In Italian, the word ‘ruzzola’ comes from the verb ‘ruzzolare’, or ‘to roll’. The game of the same name is conceptually very simple: throw a rolling object (called ‘ruzzola’ itself) as far as you can – the longest throw wins. The devil, as they say, is however in the details.

First of all, ruzzola is usually played on steeply inclined terrains, launching upwards. This makes it easier both to see the landing points of the objects, and to retrieve them by simply rolling them down. It however makes the game more difficult and impredictable, as it is quite common for a rock or other obstacle to deviate the ruzzola and send it rolling back. Some variations allow for the non-throwing players to actually interfer with the launch by trying to hit the ruzzola with sticks and stones as it flies up. As if the easily imaginable chaos of such a setup wasn’t enough, the ruzzola itself can be a fearsome projectile. Its most common form reminds of an oversized (up to 30 centimeters of diameter) hardwood yo-yo, complete with a central groove used to wind a cord around it. The cord gives it additional spin, so that when the ruzzola hits the ground it actually rolls upward with great speed… unless it bounces in some other direction. The obvious implications are that standing around a ruzzola game can be rather dangerous, and there are official documents from the 1600s onward forbidding the game after people and vehicles were gravely hit by a wandering ruzzola. Also interesting is the ancient (you can see pictures of ruzzola players in Etruscan tombs from the seventh century b.C.) habit of making ruzzola a heavy betting game. A famous episode from the 1800s tells of one sir Baraccani, who managed to lose most of his family’s land and the whole castle of Monterasello in one single game.

Today ruzzola is almost exclusively played in small mountain communities, but remains a favorite spectators’ sport, occasionally followed by local television channels.