Ring the Bull is a traditional hook and ring game played in sports bars, ski lodges and quaint watering holes all over the world.
And it has a very long history in British pub culture.
In fact, legend has it that English Crusaders brought the game back from Jerusalem in the 12th century.
If you happen to play Ring the Bull at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, the oldest inn in England (1189 AD), you just might be experiencing the true origins of this game.
How to Play Ring the Bull: Hook and Ring Variations
Ringing the Bull (also known as Ring Toss or Hook and Ring) is a simple game in concept, but it definitely takes some skill and requires careful concentration. The hallmark of any great bar game.
In most set ups, the metal ring is attached to a rope, hanging from a ceiling by a rafter or other means. The object of the game is then to swing the ring and try to land it on the hook. Pretty straightforward, right?
In the original game, going way back, you would aim the ring at the horn of a wall-mounted bull’s head.
Nowadays, however, it’s usually just a hook screwed into the image of a bull. Or the nose of a fake bull’s head. But most of us just use a board. So here’s how to set up a simple game of ring toss (note: if you already have a ring toss board, like one of these, follow those instructions.)
How to Set Up a Simple Hook and Ring Game
- Find a board that’s 6″ to 1′ in length.
- Find a location on the wall to mount your board. This should be 4-5 feet high to the center of the board.
- Attach the board to the wall with suitable screws. Screws are better than nails since you can easily back out the screw if necessary. Use wall anchors if mounting to dry wall; concrete anchors if mounting the board the board on masonry.
- Find an open hook that’s about 3 – 5 inches long. Screw this into the center of the board.
- Mount an eye hook (like one of these) to the ceiling or rafter. Make sure it’s at least 5 feet from the hook on the wall.
- Get some string. You’ll need about 6 to 8 feet, depending on the height of the ceiling.
- Tie string to the eye hook in the ceiling. Now walk the other end over to the open hook on the wall. Pull taught and make sure there is clearance to swing about 18″ above the floor.
- When you have the right amount of string to reach the open hook, tie a metal ring to the end.
Now let’s learn how to play a game of ring toss.
Rules for your own game of Ring the Bull
There really are no universal rules for this game. Every pub or bar has a different set-up, and unless there are some house rules to follow, the game and scoring format is up to you.
Ring Toss: Getting Started
First, decide if the ring should be tossed from a standard distance. Some bars will already have this measured for you.
Remember, the hook is usually placed around 5 feet from the ground, but it may be higher or lower depending on the space. Throwing distance is usually between 6 and 8 feet from the hook.
The trick is to figure out how high to release the rope from. That is, where you should hold the rope in order to hit the right arc so the ring lands squarely on the hook.
The swing should be a gentle, clockwise movement with just enough momentum to land the hook on its downswing.
Sometimes it’s best to aim straight on. But you may also have better luck swinging slightly at an angle from the side.
There is a lot of freedom in determining how you want to play and score a ring toss game.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Hook and Ring Game Variations
Play by Rounds
For example, each player gets five tosses per round. Land as many rings as you can each round. At the end of 5 rounds (or more), tally up the score.
Play to 21
The first one to hook 21 rings wins. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust this number. At some bars, just landing one ring can take a while.
Yet once you figure out the nuances of the toss, you will gain some consistency. You just need to spend more time at that particular bar!
You can also just take 21 tosses and see who hooks the most rings.
Play Horse (or Bull!)
If you have enough space, you can play BULL. Just like in “horse” in basketball, pick a spot and take a shot (i.e. from the side of the room). Or try to hook the ring using your opposite hand.
If you land it on the hook, your opponent must make the same shot. If he misses, he gets a B. First one to spell out BULL loses.
The Island Version of Hook and Ring: Bimini Ring (aka Tiki Toss)!
If you’re lucky enough to play your bar games in the Caribbean, keep an eye out for the island version of ring toss: Bimini Ring.
As noted here, there are several stories about the history of this game.
But those in the know believe it was started by Ernest Hemmingway after a night of tuna fishing off the coast of Bimini.
Bimini ring is a basic version of ring toss that you can set-up pretty much anywhere.
The hook is placed from 4 – 5 feet high. And the ring is tossed 3 – 4 feet from the hook. You can see why this is the perfect game for smaller island watering holes.
If the hook is mounted to a post, you can swing the ring from behind the post and try to land it on the way back.
If your local establishment is lacking in bar games, ask them to at least set up a hook and ring game.
Ringing the Bull is an inexpensive DIY option for any bar.
And whether it’s rule variations, how and where you install the ring and hook, or how the game is played in your establishment, there is plenty of flexibility to add some of your bar’s unique character to it.
If you like games like this, check out these traditional pub games.