Shake-up is rare in the centuries-old business of backyard sports, but there's a new game in town: cornhole, a version of beanbag toss in which players score points by chucking bags of corn through a hole in a tilted board, is rapidly colonizing the country's leisure time. The game's roots are murky, but one theory has it popping up a century ago on Kentucky farms before spreading to Main Street U.S.A. in the past decade, attracting toddlers and tailgaters, who enjoy the safe, easy pastime because it leaves a free hand for drinking or thumbing one's nose at the competition. The four-year-old American Cornhole Association now boasts more than 25,000 "cornholers," ambassadors of the game who have helped take it national, spawning a mockumentary film, an arcade version and tournaments. In July, more than 4,000 people and major sponsors, including Visa, supported Chicago's first annual Cornhole Classic at Soldier Field.
But with attention comes a vexing PR problem: the word "cornhole" is also scatological slang for a certain puckered body part, and if you make it into a gerund, it's another word for sodomy. "My father would probably roll over in his grave if he knew I was president of something called the American Cornhole Association," says ACA founder Mike Whitton. The potential for misunderstandings has divided gamers into two camps: those who support the old name, and commercially minded enthusiasts who prefer the more marketable tag Baggo. "Which would you want your kids playing?" asks Kirk Conville, head of Baggo Inc., an Arkansas-based company that sells trademarked game sets. But Whitton would rather fight a cross-country public-relations battle than change the name and flout tradition. His prime weapon? A "canned little speech" on the game's wholesome, straightforward name: "You throw a bag of corn into a hole. Cornhole." If that fails, he could always point out that Baggo carries its own risk of promoting unclean thoughts. Its national distributor is Dick's Sporting Goods.