This year marks the 55th anniversary of Jarts, the lawn dart game apparently invented by Satan.
Jarts consisted of two small hula hoops, or “targets.” Also included in the package were eight giant lawn darts, or “footlong, javelin-like metal spikes with colorful plastic fins.”
The idea of the game was just like team horseshoes, especially if, instead of tossing horseshoes, you pulled the giant iron horseshoe stakes out of the ground and threw those as high in the air as you could.
Also if, instead of teams, the real competition centered around free-falling Jarts versus frantically fleeing humans.
All lawn darts were banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1988, a move that still serves as a litmus test for political correctness.
Plenty of other activities were just as dangerous, argued Robert Barnett, the president of R.B. Jarts Inc.
“Kids can hurt themselves with bicycles and archery and rifles, too. Why aren’t they included?” he once said. “I’d rather be hit by a lawn dart than by a horseshoe.”
Talk about a Sophie’s choice!
My wife and I are definitely not politically correct when it comes to kid activities. We buy our candy cigarettes by the carton.
I do have to admit, though, that Jarts felt like it had been invented to push the limits. It also felt like it had been invented in a bar by desperate game designers. Even the name sounds like a drunken, slurred version of “darts.”
Game Designer #1 (playing darts in a bar): We need a new game for the pitch meeting by tomorrow. And I’m drunk on alcohol!
Game Designer #2: I’m so drunk on alcohol I keep imagining I’m standing on that dartboard! Just a tiny little guy dodging those giant darts!
Game Designer #1: That’s it! We’ll make giant darts for people to throw. We’ll call them Jarts!
Game Designer #2: You mean darts?
Game Designer #1: Jes!
We owned Jarts when I was a kid. My dad warned my siblings and me repeatedly about the dangers of the game. We were relatively good kids. But, as soon as my dad was out of sight, we would be whipping Jarts as high in the air as possible, then sprinting out of the way as the giant darts fell toward us at 32 feet per second squared.
We learned a lot about the speed and angle of objects in free-fall — something about the injurious, even deadly, consequences of an incorrect miscalculation makes your brain work more quickly and effectively.
I mean, if I’d been sitting in a classroom and was asked to calculate how fast, how far, and in what direction Johnny would need to move in order to safely avoid an object free-falling at a 12-degree angle of incidence from a height of 45 feet, I’d never be able to figure it out.
However, when you’re Johnny, and that object is a real Jart thrown by your brother, your brain suddenly and clearly understands Galileo’s Falling Bodies Principle.
When it came to Jarts, kids couldn’t control themselves.
Some things, admittedly, are too much for children to handle. Like those giant Pixy Stix. Or unlimited Mountain Dew. Or giving two pre-teen boys on a sleepover access to late-night HBO in the early ‘80s.
Mixing all three of those things could be catastrophic.
Because, hypothetically, if a 12-year-old boy was sleeping over at his friend’s house, and that friend had HBO, those two, hopped up on sugar and caffeine, were eventually going to sneak downstairs and watch about three minutes of a highly inappropriate late-night HBO show. That hypothetical situation would end, I imagine, with one 12-year-old boy so scared he couldn’t stop crying and screaming, “How? How can TV make my insides so confused?”
That other 12-year-old, hypothetically, would be repeatedly whispering “Steve, be quiet! Your sobbing is going to wake up my parents!”
That show, incidentally, was “Fraggle Rock.”
Jarts seemed to have that same effect on people. You knew it was wrong, but you couldn’t stop yourself.
It was like a drug. It was, in fact a drug — the drug of adrenaline, coursing through your body as you calculated fall angle and rate, as you sprinted for that safe zone, all while keeping one eye out for Dad.