The Brits have no shortage of remarkable little sporting contests with which to occupy themselves. They race snails on cricket fields, eat poisonous nettle leaves for showmanship, and allow themselves to be chased downhill by rolling cheese wheels even at the risk of being knocked unconscious. And, of course, let us not forget the World Conker Championship, a beloved autumnal competition wherein players take drilled and strung horse chestnuts, a.k.a. conkers, and mercilessly thwack them at each other until they break their opponents’ nuts. As the championship organizing committee chairman described it to The Wall Street Journal, it’s just “one of them mad British little pastimes.”
But according to some conker enthusiasts, a crisis of soggy nuts may have dealt a hard blow to this year’s match, currently slated for October 8. The Journal reports that storms, heat waves, and generally wet weather have dislodged chestnuts from their branches too early, and now, some fear the nuts collected feel too mushy and small to satisfyingly smash against each other. Per The Independent, a setback of this scale hasn’t taken place since 1974, when hard nuts had to be imported from Germany for the competition. Organizers for this weekend’s event — scheduled to take place in the village of Southwick, Northamptonshire — have suggested firming up the squidgy little nuts via baking, stirring controversy within the conker community: Officially known as “nut pimping,” the practice of artificially hardening nuts — through ovens or clear nail polish or any other unnatural means — is usually forbidden.
With that in mind, certain enterprising conkerheads have been brainstorming creative solutions to get these nuts hard: James Atkins, who runs the smaller Conker Cup tournament in Reading, England, told the Journal the nuts “do seem to be getting softer” and noted that he is now seeking mature conkers, which tend to be more unyielding. Per the Journal, one competitor, Charlie Bray, maintains that nuts get hardest after journeying through a pig’s digestive tract. So there’s that.
But still others claim that reports of mushy conkers are, frankly, overblown: “We do not hold with the idea that there is a conker crisis,” Yanny Mac, organizer of the Waveney Valley Conkers Tournament, told the Journal. “I just checked my stash … and conkers are emphatically NOT softer this year.” Contest organizer Cristina Harrison, who helps put on a conker event for the Much Hadham Forge Museum, told the outlet the museum’s ancient horse-chestnut tree has “produced more conkers than usual” this year. My advice? Keep calm and crack on, conkerheads; bake those nuts and break those nuts.