In his long career as a sports columnist, Rick Reilly has covered the biggest games, including the Super Bowl, World Series and the Masters. But for his new book, Sports from Hell, Reilly sought out the championships of decidedly less conventional sports, such as chess boxing and rock, paper, scissors.
One of Reilly's criteria for choosing a sport from hell was that it had to be dumb to everyone except the competitors.
"For instance," he tells NPR's Guy Raz, "we didn't do cheese-rolling or wife-carrying ... These are all things that chambers of commerce dream up. ... We did stuff where they really didn't realize it was dumb."
Reilly took part in just about every sport, save for bull poker. "That's done only in American prisons," he explains. At the Angola prison in Louisiana, inmates sit down at a poker table and put $250 in the middle. But "the cards are to bull poker what the plot is to porn," Reilly says. "Doesn't matter at all, because they release a 2,000-pound bull. The bull comes charging at the table. The last guy to leave his chair gets the money."
Chess boxing made Reilly's list, though he only participated in the chess half of the sport. In a chess boxing match, "these two people are boxing in a ring with gloves, and then at the bell, a little guy brings in a waterproof chess board, and they take off one glove very quickly and play speed chess for four minutes," then back to boxing, back to the chess and so on.
"They're bleeding now on the chess board, they're sweating, they're terrible boxers so they've taken about 25 straight jabs to the temple, and now they can't remember which way the pieces move."
And then there's a single golf hole in New Mexico that's 3 miles long, which Reilly did play.
"It's in a place just outside of Albuquerque where they blow things up," says Reilly. "All kinds of police departments from around the world, they like, build a fake 7-Eleven and blow it up, and study it intricately."
But once a year, the site is devoted exclusively to golf. "They take all the bombs down and you play this golf hole, from the top of a mountain down to the bottom."
And the first drive off the top of the mountain is a doozy. "You feel like you just went to the Barry Bonds pharmacy, because your drive goes about 850 yards."
On his fifth shot, Reilly's found his ball surrounded by a rattlesnake. He figured he'd take a 1-shot penalty and use a new ball, but his caddy — with an eye on his tip — insisted on retrieving the ball from the rattler.
In the five hours and 12 minutes it took Reilly to play the hole, he shot a 19. By his calculations, if he'd played 18 holes, he'd have shot "something like 325, and it would have taken five days and 11 hours."