Offerings: League team play for all ability levels throughout the metropolitan area.

Cost: Lifetime membership in Washington Area Darts Association (WADA) is $5, plus $3 entry fee per season. Membership in Tournament Darts International (TDI) is $5 per season. A set of three darts ranges from about $5 to $65, depending upon what materials are used to make the darts.

Equipment needed: A set of darts if you join a team. If it's just for a night out, most dart-bars have "house darts" that may be borrowed.

Special notes: David Tucker, director of WADA, can furnish the names of approximately 50 bars throughout the metropolitan area that have dart boards and team play. Call him at 232-9232, weekdays during working hours.

TDI is a much smaller organization and has teams in five bars, all of them in the District. Call TDI Director Ed Edwards at 543-1767 after noon for information.

It was a bitter-cold, wet October night when an American visitor stepped into a pub in York called the Lighthorsemen for some relief from the rain, a quiet pint or two of bitter and some time to think. Or so he thought.

In a corner of the pub, a heavy-set, man with red hair stood throwing darts at an old, worn-out board. The American watched as the Englishman tossed dart after dart with the nonchalance of a beach bum and the precision of a professional killer.

"Care for a try at it?" the man mumbled in a thick Yorkshire accent.

"Sure," the American shrugged, having immediate misgivings.

"I'm going to get slaughtered," he thought to himself. "Why did I say yes?" But getting slaughtered had never before been so enjoyable.

Many pints later - having lost every game - the American stumbled back to his bed-and-breakfast place and fell into a sound sleep. He dreamed of colorful flying missiles, all of them hitting their mark.

Similar evenings were spent by this writer in pubs in Oxford, Canterbury, London.... Wherever you find an Englishman, chances are you'll find a pub. And wherever you find a pub, chances are there'll be a dart board.

It's getting to be the same in Washington. In 1970, there were only three or four places in the Washington area that a person could throw a few while dowing a few. Today there are more than 50, and most of them have teams belonging to one or both of the two dart leagues in Washington.

Though many games are played on the standard 18-inch dart board, two of them are played most frequently: Cricket and 301.

The object of Cricket is to score three of each of the numbers 15 through 20 and three bull's-eyes before your opponent does. This ay be done by hitting three "singles" (the two largest areas of the board's wedge for that number) or any combination of "singles," "doubles" or "triples." The thin inner ring on the board counts for triple the point value of that wedge, and the outermost ring is double the value.

In 301 (or any of the other 01 games: 501, 1001) the object is to start with that score and reduce it to zero by subtracting the points you score. When playing 301, you must first score a "double" (hit the outermost ring of any number) before starting to score and you must close on a "double" which is exactly equal to the number of points you have left.

For instance, if you have 32 points left, you must hit a double 16 to end the game. If you should miss and hit a single 16, that leaves you 16 points and you must hit a double eight to go out.

Washington Area Darts Association (WADA) was founded in 1970 by Paul Deith, who had just returned from Los Angeles where dart leagues were already thriving. He brought a copy of the league regulations back with him and started a team in the basement of Mr. Eagan's (then Wakefield's) on Connecticut Avenue.

Eagan's team played a team from Lord Teleford's, a bar further up Connecticut Avenue. A few other bars started teams, and things began to catapult.

Walk into Eagan's today, and you'll find about 60 trophies and plaques lining the walls in mute, tarnished testimony to the winning teams the bar has produced in the last eight years. You'll also find four dartboards, more likely than not, all being used.

Walk into the Brickskeller on 22nd Street, Caffney's on Colorado Avenue, the Epicurean in Arlington or Dabby's in Wheaton, and chances are all of the boards will be in use, with darts of all shapes, sizes and colors flying everywhere.

Spring season for WADA begins Monday with about 200 teams shooting out of 45 bars. There are six divisions for various ability levels, and new members may join teams until the last three weeks of the 14-week season.

The TDI (Tournament Darts International) spring season began yesterday, but new team members may join throughout the season, which will last 14 or 15 weeks.

If you go into a bar and find that all of the boards are being used, don't get discouraged. Just chalk your initials on the scoreboard for a challenge match and join in the fun.

Or call up one of the leagues and join a team.