Lawn Darts

The content below is from Season 2, Episode 21 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.


  • My recommendation this week is for everyone enjoying a nice Memorial Day Party this upcoming weekend.
    • I know cornhole is all the rage for outdoor leisure games right now, but I recommend corn hole’s cooler predecessor: Horse Shoes.
    • My brother Jake and I played a game of Horse Shoes this past weekend in my mom’s backyard. We didn’t know any rules so we just made up our own point system and it was a really good time.
    • Horse Shoes may not be as convenient as placing corn hole boards on the lawn, but I argue digging a pit, hammering some rebar in the middle, and filling it with sand is well worth it.


  • This episode is about Lawn Darts
    • This past weekend I went home to visit family. At one point, across a sea of other family members my Uncle Troy points over to me and asks “Hey Zeb, you ever hear of Lawn Darts?!”
    • I knew right then and there that this weeks episode was going to be about the bizarre story of how an ancient weapon was turned in to a backyard family game and then was banned by most of north America.
    • THIS IS a story from AMERICA
  • The Plumbata
    • Some sources say the Plumbata dates back to around 500 BC.
      • Plumbata meaning “lead-weighted” (plumbum = “lead”), Plumbatae were designed to be issued to infantry soldiers in the ancient world.
      • Another name for this ancient war dart was Latin “Martio-barbuli” (“little barbs of Mars”).
    • It was a weighted dart used most notably by the Romans.
      • The design was rather simple: The tip was barbed as to make it more difficult for the enemy to extract it from their flesh and the flesh of their horses.
      • The shaft had a lead weight attached to it in order to increase the amount of force applied when the dart reached its target upon falling back down to Earth.
      • The back of the dart had feathers attached to stabilize the dart for aiming.
    • Shield bearing warriors would carry 5 of these weighted darts.
      • When enemy forces closed in on Roman legions, the mid and rear flanks would step back and throw the Plumbata under handed in droves.
      • The weapons was comparatively cheap to produce and the technique was so easy to carry out that virtually any soldier could be trained to throw them.
    • The efficiency of these Martio Barbuli legions was so high that kings from all over the ancient world began to praise these dart wielding soldiers.
      • They were very effective at slowing down large groups of enemy forces and of course they dealt their fare share of killing blows


  • In the 1950’s a Dentist name Lawrence Barnett from Fort Edward NY invented Lawn Darts.
    • He had no idea his game had been a literal weapon of war when he decided to market it as a family game to be enjoyed by American families during events like this upcoming weekend: Memorial Day.
Click and drag the white circle across the image
Click and drag the white circle across the image
  • The decades that followed saw thousands of injuries and even more outraged parents
    • In response to these injuries the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the toy for a number of years.
    • The ban was specifically due to the injuries incurred by children.
    • Lawn Dart and Jart companies went to court over the battle and came to a compromise with the CPSC.
    • There was a regulation stating that lawn darts could be made and sold as long as they were marketed only as a game for adults. A warning label had to be placed on each package alerting consumers to the danger they posed, and the darts couldn’t be merchandised in toy departments or sold in toy stores.
    • These regulations accomplished very little.
    • Toy Stores and Departments ignored the regulations and sold the Lawn Darts anyway.
      • and Manufacturers failed to put those warning stickers on their product
    • Most importantly, the injuries didn’t stop
  • This brings us to April of 1987.
    • A man by the name of David Snow buys a 3-in-1 game set.
      • He only wanted to use the Volleyball game, but the store didn’t have single sets for volley ball. So he bought the combo pack with no intention of using the Lawn Dart game that was included.
      • This purchase would be one of the biggest regrets of his life.
    • breaks down the incident:
    • “One Sunday afternoon soon after, his nine-year-old son and some of his neighborhood friends found the Jarts and began tossing them around in Snow’s backyard. One kid tossed his Jart too far and too high, sailing it over the backyard fence and into the front yard, where Snow’s daughter, seven-year-old Michelle, was playing with her dolls. The Jart came down right on her and, with what researchers estimate as 23,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, penetrated her skull. She collapsed, was rushed to the hospital, and was pronounced clinically dead three days later.”
      • 23,000 pounds per square inch is about the force a 700 pound saltwater crocodile can bite. According to a 2012 study by Gregory Erickson of Florida State University, it is the the most powerful bite ever recorded of a living animal.
      • That is what killed David Snow’s daughter in April of 1987.
    • No surprise David Snow was in shock for quite some time, like any parent would be.
      • But David wasn’t like most parents. He was very smart and a very determined individual.
      • He was an aerospace engineer from Riverside, California.
      • Unable to focus on his work, David poured himself in to getting justice for his daughter Michelle.
    • David started researching Lawn Darts.
      • It is always good to note that researching before the internet was something entirely different. It took a lot more time, effort, patience, and know-how.
      • But that didn’t stop David. He found out about the ban on Lawn Darts years earlier and also knew how much said regulation was being ignored.
      • He pressed the CPSC to crack down on the game and ban it entirely
  • The CPSC’s statisticians claimed that only a few dozen ER visits were caused by Lawn Darts. They couldn’t authorize a ban based on such low numbers of ER visits.
    • David insisted their calculations must have been incorrect based on the evidence he saw. He urged the CPSC to tweak their counting.
    • Due to simple human error, a mass amount of Lawn Dart/Jart injuries had been missed by the CPSC statisticians.
      • There had been 6,100 ER visits directly caused by Lawn Darts over an 8 year period…
      • Of those ER visits, 81% were kids under the age of 16. With half of that being under the age of 10
      • The vast majority of Lawn Dart injuries ER visit injuries were to the head, face, eyes, and/or ears. Most injuries caused permanent injury or disability.
  • The ban went through
    • In 1988, David Snow was putting in work lobbying for his cause. He participated in TV and newspaper interviews. He even met with President Reagan’s assistant for consumer affairs. His work paid off.
    • At the same time an 11-year-old girl in Tennessee was laying in a coma from a lawn dart injury, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 2 to 1 in favor of banning lawn darts.
      • They were removed from stores the week before Christmas of 1988 and banned from further sale.
  • Now Lawn Darts are just a distant memory of the 80’s for most people
    • I’m sure some people still have an old set somewhere.
    • There is an underground Jarts tournament in the Dayton Ohio. It was reported on in the book Sports from Hell: My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition.
      • But I’ve been to Dayton, Ohio… I was in Dayton for 5 minutes during a road trip pit stop and during those 5 minutes I witnessed a break in. Best you just avoid the place altogether.
  • Now my opinion on the ban:
    • Normally I would be against government intervention.
      • Banning something just leads to banning more and more things and consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want, when they want.
      • However, this wasn’t just impacting adults. It was injuring CHILDREN and in rare cases, killing them.
      • This was an ancient weapon for pete’s sake!
      • The commission tried to regulate the game to make it so only adults played it, but the manufacturers ignored it and the result was that kids were suffering.
        • I have no sympathy for the Lawn Dart industry. It seems they dug their own grave on this one.
      • If someone wants to play lawn darts that badly, they can make a set of their own and play on their own time and property.
      • And it’s not like the world is a much worse place without Lawn Darts… There are tons of other games to chose from.
    • Like I said in at the beginning of the episode, just play some Horse Shoes!
  • Thanks for listening Who’d a Thunkers! Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.
    • My work is forcing me to work on Memorial day, but I’m still going to a party on Saturday where I play to enjoy a nice game of Horse Shoes with my friends and family.


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