Friday, April 25, 2008


I am the (proud?) owner of a first-place medal. In bowling. My 5-man team's combined best score never exceeded 730 and yet we beat the other seven teams at a $MeegaCorp-sponsored evening out at a bowling alley. It wasn't because the others sucked even worse than we did.

When I was sent off to summer camp as a kid, I was provided with reading material consisting primarily of Archie and Richie Rich comic books. I wasn't allowed to take books like Principles of Orbital Mechanics because "they might get ruined". More importantly, I was geeky enough that I didn't need the aggro and torment my bunkmates would've heaped on me for the entire month had they seen me reading such things.

Oddly, one Archie storyline stayed with me through the years. Archie was in some athletic competition and kept being bested in every activity, always coming in second. Reggie beat him in a race and Betty beat him in the long jump and so on. Even Jughead beat him in something. But Archie won gold at the meet. He did this because he placed consistently 2nd whereas the others who'd gotten first place in one event placed 4th or 5th in others.

Supergeek noticed something wrong and I demonstrated that the author was lazy and hadn't actually done his math; the numbers didn't add up and I said so. "Jesus Christ, Canine! Who the fuck adds up scores in a fucking Archie comic?" my fellow 9-year-old incarceree screamed. My nickname for the rest of August was Columbo.

But I was intrigued. Could there be a way to make the scoring work so that Archie could win even though he always came in second place? It took me a few tries but I figured out how it might work.

In my university prob/stat course we had to write programs in some glub-awful language like MAPLE. The Archie conundrum was still in my head and so I used it as the basis of a complex assignment. It turns out that theoretically it's quite probable that a second-placer will win overall as long as he's consistent and there are enough other actors (probabilty becomes >50% at 6 or 7 actors).

And now it's happened to me in real life. An evening of bowling on the $MegaCorp dime. We came in second place in each of the three full games played. But while some other team would soundly trounce us in one round, they'd play poorly in another. We played consistently and won.

The best thing of the night wasn't winning the damned "team-building" event -- like I could give a rat's ass about that. It wasn't even the free food (we had to pay for our own beer). It's that my Archie conundrum which has followed me for three decades or so has finally put to bed.

Me. First place in bowling. Insanity, I tell ya.

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