3m wide, but the landing strip for lane B extends the full width of the lane and is 4m wide.

When the landing strip is too narrow

There are other situations where the landing strip is only one meter wide. Under FIPJP rules, region competitions may be played on a lane that is only 3m wide. And in time-limited games, all four boundaries of a lane are considered to be dead-ball lines. This means that in a time-limited game on a lane 3m wide— a common situation— the landing strip for each lane is only one meter wide.

This can happen even in games without time limits, if the lanes are arranged in a long strip. This kind of arrangement is quite common for competitions that are played on long, narrow areas like the paths in a public park or along a waterfront.

In order to deal with the problems of a too-narrow landing strip, many competitions reduce the jack’s required minimum distance to half a meter from a side dead-ball line. So even on a lane that is only 3m wide, the landing strip will still be at least 2m wide.

In 2016, the FIPJP adopted this practice for time-limited games— now Article 7 says— The jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any obstacle and from the nearest edge of an out-of-bounds area. This distance is reduced to 50cm in time-limited games, except for lines at the foot of lanes.