What is a mène (end, round)?

The basic subdivision of a game of petanque is a mène, pronounced like the English word “men”. Roughly speaking, a mène consists of three activities – placing the circle and throwing the jack, throwing the boules, and the agreement of points. A 1971 Canadian Petanque Federation rules booklet defines a mène this way–

When all of the players have played all of their boules, we say that they have played a mène. A game is composed of whatever number of mènes is necessary for one of the teams to score a winning number of points.

As a subdivision of a game, a mène is similar to an “end” in curling or lawn bowls (a traditional British boules-type game), a “frame” in American bowling, an “inning” in baseball, a “round” in boxing, or a “set” in tennis.

  • The English version of the FIPJP rules is a translation into British English, so it translates mène using the lawn bowls term “end“.
  • When Jean Bontemps made the first American English translation in the 1960s, he translated mène using the American baseball term “inning“.
  • American petanque players often refer to a mène as a “round“.
  • The most literal English translation of the ordinary French word mène is probably “direction“, as in “First we played in one direction, then we turned around and played in the other direction.”[1]

In my opinion, in the context of the rules of petanque, mène should be treated as a game-specific technical term and simply adopted, not translated. Every sport has its own specialized terminology for the subdivisions of a game. Tennis has sets, baseball has innings, boxing has rounds, basketball has quarters, bowling has frames. Why shouldn’t petanque have mènes? In English we can make one concession to English-language spelling conventions— we can omit the accent and write simply “mene“.

One of the frequently-asked questions about menes is “When does a mene start and end?” Another way of asking the same question is: “What kinds of events mark the start, and the finish, of a mene?” You can find the answer to that question HERE.


[1] The French word mène, when used as a verb, means to lead, to go to, to take to, to conduct.

Cette porte mène à la cave.
This door leads to the cellar.
This door goes to the cellar.
This door takes you to the cellar.

When mène is used as a noun— la mène— the most literal English translation is probably “a direction”, as in “This door is the way to the cellar. This door is the direction to the cellar.”

Moving a boule while measuring

A rule that regularly provokes questions from players occurs in Article 28.

The point is lost by a team if one of its players, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules.

Much of the confusion is caused by the phrase “the point is lost…” and the sloppy way in which players, umpires, and the FIPJP rules often use the expression “to have the point” when they mean “is closer than”.   It would have been much better if the rule had been written this way.

If a player, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules, then the offending team’s boule is considered to be farther from the jack than the offended team’s boule.

If the rule had been written that way, there would be far fewer questions about what the rule means and how to apply it. 

I call this the Frozen Triangle Rule.  The Frozen Triangle Rule assumes that we’re dealing with a simple case involving two contested boules, A2 and B2, and the jack.  A measurement is being made in order to answer the question— Which boule is closer to the jack?

Suppose that Albert (a player from Team A) is doing the measuring.  While measuring, Albert accidentally moves one of the boules or the jack.  Instantly:

  • The relationships between the contested boules and the jack become frozen, in effect forming a triangle.
  • In this frozen triangle, the boule belonging to the offended team (in this case, Team B) is considered to be closer to the jack than the boule belonging to the offending team.  B2 is “frozen” closer to the jack than A2.

Since B2 is closer to the jack than A2, Team B has the point; Team A must play the next boule. 

The frozen triangle can be broken or unfrozen if later in the game the jack or one of the contested boules is moved.  But as long as none of the balls in the triangle is moved, the triangle remains frozen and the offended team’s boule is considered to be closer to the jack than the offending team’s boule.  This is true during subsequent measurements to determine which team plays next, and it is true during the agreement of points.

As soon as a player accidentally moves a ball, regardless of whether it is his or the opponent’s ball, he loses the benefit of the measure.  The point, concerning this measure, remains with the opposing team until something has moved. This is why when instructing umpires we tell them to stay on the spot until something has changed.  If he was measuring the boules closest to the jack, his team must play next.  [Mike Pegg]

The players should carefully mark each of the boules that were being contested, and the jack, in order to determine if they are subsequently moved during the round. If they remain unmoved at the end of the round, the opponents of the team who made the measuring error are declared to hold the point between the two boules that were being contested, even if their boule would no longer measure as closer.  On the other hand, if either boule or the jack is subsequently moved during play, the declaration described above is rescinded, and each boule stands on its own merit via the normal measuring procedure. [FPUSA umpire’s guide, 2015 edition]

In the quote from Mike Pegg, the last sentence is important.  If [the player] was measuring the boules closest to the jack, his team must play next.  In our first diagram (above), A2 and B2 are indeed the boules closest to the jack.  So in that situation, as Mike points out, Team A plays next.

But consider a different situation. In this situation A1 is closest to the jack, so Team A has the point. Albert is measuring A2 and B2 in order to determine which boule is second-closest.  As before, Albert bumps a ball.  Instantly A2, B2 and the jack are frozen into a triangle, with B2 closer than A2. Now the boules (in order of their distance from the jack) are A1, B2, and A2.  Team A still has the point and so (unlike the previous situation) Team B plays the next boule.

As I noted earlier, much of the confusion surrounding this rule is the result of sloppy writing in the FIPJP rules, and specifically in the way that Article 28 says that “the team loses the point”. What Article 28 should say is that the team’s contested boule is considered to be farther from the jack. In our second situation, when Albert moved a contested ball his team did NOT lose the point.  A1 is still closest to the jack, so Team A still has the point. Team B plays the next boule.

What does “between the jack and the throwing circle” mean?

The Dead Ground Rule in Article 9 says that “The jack is dead … when an out-of-bounds area [terrain interdit, dead ground] is situated between the jack and the throwing circle.” What does “between the jack and the throwing circle” mean?

Consider this diagram. (Note that it is not drawn to scale.) A game is being played on an L-shaped terrain. The jack has been knocked to a place where it is almost, but not completely, “around the corner” from the circle. Or, to put it another way, an area of dead ground is protruding into the terrain; it may possibly be blocking the line of play between the circle and the jack.

The players are uncertain what to do; they are asking questions: Is the jack alive or dead? Is there dead ground between jack and the circle?

What does “between the jack and the circle” mean?

The answer is that “between the jack and the circle” means “between the jack and any part of the circle”.

Suppose you draw lines from the jack to all of the parts of the circle, as in this diagram. If any of those lines crosses dead ground, then there is dead ground between the jack and the circle, and the jack is dead.

Mike Pegg described the rule this way on “Ask the Umpire”.

Imagine two lines extending from the two sides of the circle to the jack. If there is any dead ground between those two lines, the jack is dead.

Visual inspection should be enough to resolve the situation, but if it isn’t, you can take a long tape measure and pull it tight between the jack and various random points on the circle. If in any of those positions the tape crosses dead ground, there is dead ground between the jack and the circle, and the jack is dead.

Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

Players sometimes ask— Is a wooden sideboard an obstacle? What they mean is— If the circle is close to a sideboard, should we move it? The question comes up because there is a concern that 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.

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— 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.

Once we’ve defined our terms, the answer to the question depends on the particular circumstances. In normal circumstances a wooden sideboard is not considered an obstacle. But in a situation where it might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form, then it 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 in 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?

How do you say the score in petanque?

How do you say the score in petanque?

Before we look at the question of how to say or report the score in a game of petanque, let’s look at the general question of how to report the score of a game in any sport. Suppose that you are a spectator watching a game between Team A which has 3 points and Team B which has 4 points. Team A is the host (“home”) team; Team B is the visiting (“away”) team. You turn to your companion and say “Now the score is…”

  • If you are in the USA, you probably say the highest score first, e.g. “4-3” or “4-3 in favor of Team B”. In most American sports this is the customary practice during the game, and the almost universal practice after the game is over and the winner is known: the winner’s score is given first, followed by the loser’s score: “9-8, Team B”.
  • You may say the score of the home team first (“3-4”) or the score of the visiting team first (“4-3”). Giving the score of the visiting team first seems to be an American custom, originating with American baseball. The rest of the world does the reverse, typically giving the score of the home team first. That’s the difference between American football and soccer.
  • In some sports, games have rounds or “innings” in which the teams play different roles— in an “inning”, one team is “in” (e.g. batting) while the other team is “out” (e.g. fielding). During an inning in these games the traditional practice is often to report the score of the “in” team first. During a set in tennis, for example, one player “serves” and the other player “receives service”. In this context the standard practice is to say the score of the server first.

With petanque, at least in the USA, after a game has finished the standard practice seems to be to report the score of the winning team first. The question that most interests me is how we talk about the score during the game, after the agreement of points at the end of each mène.

  • (A) In the USA, perhaps the most common technique is to use the highest-score-first technique— “4-3” or “4-3, in favor of us (or you).”
  • (B) Another approach is to copy tennis’s practice of saying the score of the server (or in this case, the serving team) first. In petanque the “serving” team (the team that throws out the jack for the next mène) is the team that won the last mène. So you first say the score of the team that won the last mène. If you know that the score is 3-4, and you know that it was your team that won the last mène, you know that your team’s score is 3.
  • (C) There is another approach, also inspired by tennis. In tennis, before serving, the server calls out the score, saying his/her own score first. In petanque, after the agreement of points, the winning team verbally reports the score from its viewpoint (“3-4”), to which the opposing team responds by verbally reporting the score from its viewpoint (“4-3”). This produces a “call and response” exchange (an “affirm and confirm” exchange”?) which usefully confirms and finalizes the two teams’ agreement on the score.

I think that each of these techniques is probably used by some group, somewhere, in the USA or in France or elsewhere. What I don’t know, and would like to know, is:

  1. Is there a group that uses a different technique than the ones I’ve mentioned here?
  2. Is there one particular method that is more widely used than the others?

Throwing the jack to 6-10 meters

To start a mène (end, round) the winning team places the circle and then throws out the jack to a distance of 6 to 10 meters.

Article 7 says: “The distance that separates [the jack] from the interior edge of the throwing circle must be 6 meters minimum and 10 meters maximum for Juniors and Seniors.” In petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the rule says that the shortest distance between the inside edge of the circle and the front of the jack must be no less than 6 meters and no more than 10 meters.

The front edges of the two jacks in the picture (below) are at exactly 6 meters and 10 meters from the circle. Both jacks are valid. If the jack at 6m was a little closer to the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be less than 6m. If the jack at 10m was a little farther from the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be more than 10m.

It is important to be clear about the fact that the wording of the rule uses the concept of distance, not of area. The distance between the circle and the jack must be between 6 and 10 meters. Some players confuse this with the rule about a boule straddling the boundary line of a marked playing area. They imagine an area with boundaries at 6 and 10 meters from the circle, and think that the rule says that the jack must be at least partially inside the boundaries of that area in order to be valid.

Imagine a square on the lane going from 6 to 10 meters from the circle. When you throw the jack it is valid when even the smallest part of the jack is in the square, like a boule’s validity until it totally passes the dead-ball line.


According to this mental model the jacks straddling the “lines” in the above drawing are valid. In fact, however, there are no lines on the ground to be straddled. The jack at about 10 meters IS valid because it does not exceed the maximum allowable distance, but the jack at about 6m is NOT valid because it is less than the minimum allowable distance.

Sometimes players express the same confusion by asking: “Does ‘between 6 and 10 meters’ mean between 6 and 10 meters as measured to the front of the jack or to its back?” Again: in petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the answer is: the FRONT of the jack.

Which team starts the next game?

Question: In an informal setting, two teams play a series of games against each other. After a game is finished, which team throws out the jack to start the next game?

Here’s a story from Gary Jones.

When I first started learning the game, I didn’t have enough playing experience to know the most common way of playing, so I tried to glean my knowledge from the written rules. Since the rules say that the team that won the toss or the last scoring round throws the first boule, that’s the way we played– even from game to game. So we always played “Winner first.”

As an American, I had EXACTLY the same experience when I was learning the game. This year, however, we had a visiting player from France, Daniel. Daniel told us that in France they play “Losers start the next game.” I figured that since it was a French game, the French way must be the right way. But I wanted to make sure that Daniel had given us an accurate account of French tradition. So I checked with Raymond Ager, a British player who now lives in the south of France. He confirmed what Daniel had said.

I would say, in an informal setting, it’s for the players to agree such things among themselves. There is no ‘official’ rule but I think the convention that everybody adopts is that the losers of the last game start the next — in England players say, “Mugs away!”.

Another player, Andy Walker, confirmed the “Mugs away!” expression.

So there it is… The losing team starts the next game. French players can draw on long-standing oral tradition to help them when the written rules aren’t helpful. American players aren’t so lucky, and I suspect that Gary’s story and mine might be common in America. So I thought I’d write this post to help other American players who have had the same experience.

Mugs away!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t really know what “Mugs away!” means. A bit of internet research revealed that it is British slang (probably derived from the game of darts) and it means “Losers start!” It is what the winner of a game says to the loser, and it means basically “Let’s start (the next game). You play first.”

The word “mug” has some mildly derisive connotations.

The term ‘mug’ is simply an adoption of the common (UK) slang word ‘mug’, meaning a fool, a simpleton and especially a gullible ‘punter’ who is most likely to fall prey to a confidence trickster. (SOURCE)

It is a piece of mild one-upmanship, implying that since I (the speaker) just won, I can afford to be generous and give you (the loser, who fondly imagines he has a chance against the great me) the advantage of throwing first, although, of course, it won’t help you a bit. (SOURCE)

We need guidelines as well as rules

If an organization issues a document Rules of the Sport of X, that organization should also issue another document— Guide to the Interpretation of the Rules of X. Here’s why.

In order to be effective, a set of rules governing any activity needs to be both concise and precise; both short and clear. Every sentence should be phrased carefully and be grammatically correct. Slang and verbosity, which may cause confusion, should be rigorously avoided. Every word should be the right word, every word should count, and two words should never be used where one would do. Technical terms should be introduced explicitly, defined carefully, and used consistently. No rule should be stated twice— especially if it is worded differently in different places.

With a novel or a newspaper or a magazine article we read along, get the general gist of things, and that is all we need. We’re not used to reading documents that are written in the tight, compressed, precise way that a good rules document is written. That is why, in addition to rules documents, we need rules guides.  The purpose of a rules guide is to translate the compressed language of a rules document into the kind of language that we normally use in everyday life, so that players can more easily understand the full meaning and implication of the rules.

A rules guide document is a collection of comments on the rules. One thing that a comment can do is to point out implications of a particular rule. For example, when a single word (“only if” rather than “if) has significant implications for the meaning of a rule, a comment can point that out. Sometimes the full significance of a rule can be seen only when it is placed in a wider historical or cultural context— comments can provide that wider context. In some situations there may seem to be no applicable rule, or multiple contradictory applicable rules— a rules guide can note the existence of such situations and explain how to deal with them.

A rules guide will almost certainly need to be revised more frequently than a rules document. With time, players will inevitably find new ways to be confused by the rules, and will come up with new questions about the rules. The rules (if they were well-written) won’t need to be revised, but the rules guide will need to be updated to deal with such new confusions and questions as they emerge.

Note that a rules guide is not the same thing as an umpire’s guide. A rules guide contains comments on the rules of the game. An umpire’s guide contains guidelines, advice, and instructions for umpires, telling them how to perform their roles as umpires. A petanque umpires’ guide, for instance, would help umpires in deciding when to impose penalties and which penalties to impose; how to reach a decision when teams offer conflicting stories about what happened; and so on.

Ideally we would have three separate documents— the rules, a rules guide, and an umpire’s guide. In the case of petanque what we actually have is only the FIPJP’s international rules in which umpire guidelines are intermixed with rules of the game. There is no separate FIPJP rules guide or umpire’s guide. Some national federations also issue a “rules interpretations guidelines for umpires” that contains rules guides and umpire’s guidelines.

CNA comments on throwing an invalid jack

In January 2017, the CNA (Commission Nationale d’Arbitrage, the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 6. The comments were in French, and so weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. In this post, I present an English translation of those comments. My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found on the FFPJP website and also HERE and HERE. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).

Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.

In a comment on an earlier version of this article, Gary Jones wrote (February 8, 2018):

Thank you for sharing. I do have one comment. The clarification of Article 6 states, “If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules.” It should also be noted that the umpire would, in all likelihood, issue a WARNING (yellow card) to the team that failed in its obligation to place the jack in a valid position.

Rules governing the jack (cochonnet, bouchon)

As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.

  1. The jack must be made of wood.
  2. The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
  3. The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
  4. The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
  5. A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.

Table of Contents

  1. Documents containing the rules governing jacks
  2. A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
  3. Synthetic jacks
  4. Paramagnetic jacks
  5. The weight of jacks
  6. The future of jacks

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