Sometimes — before the agreement of points — you find yourself in a situation where you know which boule is closest, but you need to make a measurement in order to determine which boule is second. And sometimes you can’t make that measurement because the closest boule is in the way.
In such a case, you need to mark and remove the first boule (A in our diagram), take the measurement, and then put it back exactly in its original position.
When tolerances are tight, this can be a tricky operation. Your marks on the ground may not be precise enough to allow you to be sure that you’ve put it back exactly in its original position. The traditional solution is “the cup”. This technique involves pushing the boule into the terrain while rotating it a few times (like screwing-in a light bulb) before picking it up. This creates a slight depression or “cup” in the terrain that guides the boule exactly back into its original location when it is replaced. Another traditional way to make a cup is to use another boule to gently tap the top of the boule several times before picking it up.
This technique is without a doubt the most accurate way to mark the location of a boule before removing it temporarily in order to measure. Many umpires, however, hate the cup. They consider it to be disturbing the terrain in an unacceptable way. As Richard Powell, Regional Umpire of the Southern Counties Petanque Association of the English Petanque Association, writes
You should NOT try to push the boule downwards to make a little “cup” in the ground to help with its later replacement, because the “cup” might prevent the moved-and-replaced boule from moving if any subsequent boule were to disturb it, or may stop any other boule that is moving from going where it would otherwise have gone.
As a practical matter, I think concerns about the effects of the cup are more theoretical than real. Petanque is not played on billiard-table surfaces. The size of the cup is unlikely to be greater than the natural variation of the surface. And the cup is surely a smaller disturbance of the terrain than marks drawn in the dirt, the traditional and accepted method.
Still, this technique does disturb the surface of the terrain, and that’s a concern, at least on a theoretical level. Is there a better method? Here’s a tip that was posted by Colin Stewart last year on the “rules of petanque” forum of petanque.org.
A good method which doesn’t disturb the surface is to use an old shoe lace. Wind the lace around the base of the boule and pull both ends gently until it fits around the point where the ground and the boule meet — but don’t pull so tight as to move the boule, just enough to create a ring that fits closely around the base of the boule.
Lift the boule out carefully and then measure. Replace the boule into the ‘ring’ of shoelace and then carefully unwind the lace from around the boule. The removed boule should be precisely where you left it and no need to scratch marks into the terrain.
This sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll need to practice a few times before I get the knack of it. And I’ll need to add a shoelace to my boules bag.