Search Results for: sports

Spring Thing 2011 is underway

Given that it’s gone from zero to six submitted works compared to last year, allow me to name Spring Thing 2011 as another happy beneficiary from 2010’s all-over IF revival. Spring Thing, which has occurred off and on since 2002, is intended as a sort of antipode to the Comp, happening six months afterwards (or beforehand!) and welcoming longer works.

I’ve so far played only one of the games, Sean M. Shore’s Bonehead; between its title and its premise, it offered me the strongest hook of the bunch, so I don’t mind singling it out here. The game straps the player into the overwaxed cleats of Fred Merkle, a teenaged second-stringer for the 1908 New York Giants who’s about to commit the blunder that would earn him the eponymous nickname and cloud the rest of his life.

That’s an unusual theme for an IF work, but this short game meets the challenge, including a frame story that puts the second-person interactivity into satisfying context. The compelling narrative is enough to overcome some quibbles I had with a rather contrived opening puzzle, and the fact that the narrator digresses into baseball trivia a little too often (even given the setting). I also got a little lost in the many ways you can end the story prematurely, once the ballgame starts; I had to consult the (built-in) hints to plant poor Fred firmly on his predestined path, but I’m glad I did. The whole story’s well worth experiencing.

So, yes, do give Bonehead and the other five Spring Thing entries a look; voting is open to the public though May 15. (And for meatier reviews of the bunch, have a look at Emily Short’s blog.)

And now I am off to play Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis, which I understand to be exactly, erm, what it sounds like…

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Chess Boxing: an actual thing done by humans, repeatedly

Robert Krulwich doesn’t lie, which forces me to conclude that Chess Boxing is an actual thing.

We start in a ring. There are screaming fans. The first round is 4 minutes of chess, followed by 3 minutes of boxing, then chess, then boxing, for 11 rounds. You win by knocking out your opponent or checkmating him, either way.

As Krulwich writes, Chess Boxing has apparently been practiced for close to a decade, in a growing number of venues around the world (after starting in Amsterdam). That I had never heard of it before today reminds me that the world of games will always be far larger — and weirder — than I’ll ever completely grasp, bless it.

(And, given the subject matter behind of our banner artwork, perhaps I ought to declare Chess Boxing the official sport of The Gameshelf…)

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Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

Last night I watched Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, a documentary by Kevin Rafferty, about a single extraordinary college football game that occurred in 1968. I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the art of documenting the play of games, of any sort.

The film interweaves footage of the game - which exists as a single, no-frills, televised tape - with interviews of its players, who have been living with its memory for 40 years. The subtext is how profoundly a single game affected them that they could remember it so vividly; Rafferty frequently juxtaposes their memories with the filmed footage of the events they describe to prove this (as well as to display a couple of notable exceptions).

Structurally, it inevitably reminded me of our own Diplomacy episode, with the notable absence of any hovering narrator explaining the game's rules. The voice of the 1968's game's TV announcer is preserved, though, and becomes invested with an unusual poignancy when put into this film's context.

I assert that this picture is worth watching even if you don't care about - or don't know anything about - American football, but feel free to read Zarf's Guide to Watching the Football first if you wish (noting that it's optimized for professional playoff games happening four decades apart from this one).

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Capture the Flag with Stuff in Golden Gate Park

"Capture the Flag with Stuff" has a long (and ongoing) history at CMU, where I invented it. Now its alumni are setting up a transplant (graft? clone, in the original sense?) in San Francisco: Capture the Flag with Stuff in Golden Gate Park.

I encourage any Bay-ers who want to spend an afternoon chasing each other around with foam wands to show up. Saturday afternoon, August 8th.

(I am on the East Coast, and I'll be in Montreal for Worldcon anyhow, so no chance of me getting there. Sigh.)

Also, I see that the domain name is not locale-specific. It'd be cool if the site became a hub for regional Capture the Flag with Stuff in Your Local Park gatherings, wouldn't it?

EDIT-ADD (Aug 16): Photos!

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Getting games wrong

I'm in the middle of Brandon Sanderson's new novel (so far: entertaining in a geeky way, which is what I looked forward too). And I hit a bit about a game, or rather a sport, which isn't very good. Not the writing, I mean; the game isn't very good.

Tarachin was a complex game, played only by the wealthy. Lightsong had never bothered to learn the rules.

He found it more amusing to play when he had no idea what he was doing.

It was his throw next. He stood up, selecting one of the wooden spheres from the rack because it matched the color of his drink. He tossed the orange sphere up and down; then -- not paying attention to where he was throwing -- he tossed it out onto the field. [...]

"Five hundred and seven points," the priest announced.

"Now you're just showing off," Truthcall said.

Lightsong said nothing. In his opinion, it revealed an inherent flaw in the game that the one who knew least about it tended to do the best.

-- from Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson, chapter 22

Now, it is one of my long-standing grumps that authors aren't very good at inventing fictional games -- they tend to come up with games which are silly, broken, or chess.

So what, you say, game design is hard; authors have enough on their plates. Entirely true. (I said it was a grump, not a peeve. It's not justified enough to be a peeve.)

In Warbreaker we have a game which seems to be a cross between lawn bowling and Fizzbin. That's a plausible invention, given the story setting. And the narrator is, of course, correct -- if not knowing the rules gives you an advantage, the game is broken. But is it plausibly broken?

You can name plenty of games in which not knowing the rules is not a disadvantage... start with Candyland. We say these games are "random", or "have no strategy". But Tarachin isn't like that; Lightsong really does seem to win a lot. And this doesn't make sense. If it were advantageous to not know the rules, players would avoid learning them -- or just play without thinking about the rules too much.

(Compare Dragon Poker, from Bob Asprin's Little Myth Marker. In that story, Skeeve is faced with a game so complicated that his least bad strategy is to play randomly -- and end the game fast, so that the players who do know the rules have no chance to roll him up. But this is a far cry from Skeeve having an advantage over them!)

(By the way, I love that the Wikipedia entry for Dragon Poker says "See also: Double Fanucci, Mornington Crescent.")

Anyhow, as I say, Tarachin seems like a weird case. But then, weird cases do exist in real life. So I throw the question open to the teeming Gameshelf readership.

What games are out there in which trying to win is worse than playing randomly? How does that work? Maybe there are strategies which are tempting, but have a low chance of paying off? Maybe the game is popular among people who aren't analytic gamers? Maybe "winning" isn't the reason people play? Show off your corner cases, folks.

(Last parenthetical: I haven't finished Warbreaker, and it is a fantasy novel. So maybe there's some as-yet-unrevealed reason that Lightsong wins so often. If so, the author has set me up with a sneaky plot point -- which, to be sure, is one of Sanderson's trademarks as a writer. In which case, go him! But the question stands. No book spoilers in the comments, please.)

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Muggle collegiate Quidditch

For many years, Capture the Flag with Stuff reigned as the supreme overelaborated fantasy-themed sport played by overenergetic college students. Or, well, probably not. I have no idea what the kids get up to these days, really. I didn't know what kids got up to in those days. But CtFwS was the one I was aware of -- mostly because I started it. (It has evolved considerably since then; see the new KGB rules used at CMU.)

(Moopsball was the supreme overelaborated fantasy-themed sport not played by enthusiastic college students. Sadly, it is no longer not played because it's too much work; it is now not played because nobody remembers it. Sic transit the guy with the hula hoop.)

But the new generation has arrived, and that means Quidditch. As in, the kids who struggled through Philosopher's Stone at age 8 are now in college. Quidditch is what they want, and they have made it work.

(Here I tried to interpolate some joke about what the devoted fans of Twilight will be playing at college in five-ish years. My first idea was too creepy to put in writing and they went downhill from there. Make up your own, I'll be hiding under this extremely sparkly rock.)

If you've read the Harry Potter books, you know how Quidditch works. If not, this blog post will do nothing for you... okay, look, hit Wikipedia and come back. Or don't come back, because that entry has a summary of Muggle Quidditch, so what do you need me for? Huh? I'll just go hide under that extremely sparkly rock over there.

(PS: Wikipedia keeps its Quidditch page up to date, but they delete the page explaining Kosho? 1000% lame.) (EDIT-ADD: Thank you Deletionpedia.)

Muggle Quidditch! Rule one: you must run around holding a broomstick between your legs. ("Harder than it looks, and just as awkward," says one player.) Rule two: throw the Quaffle (a volleyball) through the goal hoop. Rule three: you must drop the Quaffle if someone clobbers you with a Bludger (dodgeball). Rule four: the game ends when someone grabs the Golden Snitch. The Golden Snitch is played by a very fast person, dressed in gold, with a tennis ball tied around his or her waist. There are other rules but they don't seem to prevent shoving and tackling, so that's basically what the game winds up being about.

So it's simultaneous tackle rugby, tag, and dodgeball, all being played on the same field among different subsets of the players. I know it sounds like I'm making fun of this; but I'm impressed. All the players have to have a clear idea of what's going on, to make this work.

I also admire that it's not just a game -- it's an event. The 2008 World Cup at Middlebury College had costumes, characters, role-playing. (See, there's a reason I brought up Moopsball.) There are extravagant team names. There are people on stilts. The league commissioner wears a top hat. Everything is better when top hats are involved.

The biggest difference between this and Rowling's fictional Quidditch -- well, is that the players can't fly. (Everyone agrees that it's a really, really muddy time for all. On the positive side, if you slip, it's not 150 feet to the ground.)

The biggest chosen difference is that grabbing the Golden Snitch is worth only 30 points, or three times the value of a goal -- not fifteen times, as Rowling had it. This brings the game into something like balance. Both Seekers have to keep an eye on the score as well as the Snitch. Unless the score is very close, one Seeker will be actively running interference against the other, rather than trying to catch the Snitch herself.

Here's an article about the 2008 World Cup. There's also a rudimentary IQA web site. See also, a documentary produced by Justin Bogart (youtube video).

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Review: Laser Quest (Danvers, MA)

Did you know that laser tag still exists as a commercially viable concept? When the gf stated that she wanted to celebrate her birthday this year by playing laser tag, I reacted quizzically. My concept of laser tag does not stretch beyond memories of the Worlds of Wonder-branded toy that flared into a bright but brief fad in the 1980s. I recall the spread it had in the Sharper Image catalog, and its cheesy Saturday-morning cartoon. My friend Jaimy and his little brothers got some sets for Christmas one year, back then, and we played at running around zapping each other in his driveway at least once. But that was all long ago, and I'd assumed it had long since gone the way of all gimmicky plastic.

ltvests1.jpgBut according to Wikipedia, the concept of laser tag - that is, mounting an infrared flashlight into a gun-shaped casing and firing it at wearable, IR-sensing targets - originated with the US military in the late 1970s, and started appearing in a variety of toys at around the same time. While home versions no longer have an aisle to themselves in toy stores, there continue to operate across the US laser tag "arenas" operating under a variety of names and trademarks. The closest one to us happened to be Laser Quest in Danvers [noisy Flash link, sorry], so we grabbed a dozen or so friends and tripped out to the suburbs.


We played two 20-minute games, both of which had rules I can best summarize as those of a first-person shooter deathmatch - every man for himself, basically. As with an FPS, the penalty for "dying" - getting beamed in any of the sensors attached to your vest or gun - was to leave play for a few seconds, during which you can't fire (or be meaningfully fired upon). You gained 10 points for zapping someone, and lost some points for getting zapped, varying by the sensor's location and who shot you. And the end, everyone receives a scorecard detailing whom they tagged and were tagged by, on which sensors, and for how many points.

The arena was impressive, despite (and perhaps somewhat assisted by) a certain low-budget-ingeniuty charm. It was essentially a large wooden labyrinth, its walls painted with goofy fun-house designs in colors that reacted well to the black light employed throughout. While it wasn't truly multilevel - there were no bridges to walk under - it did employ a lot of variance of elevation, accessed through a series of ramps. This gave a sense of high ground you could take, which actually did give you a better view of the whole maze (and all the potential targets within).

The biggest surprise for me was the use of real lasers in the guns. While the actual "munition" was the usual IR beams and sensors, the guns also shone red lasers forward when their triggers were pulled. What made this actually impressive was that the labyrinth was filled with mist before each match, not thick enough to obscure vision (especially in the dim light) but enough to make the lasers fully visible. I was truly taken aback the first time I pulled my trigger and saw a coherent beam flash out!

In this mode of play, the Laser Quest organizers seem to prefer piling as many players as they can at once into the maze. So our first game pitted our group against a horde of 10-year-old boys who happened to also be visiting that day. We then took a breather while the boys were allowed to play by themselves (while a theory circulated among our group that the boys' parents were tweaked to see them being pursued aggressively by some 15 adult men and women of questionable maturity). I scored 12th out of 28 players; not bad! First place went to one of the little ones, while one of our party took second.

Our second game was just ourselves, along with three teenagers who came alone. I am embarrassed to admit that, during this second round, I forgot the rules that explicitly prohibited sitting, lying down, or taking any other non-vertical pose. Wigging out a little from the relentless fog of war, I commenced crouching and tumbling around all bad-ass like you see in movies. Don't do this, perhaps especially if you're of a certain age or older. While it was fun for a while and I felt all hardcore, after a few minutes I spontaneously overheated (the place is not the most well-ventilated or air-conditioned in town) and had to sit down because I couldn't move anymore. The gf found me in this state and valiantly defended my prone position for a while. After I told her I was OK, she kissed my forehead, shot me in the chest and ran off to seek more challenging targets. It was truly a touching scene.

Anyway, despite this momentary lapse (where I quite deservedly came in last place) I had a delightful time, and look forward to playing again sometime. The scorecards imply the existence of other rulesets, including team-based and even capture-the-flag-style play. Some in our group, intrigued by this, are already talking about the 60-person all-night special the facility offers. I shall have to remember to take it easy, that time.

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Wizardly coincidence

I had never heard of the Washington Wizards basketball team until I chanced across their mention in a Google News headline just now.

I can't be the first person to see their logo...

...and immediately think of another wizardly graphic...

I don't really think anyone intentionally ripped anything. It's just interesting.

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