Philly Stones: Summer's Hottest Lawn Game Takes Big 'Ol Balls

In the 1800s Nova Scotia folks took stick-ball to the ice. In 1881 Dr. James Naismith started tossing soccer-style balls into peach baskets. It can take decades of tweaking & testing to get it right, but the best games find a place in our culture & withstand the test of time. My prediction for the next big thing *might* not reach NHL or NBA levels, but it’s gonna keep growing. And it requires a big ‘ol set of balls.

.philly stones sign

It’s the game of Stones, and this weekend I fell in love with it. Truly the hottest activity to hit lawn sports since Cornhole & Ladder Golf, and I’m not just saying that because they gave me a free tshirt. I don’t have much patience for games with complicated directions and this is something simple I can play while eating a hoagie or getting wasted enough to embarrass myself at a family party.

Still eating hoagie midway through playing in the tourney championship game

Still eating hoagie midway through playing in the tourney championship game

It’s a toss game played through 5 mini-golf style stretches with obstacles like sand traps, water, boulders, trees, etc. Teams throw their stones (similar to bocce balls) at a small target ball, called a mark, with the closest stones scoring points. With each round, the mark advances on the course and when the end of the course is reached, the team with the most points wins.

“Man, you found the old how-to videos. They are so bad.” – Stones Co-Founder, Ryan Kinka:

Hate when my stones get wedged under hard wood.

All up in that wood.

Watch out for that sand trap, it's a doozy.

Watch out for the sand trap, it’s a doozy.

You get 3 different sized stones in your arsenal, so on any given toss, you have the option of using a 90mm, 100mm or 110mm. The 90mm stones are more for offense – sneaking in between the other teams’ balls (::insert hacky Kate/balls joke here::) to get closest to the mark. The 100mm are good in most any situation. The 110mm stones are the heavy artillery – use ‘em to bomb the other team’s balls out of the way.

Players like to customize their stones. These ones like to tell the Maverick balls how dangerous they are.

These custom stones like to tell the Maverick stones how dangerous they are.

The Deathstone

The Deathstone.

Besides how fun all the players were, one of my favorite parts was hearing the game’s origin story. It was developed by the Kinka brothers and their friends on an upstate NY camping trip 12 years ago when they got a little drunk & bored with regular bocce. They used the natural materials around them to build a ‘bocce-golf’ course and jotted down some rules with charcoal on a pizza box. In the years since they’ve refined the official regs and its popularity has grown. They’ve played in Philadelphia, Acadia, Atlantic City, upstate NY and Canada with tournaments including anywhere from 8 to 16 teams.

Last year's MVP, Bobby 'Stones', tosses a 100mm stone towards the mark.

Last year’s MVP & my partner for the day, Bobby ‘Stones’, tosses a 100mm stone towards the mark on stretch 3.

Philly Stones is a 501C3 & their mission is to get people enjoying the outdoors. You can purchase an official set here and watch a blog on building your own course here. One of the founders, Ryan Kinka said, “I would love to see stones regional club teams set up and played against each other, like travel little league for adults. That would be my dream.”

Tourney champs: Me & Bobby 'Stones'.

Tourney champs: Me & Bobby ‘Stones’, who I am delighted to report was wearing a ‘Mmmmmerica!’ shirt with flag made of a waffle & bacon strips.


QUICK NOTE 2: A Brief Q&A –

Can I play:

  • With beer/sandwich/vape in-hand?
    • Yes, highly encouraged.
  • Severely hungover?
    • Yes. I know this for a fact because I had a few too many drinks watching Rough N’ Rowdy 3 the night before.
  • With physical limitations?
    • Yep! The course might have to be adjusted a bit & you may require help from your friends but almost anyone can play this game.
  • At home?
    • Yes, you just need a set of stones (balls), natural elements (twigs, branches, rocks, slate, etc.) and a spouse who won’t kill you if you tear up the yard a little (act now, apologize later).
Backyard stones'in

Backyard stones’in

  • Are there any public courses already set up?
    • Click here for a map of public courses.
  • Recommended age range?
    • 8+
  • Uniform?
    • You could play this butt naked or dressed to the nines but shoes are recommended because no one likes a ball to the toe.
My usual stones outfit w/ a sturdy pair o' kicks.

My usual stones outfit w/ a sturdy pair o’ kicks.

  • How long does a game normally take?
    • A normal paced game is between 30 – 40 minutes but can take longer if a partner or opponent takes forever to plan out their shot & JUST THROW THE GODDAMN BALL ALREADY. Not a bad idea to agree on a ‘shot clock’ time among your friends.

Have you developed your own game or is there something unique in your area that’s catching on? Feel free to share below & add a link if you have one. I’d love to check out more stuff like this!