What's a safer substitute for lawn darts?

lawn darts in ground
They look innocuous enough parked in the ground, but catch one of those vintage and outlawed (in the U.S.) lawn darts in the noggin, and you might be singing a different tune. Actually, you might not be singing at all.
Sherwin McGehee/E+/Getty Images

Ah, the bucolic days of summer vacations. The spitting sprinkler cooling you off in the yard while you read under the shade of a tree, that ear-piercing scream you hear when someone is pierced with the business end of a flying projectile during a friendly game of lawn darts.

If you're not familiar (or were born after 1988, when they were first banned in the United States) lawn darts are pretty much as they sound: dart sets that are designed to be thrown at a target, in this case, a large ring or hoop, lying in the grass. The closer you get to the target, the higher your score. Of course, getting in the hoop is even better. It's the same idea as a few other games we'll discuss, like horseshoes and bocce. Or darts, for that matter.


If flinging metal-tipped missiles around the yard sounds dangerous to you, then you're pretty much spot-on there. Keep in mind that these aren't regular-old dangerous darts; lawn darts were almost a foot long, with a weighted tip [source: CPSC]. We're being a bit flip here, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission's 1988 ban on them wasn't a joke: Three kids died as a result of a lawn dart injury. Between 1978 and 1986, emergency rooms reported 6,100 visits due to lawn darts [source: Baker]. (That's about the same amount of people who are going to the emergency room every year in the U.S. for heat-related illnesses, like dehydration or heat stroke [source: CDC].) In other words, they have a fairly significant record of being unsafe.

But before you glumly pack up your steel projectiles to quietly watch grass grow, know this: You are not the only one who still wants to play lawn darts. And there are a lot of toy and outdoor game companies trying to woo you their way with activities that might not be great for the lawn, but aren't going to leave blood on it either.


From Sore Hand to Slight Chance of ER Visit

Playing bocce comes with the added bonus of being able to use your fake Italian accent. (Skip this step if you're actually Italian or playing with Italians.)

Just because one outdoor activity resulted in death, maiming and general bloodshed doesn't mean that you must resign yourself to an indoor checker game for the duration of the summer. In fact, there are many games that might get you just as excited as a soaring lawn dart landing in a bull's-eye does.

We'll start with our riskiest alternatives:


  • Games that may result in a co-pay to the doctor: Sure, they might not land you in the ER, but there is a certain (small) risk. Horseshoes falls under this heading. It's the same idea, of course, as lawn darts. Using heavy metal horseshoes (my band's first album), you're trying to get as close as you can to throwing the ring around a peg posted in the ground. The bloodless pros: no sharp needles! The bloody cons: An errant horseshoe to the head hurts.
  • Games that may result in bruises: Luckily, a genius and entrepreneur saw that lawn darts could be tweaked to be a much safer game. It's now pretty easy to find a lawn dart-like game. (Jarts is popular at many general or toy stores.) Instead of the metal tip, the projectiles feature a weighted, rounded tip that lands and sort of stays put after you fling it. Players have noted that the newer darts bounce. The upside? You're pretty much playing lawn darts without the blood loss. However, if you play lawn games like my family, it still could result in someone throwing a decent-sized object at your head.
  • Games that may give you carpal tunnel if you're playing them way too often, but that's about it: Bocce ball (sometimes called bowls) involves bowling small balls on the lawn as close to a target as possible. You're really only going to hurt someone if you're intentionally attempting to bludgeon them. Croquet (using a mallet to hit a ball through a course of hoops) might cause you to fall into acute boredom, but that's about it. And then there are some lawn games popular outside the United States that are based a similar idea: Kubb, a well-known game in Sweden, involves throwing sticks to knock down the wooden blocks of opponents.

So play away, and stay safe. And if you need lots more ideas for fun lawn games, check out more links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Author's Note: What's a safer substitute for lawn darts?

I'm one of the lucky generation who grew up with a set of lawn darts at Grandma and Grandpa's. But lucky, of course, is misleading, if you're the youngest out of all the cousins, armed with metal projectiles. It wasn't the CPSC that banned them from our play; it was the aunts and uncles who took them away and handed us a set of bocce balls in their place. Our family now plays bocce whenever we're together, and the only injuries are some rather sore losers.

Related Articles

  • Associated Press. "Michigan boy recovering after lawn dart mishap." Aug. 25, 2003. (July 10, 2013) http://www.wave3.com/Global/story.asp?s=1415500&clienttype=printable
  • Baker, Bob. "Demands ban on lawn darts." The Los Angeles Times. Sept. 27, 1987. (July 10, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/1987-09-27/news/mn-10632_1_lawn-dart
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "CDC: Athletes need to take special precautions in hot weather." United States Government. Aug. 8, 2011. (July 10, 2013) http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/a0808_hot_weather.html
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "Following recent injury CPSC Reissues warning." United States Government. May 15, 1997. (July 10, 2013) http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Newsroom/News-Releases/1997/Following-Recent-Injury-CPSC-Reissues-Warning-Lawn-Darts-Are-Banned-and-Should-Be-Destroyed/
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "Lawn Darts Are Banned." United States Government. (July 10, 2013) http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/122377/5053.pdf
  • Jarts.com. "Where can you find Jarts?" (July 10, 2013) http://www.jarts.com/looking.htm
  • Sawyers, Harry. "The story behind 5 banned toys and games." Popular Mechanics. 2013. (July 10, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/toys/4347051#slide-1
  • Target. "Eastpoint soft tip lawn darts in a caddy." Target Brands, Inc. 2013. (July 10, 2013) http://www.target.com/p/eastpoint-soft-tip-lawn-darts-in-a-caddy/-/A-14364442
  • U.S. National Kubb Championship. "Rules." (July 10, 2013) http://www.usakubb.org/rules.php