Have you ever wondered why dartboard numbers are structured the way they are? If you’re an avid dart player or someone who’s just started, you may have encountered this very common question.
There are plenty of conflicting stories of the origin of the seemingly crazy number system of the dartboard. Some say a British wire worker named William Buckle was responsible for inventing it while others say it was Brian Gamlin, a British carpenter, in 1986. Whoever it was, they did it intentionally. The whole idea was to severely penalize poor accuracy by placing big numbers next to small ones.
In this article, we’re going to find out the fascinating origins of the dart board’s number system, its layout, and the people behind its conception.
The Darts Game and Layout
Darts has been around for over 100 years. It is a highly competitive sports game where two or more players take turns throwing a set of 3 darts at a dartboard. It is widely believed that the dartboard originated at old English fairgrounds. Every time the fairground visited a town, it was very popular amongst the populace. Whenever the fairground left, the games stayed with the locals.
The old school fairground dartboard was specifically designed to make the game look easy when it wasn’t. This made fairgoers want to keep on trying to win a prize.
While there are numerous variants of the game today, the most common one has the players start the game with a score of 501. They will then take turns reducing their score by hitting the marked areas on the board. This goes on until one player wins by reaching exactly zero first.
Contrary to how random the numbering system may look; it has a deliberate design. The modern dartboard layout is a circle that is cut into 20 equal parts or arcs. It has an inner and outer bullseye located at the center. It also has two rings one halfway that represents treble scores and one located at the outer rim of the circle, representing double scores. Small numbers are placed next to the large numbers to reward high accuracy while severely punishing poor ones.
The board has the number 20 located at the top, then followed by 1 and then 18 in a clockwise direction. An example of this is when you’re aiming for 20 and miss, you’ll either be scoring a five or one because they border 20. This makes for a high-risk and high-reward situation where player skill is the most important factor.
Who Designed the Layout?
There have been several claims as to who really designed the layout. But as far as history is concerned, these two were the most widely accepted individuals:
Even though there are conflicting reports, it is generally reported that today’s modern dartboard was thanks to Brian Gamlin, a carpenter from Lancashire, England in 1896. Before this point, the dart board’s layout had different versions without any specific standards or established rules. The game only developed to its modern version at the end of the 19th century, thanks to Brian Gamlin.
It is said that Brian Gamlin designed the dartboard this way to lessen the chances of lucky hits. This makes the dartboard more suitable for highly competitive tournaments. There are plenty of research papers out there about the billions of different number sequences you can use in a dartboard. However, Brian’s sequence is widely accepted as the best one in terms of randomness and competitiveness.
Unfortunately, Brian Gamlin died in 1903 without patenting his idea. This is why there are many skeptics of this origin story. To add to the fire of the skeptics, an article by the Bury Times was discovered in a newspaper regarding Brian. The article asked for any relatives or descendants of Brian that was still alive in the area. No replies or visitors came.
This makes plenty of people think that Brian Gamlin didn’t actually exist and was a complete fabrication. There are no concrete records of him beside the word of mouth. No official records of the man exist.
Some say that Brian Gamlin was a traveling man and was part of a traveling fairground crew. This may be the reason why he isn’t in any records from a city or town.
So how exactly did Brian get the credit?
It was because of an interview in 1979 from Daily Mirror. A reply was received stating that a man named Brian Gamlin from Lancashire introduced the weird numbering system to a fairground. He boasted that the numbering system required “No Skill” which was a ruse. Drunken men stood no chance of winning, and it became very popular amongst the fairground goers.
This origin story may live on without anyone knowing the truth. However, there is another man that is considered the founder of the modern dartboard.
Thomas William Buckle
On the other hand, we have Thomas William Buckle. People also credit Mr. Buckle as the creator of the modern dartboard layout. Compared to Brian, solid evidence exists that Thomas William Buckle actually existed.
Thomas Edward Buckle, Thomas William’s son, made a statement to the Darts World magazine in 1992 saying that his father invented the modern dartboard layout in 1913. Thomas William Buckle was a wire maker and a dartboard maker who lived in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. These two professions alone make him the stronger possibility for the modern dartboard’s invention.
Sources say that Mr. Buckle took a London Fives Board, another variant of the dartboard containing 12 segments, and increased it to 20. Thereby, creating the modern dartboard numbering system today. He is also credited to have invented the Yorkshire dartboard.
To this day, the origin of the dartboard’s numbering system is still up for debate. Plenty of people believe Brian Gamlin invented the system, even celebrating a yearly event in his name. Others believe that Brian Gamlin wasn’t real and the modern dartboard was made by Thomas Edward Buckle. Whoever it is, the number system was designed to reward high accuracy and skill while severely punishing poor aim.