Last Saturday, I bought the first birthday card deliberately aimed at gamers that I had ever seen. Actually, it was so impressive that I bought a couple of copies of it. I shall say no more in case I end up sending you one of them.
Great Britain are off to a pretty wobbly start in the Davis Cup tennis and are getting pasted in the athletics World Cup. Heck, we may even end up finishing behind Spain, who only take part as hosts because they have a nine-lane track and get relegated out of the European Cup Super League more often than not.
Closer to home, I'm tempted to go to 40 miles up the road to Jarrow, my Dad's old home, to watch the decathlon taking place there next weekend. I have since learned that there exists such an event as a double decathlon, which incorporates 20 events (with a total of over 15 miles of running) into two days' competition. The events are all very familiar except the 200m hurdles. The world championship attracted 26 starters (23 finishers) including a Finnish gentleman over 70 years old who posted an extremely respectable score of 9585. Admittedly, this score is adjusted for his age. Heck, extracting the ten decathlon performances from his weekend alone, ignoring the fact that he's running another 20,000 metres over the weekend and pretending he's a spring chicken gives him a decathlon score of 1968, which is still not too shabby. Jaakko Yli-Suomu, you are the hard bastard of the day. Goodbye.
Double decathletes aside, I have a new favourite sport - australian rules football.
While the action and fitness of the athletes, their famous good humour and refined style, plus the game's free-flowing and frenetic nature, are considerable factors in the sport's appeal, naturally, the real killer app is the fact that the sport is governed by a competition with a needlessly complex structure. (Oh, and "Essendon Bombers" is a fantastic team name in anyone's language.)
Imagine, if you will, a straightforward league competition between sixteen teams. Over the regular season, they play each other 22 times, so it is neither home-and-away nor home-or-away. (I'm guessing it's a historical artifact from the fact that it was a twelve-team Victoria state league from 1925 to 1987.) We then take the top eight teams from the league - the "ladder" - and then have an end-of-season play-off competition.
Now with eight teams participating, you might think that the obvious move is to have a straightforward single-elimination knockout. Alternatively, you might choose to split the eight into two sections of four on conference or geographical grounds. If that's not enough, you might - just might - want to consider a double elimination mini-tournament.
No. Not Aussie Rules Football.
Aussie Rules' playoff structure can only be described as "remarkable". It's sort of double knockout for the top four teams and has needlessly large numbers of matches. All of these matches are referred to as finals: Qualifying Finals, Elimination Finals, Semi-Finals, Preliminary Finals and the Grand Final. (In that order. No, eight of these finals aren't, in fact, final.) I could explain it in text, but it's far easier if I just show you the diagram which it took me about an hour and a half to prepare:
#1--Port-Ad-\ | /---=== QF 1 *---------------------Collingwood-\ / | | | #4-Col'wood-/ | | | | #6-Melbourne-\ | | | | | EF 1 *--Melbourne-\ | | | | PF 1 *------------\ | #7-Kangaroos-/ | | | | | | | | SF 2 *---Adelaide-/ | | | | | | | \ | | \ /--> loser of QF2------Adelaide-/ | X GF *--------- / \--> loser of QF1-------Port-Ad-\ | / | | | | | | | | | SF 1 *----Port-Ad-\ | | | | | | #8--W.-Coast-\ | | | | | | PF 2 *------------/ | EF 2 *---Essendon-/ | | | | | #5--Essendon-/ | | | | #3-Adelaide-\ | \ | | \---=== QF 2 *-------------------------B-Lions-/ | #2--B-Lions-/
I am told that the trend for these intricate play-offs comes from Rugby League, whose needlessly fiddly play-off system is... well... relatively restrained by comparison. (I might explain it some day. Not soon, though, as it would be really anti-climatic.) But, heck, the Tokyo subway map is relatively restrained by comparison to that.
Naturally I end up doing what I always do - what every sports geek always does - when there's a competition in which you only like/know one team. You shout for your team (come on you Bombers!) and when they get knocked out, you root against the team who beat them. Successive eliminating teams gain alternately positive and negative polarity of favour until you eventually conclude that you're happy or unhappy with the final outcome.
So I think I'm shouting for the Brisbane Lions at the moment. Watch this space!