Measuring your skill level

It would be useful to have a simple, standard method for assigning a numeric value to a player’s skill level. A player could measure his (or her) improvement as he (or she) practices. Players seeking partners for a competition could use the measurements to help them find suitable partners. The method could also be used to measure the skill-level of a team before the start of a competition. With such measurements available, a competition organizer could seed teams without playing qualifying rounds.

Here is one way it might be done. There could be two measures, one for pointing and one for shooting. A target circle would be drawn on the ground. It would be 1 meter in diameter. A throwing circle would be placed 8 meters from the target circle. The terrain should be as similar as possible to the terrain that a player would encounter in a competition.

  • A successful pointing throw is one in which the thrown boule rolls to a stop inside the circle.
  • A successful shooting throw is one in which the thrown boule hits and knocks a target boule (located in the center of the target circle) out of the circle. A shooting attempt is NOT considered successful if the thrown boule hits the ground outside of the target circle before hitting the target boule.

If any part of a boule or divot overlaps the target circle, the boule or divot is considered to be inside the circle.

A player’s score (as a pointer or a shooter) is expressed as a percentage— the number of successful throws compared to the total number of throws. For the number to be precise enough to be useful, there must have been at least 20 throws.

With these measures in mind, a player might express his skill level as 80/5 (80% successful as a pointer, and 5% successful as a shooter) or 90/60 (90% successful as a pointer, and 60% successful as a shooter), and so on.

The easiest way to make the measurements is with two people. While one person throws, the other resets the target area between throws and tosses the thrown boules back to the thrower.

Admittedly, such measurements would be very rough. Still, I think even such rough measurements would be useful. I can also imagine that it might be useful to have these measurements at a shorter or longer distance, so a player might rate himself 90/60 at 7 meters, or 75/20 at 9 meters, and so on.

Proper use of the boule towel

Most players are familar with the requirement in Article 16(c) always to carry a boule towel in order to be able to remove (enlever) any mud or foreign substance clinging to a boule before throwing it. The rules, however, do not contain precise specifications for boule towels, so it is hardly surprising that the most frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque are questions about the boule towel— What kind of fabric should it be made of? How big should it be? How should it be held and used?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about boule towels is that the usual English translation of the French word (chiffon) is “boule towel“. In fact, toweling material, thick and fuzzy, is completely unsuitable for use as a boule towel. It quickly picks up stray bits of leaves, twigs, and thorns and is almost impossible to clean. Instead, we recommend a fabric with a much smoother, harder texture— a patch cut from the leg of a worn-out pair of jeans does the job nicely.

There is no regulation size for a boule towel. A towel that is too small to do the job is obviously undesirable; a towel that is too large will be clumsy to use and carry. We have found that a rectangle of fabric approximately 29cm x 43cm (11.5″ x 17”) works well. A cloth table mat makes an excellent boule towel.
Some so-called “experts” advise a player with a larger (or smaller) hand to use a larger (or smaller) towel. That’s rubbish, of course, since the relevant factor here is not the size of the hand but the size of the boule. A player who uses a larger (or smaller) size of boule should use a larger (or smaller) towel.

Finally, there is the question of how to carry and use the boule towel. Here, there are two basic requirements: one legal, the other practical. The boule towel must NOT be carried in such a way that it hides any boules that the player might also be carrying in the same hand. And, as a practical matter, the towel must be carried in a way that it can be conveniently used when needed, while not interfering with a player’s grip on any boule(s) that he may want to carry in the same hand.

The traditional provençal method of using the boule towel is to fold the long edge over the short edge, and then pinch the end of the towel into a small bunch,

The pinched end of the towel is then threaded through the fingers in the manner shown in the photograph (below).

When the hand is closed and holding a boule, the fingers naturally and effortlessly grip the towel firmly, and the tail of the towel falls cleanly away from the hand. When the towel is needed, the long loose tail can easily be folded up and over a boule in the hand in order to wipe the boule thoroughly. While doing this, it is easy to clean and dry the fingers and palm of the throwing hand by rubbing them vigorously with the cloth-covered boule.

Once you have found a boule towel that perfectly fits your hand and your playing style, you should treat it like what it is— a piece of personal hygiene equipment. Never lend your boule towel to another player; you don’t want to catch their cooties.

NOTE I am not a certified umpire. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and do not represent official rulings or rules interpretations of any organized petanque federation, national or otherwise. Posted April 1, 2017.

Are your boules toxic?

The answer is: No, they aren’t. But I wanted a headline that would grab your attention because there is an interesting story here. Read on.

There are basically three kinds of boules: boules made of stainless steel (inox), boules made of carbon steel (acier au carbone), and boules made of carbon steel that is then coated (revêtu, or chromé) in chrome to make the surface of the boules tougher and more resistant to rust (rouille). Some competition boules (e.g. Obut Match TR), but virtually all inexpensive leisure boules, are chrome plated.

Chromium is one of the elements; it is atomic number 24 on the periodic table of elements.

There are a number of different forms of chromium; some are helpful to human health, others are dangerous and harmful to the environment. The worst of these forms is hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. Chromium 6 is a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory problems, rashes, ulcers, allergic reactions, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and death. Its use in any industrial process creates a dangerous work environment and serious toxic waste disposal issues. (Do you remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? It was groundwater contamination with chromium 6 that Erin uncovered.)

Naturally, chromium 6 has started to attract the attention of environmental protection agencies and health and safety regulatory agencies around the world. Governmental regulations are still much looser than they should be, but things seem to be getting better.

So— what does this have to do with petanque boules?

Well, nothing and everything. On the one hand, the chrome plating on your leisure boules is perfectly harmless. No worries there. On the other hand, the process that is used in chrome plating (of boules and other kinds of chrome-plated objects) uses hexavalent chromic acid— chromium 6. Bad news there.

Because of the health and environmental issues associated with chromium 6, at least some manufacturers are moving away from chrome-plated products. One of them is Obut. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Obut is no longer making its line of “Tatou” chrome-plated leisure boules. Starting about a year ago, Obut’s new line of “Obut Loisir Inox” leisure boules are stainless steel. Conçues sans chrome, contrairement aux Tatou, ces boules de pétanque Loisir inox sont écologiques. And in its lines of competition boules you now have only two choices: stainless steel or carbon steel.

I learned about this recently when I noticed that Petanque America seemed no longer to be selling La Franc boules. In response to my email question, Phillipe Boets told me that Petanque America had indeed stopped selling La Franc boules about a year ago. Apparently La Franc has been getting orders for 30/40 thousand boules at a time from French sporting goods stores. (One wonders if news of exploding leisure boules might have something to do with that.) In any event, La Franc seems to be slacking off on its service to smaller vendors— Phillipe reports that its deliveries had become unpredictable and unreliable. So now if you go to the Petanque America web site, you won’t see La Franc competition boules for sale. You will see only Obut competition boules. Phillipe sees the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules as filling the niche that La Franc boules once filled.

With the Euro taking a dive, the price difference between La Franc competition boules [which are made in Thailand] and French competition boules has become smaller. Obut also came out with a new line of leisure boules in stainless steel, about 73mm, 660g, in 8 different designs. At $64, they’re the perfect “middle-of-the-road” boule, between the cheap chrome Chinese boules and the range of competition boules.

My shooting pit (4)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my fourth design. Like my second design it copies the layout of a horseshoe pit. Like my first design, the back-stops are V-shaped, which makes the boules easy to gather.

The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction (see detail photo, below.) (I got them cheap, at a recycled building-materials yard.) It is 2.5 feet high, although two feet would probably have been enough.

Click on any of the photos to see a larger view.





The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction.

How to send text messages from your laptop or PC

If you’re trying to co-ordinate a group of petanque players, it can sometimes be handy to be able to send them text messages via email from your laptop or PC. Here’s how to do it.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the purposes of emailing a text message, each cell phone has an ordinary email address. The format of that address is


The phoneNumber should be 10 digits. It should include the area code. It should include only numbers – no dashes or parentheses. So for a phone number of (333) 444-5555 the phoneNumber in the email address is 3334445555.

The carrierSMSgateway is the SMS (“Short Message Service”) gateway provided by the telephone carrier. If you know a telephone number, there are several free web sites that will let you look up the carrier of that number, and the carrier’s SMS gateway. One web site that I found easy to use was


In the image, you can see that the carrier for this particular number is Verizon Wireless, and Verizon’s SMS gateway is Very conveniently, provides the full SMS gateway address ( for the number that was looked up, so I can just copy-and-paste it into my email program.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will see your email address (the “Reply-to” email address that you provided when you sent your email message) in the place where he would normally see the caller’s telephone number. If the recipient replies to your text message, his reply will be sent to that email address.

Email providers often regard email that is sent from a telephone number as coming from an unknown or suspect source. Some will flag such email as spam, so that the reply ends up in your email’s JUNK MAIL folder. Some will greylist the reply and delay it (this message was delayed for an hour).

X-Greylist delayed 3601 seconds by postgrey-1.34 at

Some email providers will silently and completely filter out the reply— you receive no reply and no indication whatsoever that the recipient replied to your message. So, at least until you’ve experimented and determined otherwise, don’t assume that replies to your text message will get through to you.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will receive a text message consisting of the SUBJECT line of your email message (in parentheses) followed by the text of the message. You can use a very short subject line. When I send a text message with a question, I like to make the subject line just a question mark, so the recipient gets a text message that starts with “(?)”.

Keep your messages (including the SUBJECT line) short. Try to keep the whole thing to less than 160 characters. If your message is longer than 160 characters, your message will be broken down into chunks of 153 characters, and each chunk will be sent as a separate text message. Some carriers are smart enough to re-assemble the short chunks into one long text message, but most are not.

If you’d like to review your message before sending it to others, send it to your own phone. Then, if it looks good, you can send it to the real recipients.

Note that this information only applies to telephone numbers with US and Canada area codes. That is: numbers with country code = 1. You can send text messages to foreign countries, too. When dialing, you first specify your country’s “exit code” to get onto the international exchange, then you specify the recipient’s country code and his telephone number. For international dialing, one source that I found to be useful was It will tell you, for instance, that the exit code for the USA is 011.

How to access region-restricted web sites

On December 23, 2016 the world championships in Madagascar were streamed on a French TV channel, La chaîne l’Équipe. But if you are in the USA, and went to that web site to watch the championships, you saw a message saying that the channel is what is generally known as “region restricted”. You can see the message now if you wish— just click on this link to

I won’t go into the technology behind how region restriction works, or the several ways to get around region restrictions. If you’re interested in that, you can Google for that information.

Here I will describe the fairly simple and easy tool that I used, that allowed me to watch the championships. It is a product/service called TunnelBear. TunnelBear is a highly-rated VPN provider, and it worked well for me. Here’s how you can do what I did.

  1. Get the Chrome web browser. It is a good, fast browser, and it is free. It can be downloaded from Google’s web site.
  2. Open the Chrome browser. Go to the TunnelBear web site and navigate to the DOWNLOAD page.
  3. On the DOWNLOAD page, scroll down until you see “Browser Extensions”.
  4. Download and install the TunnelBear extension for Chrome.
  5. The download comes with 500Mb of free data. That’s enough to watch several minutes of video and to make sure the browser extension is working, but it is not enough to watch an entire petanque game. I signed up with the TunnelBear service for a monthly subscription, which comes with unlimited data, at a cost of about $8 per month. That was enough to allow me to watch all 8 hours of the world championships. (You can also get the TunnelBear service for a much lower cost with a yearly subscription.)
  6. After you have watched the championships, assuming that you have no other use for TunnelBear, remember to go back to the TunnelBear web site and cancel your monthly subscription. (Technically, the way you cancel a monthly subscription is to downgrade it to a free subscription.) The cancel/downgrade process is quick and easy. If you don’t cancel/downgrade, your monthly subscription will remain in effect and TunnelBear will continue charging your credit card every month.

If you stream French TV, you need to be aware of time differences between France and the USA. Right now, where I live, we are on Mountain Standard time, which means that we are 8 hours ahead of French time. The French broadcast started at 1600h (4pm), which means that it started at 800h (8am) our local time. Depending on your time zone and whether or not you are on daylight-savings time, your time will vary.