What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

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Rick Neuheisel, the Rat of Nim?

I attended a Mariners game with a group from my church the other night. When I found our section and sat down next to a fellow parishioner, Cal Uomoto, he said, "I didn't have you pegged as a sports fan."

There are bigger sports fans than I, but after all I am not only a fan but an occasional sports writer, so it does behoove me to know at least a little bit about most sports. I admit I'm a nerd, but some nerds love some things about some sports. So there.

Here, anyway, is a sports story with some real nerd appeal: a piece in the Seattle Times about how Rick Neuheisel, current UCLA Bruins football coach and former Washington Huskies coach, recruited his new quarterback by convincing him to switch from UW to UCLA. (If you follow Pac-10 football at all, you probably know that Seattleites either admire Slick Rick for being the last Husky coach to win a Rose Bowl, or despise him for being unable to control his players' off-field antics and for betting on NCAA basketball games and lying about it.)

According to the story, Slick Rick won this quarterback over by challenging him to a game. It was nothing involving football or any other sport, but rather a two-person math/logic game played on a marker board. The quarterback in the story calls this game "sticks." When I used to play it with other nerds in junior high, we called it 3-5-7, but according to Wikipedia, mathematicians call it "Nim." In most variations of the game, objects are arranged in three rows of varying lengths. Players take turns removing objects, trying to leave the other player with the last one. Reportedly Slick Rick told this quarterback that he'd have to consider UCLA if he lost 10 games in a row, which is exactly what happened.

In games like Nim, the outcome is often a foregone conclusion if neither player makes a mistake. For example, a correctly played game of tic-tac-toe always ends in a draw (if one player wins, it means the other one screwed up). Slick Rick's version of Nim is set up so that the person who goes second will win the game, provided that he or she understands the strategy and doesn't blow it. (In most versions, the advantage goes to the first player.) The Times story suggests that the quarterback was completely unfamiliar with Nim, so it's no surprise that Rick skunked him. Heck, Rick probably didn't even have to secure for himself the advantage of going second every time, knowing that the kid would most likely make a boo-boo.

Here's the irony in all this: Rick's use of Nim as a recruiting tool means that he is selecting football players who are no good at Nim — in other words, they can't recognize patterns and don't think strategically. I don't know about you, but those are not qualities I would want in a quarterback. Between two quarterbacks with comparable physical capabilities, I'd go for the smarter one. I'd want one who might even be able to beat the coach at Nim now and then.

If you ask me, this story is a cause for Washington fans to celebrate. Clearly, Rick Neuheisel is interested only in players who aren't as smart as Rick Neuheisel — meaning that every other team in the Pac-10 has a better shot at recruiting players who are as smart as Rick Neuheisel. Maybe even smarter.

Probably Bad News: Definitely bad grammar

We all love to make fun of newspaper gaffes. It's been standard fare on the Tonight Show since your uncle was in diapers.

So it comes as no surprise that there's a blog devoted to this pursuit, Probably Bad News.

However, there's an inescapable irony in mocking poorly written headlines when one's own masthead contains a grammatical error.

That's right, kids, "fails" is a verb, not a noun. Yeah, dude, I know it's all, like, hip and trendy to say "fail" when you really mean "failure," but isn't standard English and probably never will be, because it makes the language more confusing and not less. There's also no earthly reason to capitalize the F in "Fails" on this masthead, since the subhead is clearly intended to be in sentence case. That's two blunders on one word. Then there's "Established MMDCCLXII." In case you were interested, the Roman numeral works out to 2762, which is either a bad joke or a heinous error—take your pick.

Any fool can point out obvious mistakes in journalism, but it's a special kind of fool who fails (ha ha, I'm so clever) to correct his (or her) own mistakes in the process.