Shuffleboard is not deck shuffleboard, the full and proper name of the game played with a cue or stick. Deck shuffleboard is a parvenu that was apparently devised late in the 19th century as a shipboard amusement for children, and is now, of course, ineradicably associated with St. Petersburg, Fla. and senior citizens. True shuffleboard—first called shoveboard and then, inexplicably, shovelboard—seems to have originated in England, where there is a record of its being played in 1532, and in its earliest form consisted of shoving coins across a polished tabletop. Shuffleboard was one of the first games played in the American colonies; but, along with dice, cards, bowls, quoits and ninepins, it was banned on account of the early Puritan "detestation of idleness." Indeed, in Colonial Connecticut and Massachusetts shuffleboard was described as a game in which "much precious time is spent unfruitfully."
Nonetheless—or, rather, for this very reason—shuffleboard has flourished. According to Sol Lipkin, sales manager of the American Shuffleboard Company of Union City, N.J., which has 99% of the market, there are perhaps half a million boards now in use. American sold 3,500 last year. "The only trouble with the shuffleboard business," says Nick Melone, American's general manager, "is that shuffleboards last forever."
Shuffleboards aren't confined to bars. For example, American sells to the YMCA, the Salvation Army and the Baptist Church. (In this vein, Billy Mays says he once won a $30 Bible from a Bible salesman in shuffleboard.) American has also shipped 150 boards to Vietnam and it has even installed a retractable board on a torpedo rack on the nuclear-powered submarine U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.
Celebs play shuffleboard. Jackie Gleason and Perry Como have played at home. Rock Hudson played Billy Mays in a Hollywood bar. "I beat him three times for $100," Billy recalls. "Seeing I had a cinch win, I tried to get him to bet money. I wanted to play for $200 or quit. Since I quit he was sure glad, because he said he'd have hated to play me until he beat me."
A regulation shuffleboard playing surface is made out of rock maple, weighs 484 pounds, takes a month to manufacture and is 20 feet 8 inches long. To play, two players, each with four weights, stand at the same end of the table. The first player slides his first weight toward the other end of the board, which is divided into areas worth one, two and three points; a weight hanging off the end of the board counts as four points, and 15 points wins. (Shuffleboard players have to be able to shoot with either hand, and among the various deliveries are the colorfully named Jersey twist, the semi-Jersey, the reverse Jersey, the flat weight and the reverse flat.)
The opponent then shoots his first weight, generally attempting to knock off the other player's weight or to outdistance it. The two players continue shooting alternately until all weights have been shuffled. The player whose leading weight is farthest down the board is the winner of the round and he scores whichever of his weights are in front of his opponent's leading weight. The contestants then go to the opposite end of the board, where another round starts, the loser of the previous round shooting last. This is called having the hammer. Delivering the weight for the sole purpose of scoring is called lagging. You've got to be able lo shoot in shuffleboard—knock weights off or hit and stick—but ultimately the best lagger is going to win. As Billy Mays says: "You shoot for show and lag for dough."