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Olympics curling begins with support from Google Doodle and Simpsons

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Robert F. Bukaty/AP

(Read caption) Haavard Vad Petersson of the Norwegian curling team gets set to deliver the stone during practice at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday.

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Self-deprecation seems built into a sport played with brooms, Teflon-soled shoes, stretchy pants, and a heavy granite rock slid over ice. Ahead of the start of curling competition today in Vancouver at 9 a.m. (12 p.m. EST), Google offered the sport a Doodle and The Simpsons featured an episode where the four-fingered cartoon family competes in curling at the Vancouver Games.

"I learned a long time ago not to take it personal when someone makes fun of curling," Rick Patzke, the chief operating officer for USA Curling, said in an interview with CBC news. "If you look at Homer and Marge, I think they're the quintessential curlers. That's pretty much what curlers are, right? They make fun of themselves, drink beer, and eat doughnuts."

The niche sport has numerous fan clubs, including "Curling Fanatics ... the Thrill of Stone On Ice," which is on Facebook. Canada's Capital One even offers a "Curling Platinum MasterCard" that allows enthusiasts to redeem their rewards for all things curling, including gear and merchandise.

Still, only about 16,000 people in the US play the sport, according to Patzke, but far more than that are expected to tune to NBC today to watch, thanks to plugs from The Simpsons and Google, which today replaced its regular logo with two fast-moving curling stones.

Canada's curling captain Kevin “The Old Bear” Martin is one of the game's greats and will be one to watch. See an explanation and history of curling here. Check out today's complete schedule of events here.

During the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, the Monitor's Peter Ford wandered into the mysterious world of curling, with its "hackweight takeouts" and "wicks" and "double roll-ins."

You might think that all the jargon is designed to disguise the essential simplicity of a game in which four players each slide two stones weighing 44 pounds down an ice rink toward a bulls-eye target, occasionally knocking opponents' stones out of the way in the process.

But Chris Freeman (one of lead shooter John Shuster's aunts) speaks plain English as she explains the strategic subtleties of the sport to a baffled spectator from California.

"People think this is a very simple game, but it's not," she insists. "It's a game that involves a lot of physics, a lot of precision; it's like a game of chess where you try to place stones and set up shots that are difficult for your opponents to play."

As Homer says: "Let's give the Olympics a miracle – only this time on ice."

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