At 3:11:31 on the Sunday main broadcast livestream of the legendary Broomstones College Curling Bonspiel, eight bold 4-person teams begin their march across the ice, banging their curling brooms into the ice rink on a clearly intentionally polyrhythmic beat, accompanied by a live bagpiper with dead eyes. The illustrious Team Princeton, infamous for losing every game in last year’s Broomstones College Spiel, somehow made it to the gold medal game. Team Princeton’s players all look reasonably badass, especially the team’s skip, or team captain, Nelson Rogers, who was mistaken by an over-friendly Cornell freshman for a 57 year-old ex-Olympian.
When it’s time for the bagpiper to lead the competitors to the playing end of the rink, everyone does such an impeccable job at walking in a straight line that it is only logical for them all to take celebratory shots before game play commences (for the purposes of legal, I note that the shots were ginger ale).
Whom must fearless Princeton face in the tournament final? None other than University of Wisconsin-Superior, who won bronze at College Curling Nationals in 2022 (Princeton did not qualify for Nationals in 2022, due to the aforementioned win-rate of 0%).
“You Dub Sup,” as UW-Superior is referred to in colloquial contexts, began the game by winning the coin toss for the hammer (enabling the last shot advantage) but then giving up said last stone advantage; evidently, they did not pity Princeton and preferred to drag the game out longer, probably for practice.
The first end starts off with Princeton almost giving up three points to You Dub Sup, but Mr. Rogers’s successful takeout and terrible draw shot (thrown with takeout weight, not draw weight) help them scramble out of this hole. In the next end, Team Princeton puts on a slightly better showing—in the first half of the end, a couple of their rocks actually make it into play. But things take a turn for the worse when supposedly experienced Vice Lara Katz (this is moi) overthrows her rock so much that it goes out of play as well. Then Mr. Rogers also overthrows his hit and leaves the opposition sitting two. He whacks his broom on the ice with neighborly aplomb, but thankfully, no one curses anyone out (it’s only curling, after all). After playing for months on a shrunken hockey-sheet-faux-curling-rink, all while getting really buff from lugging their 42 lbs rocks around, Princeton has forgotten how gently a curling stone must be thrown—or have they?
End 2 finishes spectacularly when the teams have to pull out a ginormous metal contraption whose sole purpose is to determine which stone is closer to the button (center of the target), because the naked eye, in this case, does not suffice. Vice Katz forgets righty tighty lefty loosey, and the measurement operation takes twice as long as it needs to; after all, the players could just use the laser measurement device, but they are too proud to admit the supremacy of modern technology. Luckily (or unluckily, if you’re bored already), Princeton wins the measurement game and only gives up two points, instead of three, to the Superior team.
Second Isla Xi Han, whose takeaway from this weekend was that you should not drink hot coffee and cold water one after the other on an empty stomach before a curling game, manages to throw up a neat guard in end 3. The only problem is that Superior does not seem to care about Princeton’s tidy guards, they care only about the terrible attempts at takeout shots that both Han and Katz are responsible for (never mind that bit about Princeton being able to throw heavy-weight shots). It becomes evident during this end that the livestream’s back and front views are not synced, given that the viewer can observe Mr. Rogers leaping in excitement at the front view at 4:08:37 and the back view at 4:08:39, while his feet are clearly on the ground in the other view at these times. His excitement falls into despair (in two different views, one after another) as the shot is only half-successful, and Princeton gives up another point to UW-Superior.
UW-Superior remains composed throughout ends 4 and 5, despite finally giving up a handful of points to Princeton. Perhaps they wanted to gain the hammer, an advantage to the team who does not score. Perhaps they needed some practice throwing different kinds of shots. Perhaps they were getting chilly and wanted to see the Princeton team smiling to warm their cold Midwestern hearts, especially after brand-new curler Lead Eman Atta Maan throws shots that are actually in play. As Princeton curling groupie Micha Christoph says, “All of a sudden I could see the players trying really hard. They weren’t playing any better, but they looked like they wanted to.”
In end 6, a new variety of disaster strikes Team Princeton: dryer lint. Vice Katz’s first stone hits a microscopic germ while flying down the ice and careens off into the wrong direction, a tragedy known as “picking.” (Must be the Spirit of Curling.) Katz is so cranky after her picked shot that she misses the second shot by an even wider margin. Skip Rogers is forced to try to save the end and barely manages to prevent the opposition from taking five or six points, instead reducing the team’s losses down to one point. Fortunately for Princeton, the You Dub Sup Skip throws away his last-shot advantage with a poorly aimed takeout shot.
End 7 is Princeton’s glory moment (keyword moment). Vice Katz, in a majestic but unique turn of events, only overthrows one of her draws, You Dub Sup must be feeling playful because they seem like they’ve forgotten how to make the one type of shot they’ve been throwing perfectly the whole game, and Skip Rogers makes both of his shots (both of which are takeouts, the only shot he seems to be able to throw).
End 8, however, is a different story. Vice Katz, determined to emphasize that her picking rock was not deserved karma but a danger all should be wary of, insists on cleaning everyone else’s rocks before they’re thrown and slows down the entire operation (there are no teams left on the rink now except Princeton and Superior). Skip Rogers realizes that his teammates are now trying to underthrow their rocks to make up for lost time, and because no one actually knows how to sweep (or has the energy to keep sweeping during this fifth game in a very long weekend), he starts leaving the house and sweeping all his teammates’ rocks for them. (After the game he claims to be tired from all that sweeping, which his teammates find insulting. Curling groupie Christoph also says he is tired, because he had to watch 10+ hours of curling, and he couldn’t sweep to distract himself from the pain of watching Princeton lose. Who’s to say who had it toughest?)
Unfortunately for weary Rogers, his teammates have thrown especially poorly in that eighth end. Katz missed her first takeout and chucked her second one so hard that although it hit its target, it also went out of play. Maan’s first stone didn’t make it into play and her second ended up in a region of the ice disadvantageous to Team Princeton; Han’s first stone ended up next door to Maan’s second and her second stone careened right through. By the time it’s Rogers’s turn, things are not looking too hot for Princeton: they’ve somehow fucked up their one tiny lead in the whole game. Rogers first attempts a mediocrely executed double-takeout-peel hybrid, essentially intended to shift as many opponents’ rocks out of play as possible while keeping his own rock in play. Instead, he just moves the opponent’s stones around, taking out only one of theirs and his own shot with it. Team UW-Superior gives Rogers another chance at glory by throwing their first skip’s rock through, but in a variation on a familiar theme, Rogers’s last shot is not only too light but also off-the-mark, and Katz fails to call “Sweep!” before it’s too late (although she would be down to hotly debate whether sweeping the stone the whole way down would’ve made an ounce of difference).
With that, the game is over.
At first, there is devastation; then, denial; then, anguish; then, acceptance and understanding of the bright side of life: after all, this was the gold medal game—and a silver medal at the most well-attended college curling event in the country is nothing to sneeze at. Princeton has come a long way from their 0% win-loss record, and has big aspirations. Maybe the next time you’ll hear from me about curling will be when we go to Nationals… fingers crossed for that qualification letter. Stay tuned.