People have played some version of a lawn game for thousands of years, with equipment as varied as cow intestines, pig bladders, sharp sticks and loose stones. There are exciting regional variations like Sweden’s Kubb, Germany’s hammerschlagen and Italy’s ruzzola, a game played with a wheel of aged pecorino.
But the games suggested here are less esoteric (no cheese wheels required) and none require a dedicated court, just a reasonably flat stretch of grass or dirt or gravel. In most games players take turns, which makes distancing a snap. Shuttlecocks aside, there is little reason for many hands to handle the same items required for play. Lawn games are a low-key, low-cost, public-health-friendly way to give structure to an afternoon, and whether you flout open-container laws while you play is strictly up to you.
The origins are croquet are disputed. Some historians trace it back to a French game called paille maille, while others trace it to an Irish game played with broomstick mallets called crookey. Croquet as we now know it surged throughout Britain in the 1860s and was soon exported to its various colonies.
Some of croquet’s popularity owed to its status as the rare sport that men and women could play together, which made it a favored avenue for flirtation. (Some clerics denounced it as immoral, a good indication that it was probably a lot of fun.) “Women would be wearing special croquet dresses that were slightly shorter than normal dresses, so they would glimpse ankles, and so on,” said Ms. Boddy. These days, sets are available for under $30, though equipment from Jacques of London, which has crafted sets since the 1800s, will run you a bit more.
Jane Austen knew how to have a good time — quilting, gardening, whist — and in 1808 she wrote to her sister that she and her nephew had taken up a lawn game, battledore and shuttlecock, a precursor of badminton. “He and I have practiced together two mornings, and improve a little; we have frequently kept it up three times, and once or twice six.”