[UC San Diego psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt] ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story—classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver—was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.
Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.
The same held true for mysteries. Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn’t hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it.
Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.
In 2nd: The Face of Defeat, Canadian photographer Sandy Nicholson documents the competitors who are forgotten about and under-celebrated — the second-place finishers.
Nicholson visited a range of fierce competitions, including the Air Guitar Finals, the Dance Sport Championships, rodeos, a spelling bee, a hamburger-eating contest and The Pillow Fight League. Just after the competitions end, he photographs the near-winners. The results are at times heartbreaking and hilarious. . .
See more photos, and read the book review in Lens Culture.
A characteristic of play, in fact, is that it creates no wealth or goods, thus differing from work or art. At the end of the game, all can and must start over again at the same point. Nothing has been harvested or manufactured, no masterpiece has been created, no capital has accrued. Play is an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money ... As for the professionals—the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on the stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title—it is clear that they are not players but workers. When they play it is at some other game.
What that means is that, if we care about the sport as a story, we have to hope that the people in charge of running it do their jobs just badly enough to ensure that the Hand of God is possible. The wider the circle within which you’re willing to see the game as aesthetic, in other words, the more you wind up relying on chance and accident. If soccer is only a game—that is, aesthetic only in the most limited and technical sense—then it can achieve perfection as a deliberate design or as a successfully realized intention. If it’s a story—that is, aesthetic in a more primary sense—it can’t. If you want a masterpiece, the artist has to screw up. The lamest defense of bad refereeing in the world is “human error is part of the game.” It isn’t; but it is certainly, and problematically, part of the story.
I’ve been trying to teach him the nuances of the NFL. He likes watching the games on television, he loves the New England Patriots–particularly Tom Brady–but he gets confused a great deal because the television announcers do a lousy job of explaining on what the play is, who’s in the game, and how the defense is set.
We tried computers. I bought an old Madden game as a learning tool but that also assumes a great deal of knowledge about the game.
Then this Sunday, we had to take an hour-long drive to meet my mother and do some shopping. We were driving back during the fourth quarter of the game between the Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens. I was dying to know the score, so I tuned into the our local radio broadcast.
And my son became enthralled ... what he loved was that the announcers actually told him what was going on in the game. “Brady’s in the shotgun, three receiver set to his right, Kevin Faulk in the backfield, defense is stacking eight men on the line…Faulk goes in motion leaving an empty backfield…”
Television announcers seem to assume you can see everything in the game. Or they’re flat out not as good. Take you pick.
I don’t mean to be too flippant here, nor to accord cricket too great an importance in the great kerfuffle of life—I simply say that the reason that test match cricket exerts such a tremendous fascination is that is shares so many qualities with the greater, more terrible dramas that make up the human experience.
It does so in a condensed, peaceful form and triumph and failure on the cricket field are ultimately trivial but the game moves us just as great art moves us. To pretend otherwise is, it strikes me, silly. That is, sure it’s only a game but it’s also not just a game.
In other words, it is life. And like war, and life, that sometimes end in stalemate. Which means a draw. There are winning draws and losing draws and plain old dull draws. But without them, or the possibility of them, everything else is too neat, too simple and, in the end, too unsatisfactory.
There’s a wonderful article in the new Atlantic by Mark Bowden called “The Hardest Job in Football.” That hardest job is being the director of a television broadcast of a game. Bowden focuses on a man named Bob Fishman, whom he believes to be the best at this job, as Fishman sits in a control room before a bank of TV screens. Each screen shows what one of the many cameras scattered around the stadium is seeing, and Fishman’s job during the game is to scan that bank of screens and decide what the guy watching the game at home on his TV should be seeing at any given moment. It’s fascinating to think what cognitive skills make someone good at this. You have to be able to take in the import of an image in a millisecond — a moving image! — and, in a few milliseconds more, evaluate it in relation to all the other images you’re viewing. But can only do this well not by thinking of the intrinsic visual interest of a particular image, but rather by having in mind a narrative structure, a sense of what the game is about — and not just what it’s about in some general sense, but what it’s about at this particular moment. And that will vary according to whether a team is ahead or behind; whether they are deep in their own territory or deep in the opponents’; whether it’s near the beginning or the end of the game; even what stories have been in the news leading up to the game. The director’s narrative sense, then, needs to govern his visual sense. Fascinating stuff.
The goal of the creators of The Big Chart, The Counter-Intuitive Comparison Institute of North America (CICINA), is to find the single best thing in the world through an NCAA basketball tournament-style bracketing system. This video explains their plans.
“Is the Bilbao Guggenheim better than McDonald’s french fries?Are penguins better than Miracle Grow? Can anything beat heated seats on a cold November day?”
(via design observer)
The high school football team in Euless, TX (population 52,900) starts their games by performing the haka, a chanting dance used to intimidating effect by New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team. What’s odd/interesting about this is that the Maori chant was appropriated by the team’s contingent of Tongan players—whose parents moved to the town to work at DFW airport—and has led to a greater sense of acceptance of the Tongans into the larger community. How’s that for multiculturalism?
Towards the end of his 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela began to yearn for a hotplate. He was being well fed by this point, not least because he was the world’s most famous political prisoner. But his jailers gave him too much food for lunch and not enough for supper. He had taken to saving some of his mid-day meal until the evening, by which time it was cold, and he wanted something to heat it up.
The problem was that the officer in charge of Pollsmoor prison’s maximum-security “C” wing was prickly, insecure, uncomfortable talking in English and virtually allergic to black political prisoners. To get around him, Mr Mandela started reading about rugby, a sport he had never liked but which his jailer, like most Afrikaner men, adored. Then, when they met in a corridor, Mr Mandela immediately launched into a detailed discussion, in Afrikaans, about prop forwards, scrum halves and recent games. His jailer was so charmed that before he knew it he was barking at an underling to “go and get Mandela a hotplate!”
Doubles table tennis is so entertaining because it defies the laws of geometry. As anyone who’s played in a rec room fully understands, a Ping-Pong table simply isn’t big enough to accommodate four people. The key skill that every doubles team must master has nothing to do with shot-making or defense. Rather, it’s having the agility to get the hell out of the way of your partner.
In doubles table tennis, partners must alternate shots. That means the goal of any team is to sow confusion in the enemy—to make it so the player whose turn it is to hit has to get through his or her partner to do so. The highlight of a doubles match is when partners kick, trip, or smash into one another. I once saw a Malaysian duo knock heads so hard the match was delayed nearly half an hour. Also fun: when one player swings for the ball and hits his or her partner instead.
Sadly, at the Olympic level, the players are too accomplished for this to happen. Maybe it’s just as well, then, that doubles has been eliminated as an Olympic event.
Sports bring us the human body as a manifestation of nature—not just the elegant forms of athletes, but their animal ability to move through air and water. At the Olympics, these bodies are co-opted by a political culture that wants to be seen as natural, legitimate, stirring, beautiful. Beautiful bodies are just one kind of nature that nations like to claim. After all, this country invented the idea of “national” parks and claims the sublimity of the Grand Canyon (which preceded it by hundreds of millions of years) and all those purple mountains’ majesty as part of its identity. Corporations too like pristine landscapes, particularly for advertisements in which an SUV perches on some remote ledge, or a high-performance car zips along a winding road through landscape splendor. Few car commercials portray gridlock or even traffic—that your car is just a car among cars—let alone the vehicle’s impact on those pristine environments. Of course most of us have become pretty well versed in critiquing advertisements as such—we assume they are coverups if not outright lies. But the Olympics have not been subjected to the same level of critique.
Decades of war and internal strife have left Cambodia with one of the highest proportions of people disabled by land mines in the world. The country’s only professional sports league is the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), a network of volleyball teams whose players once fought against each other in times of civil war and now face each other on the court. They also sponsor a wheelchair racing program which empowers women who would traditionally be confined to their homes. Currently, the national volleyball team is ranked number three in the world, and regularly defeats non-disabled teams including an Australian navy squad which has tasted defeat three years running. These national heroes may have lost limbs to land mines, but they’ll still whoop you in volleyball.