Taken out of context, curling seems strange. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of sweeping, and the stones matter in some mystical way that is never really clear. Like most things we Americans don't understand, we write it off as irrelevant. This, however, is dismissing an entire sport that is fascinating when you learn more about it. While there are brooms and yelling, curling requires expertise, skill, a healthy dose of physics, and a dash of luck.
The Playing Field
Curling is a sport that takes place on a sheet of ice. It is generally 150 feet long by 16.5 feet wide, although the exact dimensions can vary. When this game was first developed, the playing surface was likely to be a lake. These days, modern technology is used to freeze a saltwater solution into a super-smooth surface. At each end of the field, there is a type of starting block known as a hack, a scoring area referred to as 'the house', and a foul line called 'the hog'.
The most iconic element of curling, the stone, weighs around 40 pounds. This includes the weight of the handle bolted to the top of the stone. At most, it can have a circumference of 36 inches, and its height must be at least 4.5 inches. Sometimes, the curling stone is referred to as 'the rock'.
The brooms used in curling may seem the most nonsensical part of the entire game. They are, however, vital to the game's overall strategy. When the broom is swept vigorously over the ice, the friction causes the ice to momentarily melt. When this happens, the curling stone can be directed in a fairly straight line.
There are usually 4 players on a curling team, each with their own title. Each team member takes their turn at delivering, or throwing, the stone. The first player to throw the rock is called a 'lead'. The second player to throw is called 'second'. The third player to throw is called 'third' or vice-skip'. The final player to throw is the team captain, but is usually called 'skip'. The players of each team alternate turns. The skip stands on the opposite end of the playing field to direct the other three players during play. During the skip's turn to throw, the vice-skip performs this duty instead.
The goal of curling is to have the most points at the end of the game. Points are scored by throwing your team's rock as close to the center of the house as you can. Rocks that come to rest outside the house do not score any points. Each round of play, or 'end', consists of each player from each team throwing two rocks.
When a rock is thrown, the player who is throwing grabs the handle of the rock launches out from the hack using one foot. The player glides across the ice toward the hog. At this point, there are only seconds to determine the relative speed and direction of the rock. Before crossing the hog, the player gives the rock a twist to the left or the right. The twist makes the rock rotate, or curl, in a particular direction.
Once the rock crosses the hog, the sweepers take over. They are sliding down the ice at the same rate as the rock. Their job is to stay in front of the rock without touching it, and sweep the ice. While it may look haphazard to onlookers, the sweeping is actually a very controlled action that can help stop the rock from curling and move in a straight line.
When the end is over, points are awarded to the team with rocks the closest to the center of the house. The game usually finishes after 8 ends.
As you can see, the 'funny game with the ice and the brooms' is actually an interesting and challenging sport, not to be scoffed at―especially when a Scotsman is within earshot.