Dear Sean,
i would like to know if a 'phantom' hit is allowed? here is an example of what i mean. a ball is returned from square 1 to square 2 (my square). it bounces once and carries into square 4. i approach the ball and act as though i am going to hit it in a certain direction/part of square 4, and just as my hand is about to hit the ball, i stop. i allow the ball to continue in the direction that it was traveling while only slightly grazing the ball with my fingers. the ball, having hardly any of its momentum taken away from it, would continue to bounce in square 4 with the owner of that square out of position because of where i was feigning to hit the ball. is this legal? my friends were claiming that it was an illegal move because you couldn't see any clear alteration in the path of the ball. i contested that as long as i touched the ball (no matter how slight or hard) it counted as a hit. what would the ruling be? - George, 7/14/2009

George, listen, what you are asking is if the player must hit the ball firmly enough for an official to perceive a change in the ball's motion and trajectory.

There are a couple of sports that do this and they all have good reasons for it, and I suppose there should be a similar rule for four square. They do this in other sports to make the players prove that they made contact, otherwise it is just as your friends said, why would they trust you when you say you hit it but they couldn't see it. It's only a short leap for a player to flat out lie about their contact with the ball.

So as the commissioner of the Boston four square league, I will make this change to the official rules as of right now. I think this is a great addition that adds a new level of clarity in an otherwise murky arena of playground games.

But, listen, George. Up until right now, you actually had no rule to obey. So go tell your friends that your play was 100% legit until that Masshole down in Boston revised the official rules. You should glean whatever bragging privileges you can take as the person who single handedly changed the course of four square history.

Tiger Claw is going to have to contest this rule change, or more precisely the particular wording here with regards to the emphasis on the words "touch" and "strike":

"In other words, it is not enough to simply touch the ball - players must strike the ball to alter it's [sic] course to stay in play."

As we all know, Tiger Claw plays the finesse game, and The Claw Drop -- which has been widely adopted by members of the league over the past two years -- is essentially a touch play/misdirection move where a ball that would naturally take a second bounce in an opponent's square is lightly touched (not struck), causing the arc of the ball to die and lightly drop into an opponent's square. The effect of the touch clearly and visibly changes the course of the ball (ever so slightly in some cases), but could not, in any good semantic argument, be called a "strike" on the ball. The current phrasing in the new rules you have drummed up insists that players "MUST STRIKE THE BALL" (emphasis Tiger Claw's). In Tiger Claw's humble opinion, if you are going to make this rule change, he'd like to see it worded like thus:

"In other words, it is not enough to simply touch the ball - players must alter the course of the ball in order to stay in play."

However, it is also worth mentioning that Tiger Claw doesn't really see the purpose of adding this rule at all. In three years of league play, he cannot remember once seeing someone contest whether or not they touched a ball. And if he did see something to this effect, well, that's what the "Showdown" is made for. If anything, adding this rule may lead to more contested moments, as players bicker over whether a hit "altered the course of the ball" or not.

though tiger claw is my great nemesis and fiercest rival, i must agree with him on many of his points.

if we are to adopt this rule (and i think we definitely SHOULD NOT), tiger claw's final observation, i think, will prove to be the most prescient. players will argue over what constitutes a 'change of direction' and/or a 'strike'. these terms, instead of clarifying a potentially ambiguous game situation only serve to muddy it further.

the problem lies in the fact that a person need not 'strike' a ball to 'change its direction' -- and that one can strike a ball but not change its direction. many a player has tapped or grazed the ball in a way that unequivocally changed its direction. at the same time, it's very easy to strike the ball in the direction it's already headed -- using its momentum to create an even harder ball to return. the rule is written such that it assumes that 'striking the ball' and 'changing its direction' imply one in the same action. in fact, they do not.

as tiger claw notes, it doesn't take too much imagination to anticipate the kind of arguments that come while attempting to enforce this rule. the question at hand is, 'perceivable by who?' by the person who performed the 'phantom hit', ever-so-slightly altering the ball's course? by the person whose square the ball has landed in? by the judge/scorekeeper? by the line of players watching the action? the question of perception is pretty tricky here.

because the rule is so open to interpretation, i expect to see those players who are willing to argue their point getting their way -- usurping the rule's intention by sheer force of personality. the rules are in place to guard against this kind of action; in this case, however, they are enabling it.

a friend of mine likes to say that a game without rules is anarchy. well, in this case, we have just created a rule that will bring about anarchy.

let's change it now, before it ever gets any traction.


what constitutes a 'strike'? there are many a play where someone hits the ball gently -- unequivocally
how much


I have reworded to make it clear that players must "change the path or trajectory" of the ball in order to be a fair play. This takes out the ambiguity of what it means to "strike" the ball, but places concrete definition on changing the state of the ball through contact.

If an official cannot see a change in the ball's state (motion, path, trajectory) then its clear the player did not touch the ball and should be out.

This is a good rule to have even though this conflict arises so rarely.