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By Noah Masterson

MAY 11, 1998:  The game of darts has been around since the advent of archery, which is to say that it has been around since God was a little boy. It's huge in England, where fans gather around their tellies to cheer their dart-tossing heroes, but stateside dart enthusiasts are relegated to dim pubs, bars and Block Party.

Though hundreds of games can be played with darts, a few basics hold true through all of them.

First, let's analyze the dart itself--the pointy thing with feathers that you chuck at the Bull's Eye. Darts range in price from a couple of bucks to hundreds. The dart is comprised of four components: the point, barrel, shaft and flight. Each component is removable, and the serious darter will find the combination that suits him or her best.

The Bull's Eye thingy at which you chuck your darts is properly referred to as a Standard International Dart Board, or clock board. Cheaper models come with a baseball game on the back, but you won't find hardcore pub darters bragging about making it to third base or scoring home runs, unless they're talking about something altogether different. The dart board has numbers ranging from one to 20, with a doubles ring (doubles your score), triples ring (duh!), single bull (25 points) and double bull (50 points). There are several rules regarding how the dart Board should be set up, but the two most important are that the Bull's Eye should be 5 feet, 8 inches away from the ground, and the throw line (where you stand) should be 7 feet 9 1/4 inches from the board. Mount the board flush to the wall, and put a generous amount of cork board around it. Even the pros miss the board sometimes, so keep pets and small children away.

A few more rules apply to darts, regardless of what game you're playing: A turn consists of three throws. Darts must stay in the board to count; bounce-outs are not replayed. You can lean over the throw line, but your foot cannot extend past it. Making monkey noises or armpit farts during your opponent's turn is generally frowned upon.

The most common dart games are Cricket and '01. In Cricket, only seven targets are actually used: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 and Bull's Eye. The object of the game is for each player to hit each of the targets three times. If you score in the triple ring of your target, it counts as all three hits. Mastery of the triples and doubles rings is essential if you want to get serious about Cricket. Once a target has been hit three times by every player, it is "closed," and no one can score in that target again. The game ends when one player closes all the targets.

In '01, you and your opponent are in a race from whatever number at which you choose to begin--usually 301 or 501--to zero. First, you must score a double to "open" a target on the dart board. Once that target has been opened, you may score within it. You and your opponent alternate turns, opening targets and scoring until one of you reaches zero, and wins. The catch is that you must score exactly zero so you need precise aim as the game nears its end. Any turn resulting in fewer than two points is voided and has no impact on your score.

Albuquerque has many places to play darts, and all darters know these two basic games. If you're over 21, and you like to mix beer with your darts, visit R&R's Corner Bar or Slate Street Billiards. The 18 and over crowd can throw darts at Block Party, if you don't mind paying cover. Just remember: Darts is a serious, civilized sport. Newcomers are welcome, but be sure to respect the game and its players. There are few things more dangerous than drunk guys with sharp objects.

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