Thursday, June 12, 2014


The FIFAWorld Cup kicked off today with the host country and favorite Brazil winning the first match. I understand a little better what's going on this time since I spent some time learning about the World Cup back in 2010. McDonald's is a big sponsor and is promoting the games with a free smartphone app that lets you play an augmented reality soccer game when you scan special fry boxes. I tried the app and found it entertaining.

Soccer scoring is straightforward 1 point for each goal unlike basketball or American football. Thinking about the scoring for games like that (tennis anyone?) made me liken them to the fictional game of Quidditch, where teams score 10 points for throwing a quaffle through a hoop, but catching the snitch awards 150 points and all but guarantees a win. I tried to think of a real sport with a similar rule, and the closest thing I could think of is professional boxing, where contestants are awarded points for the number of punches they score on their opponent, but a knockout punch guarantees a win.

There is a humorous Harry Potter fan fiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and in chapter 7, Harry discusses the ridiculousness of the snitch in Quidditch. Here's an excerpt:

“So let me get this straight,” Harry said as it seemed that Ron’s explanation (with associated hand gestures) was winding down. “Catching the Snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points?”

“Yeah -”

“How many ten-point goals does one side usually score not counting the Snitch?”

“Um, maybe fifteen or twenty in professional games -”

“That’s just wrong. That violates every possible rule of game design. Look, the rest of this game sounds like it might make sense, sort of, for a sport I mean, but you’re basically saying that catching the Snitch overwhelms almost any ordinary point spread. … It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it. Who was the first Seeker, the King’s idiot son who wanted to play Quidditch but couldn’t understand the rules?” Actually, now that Harry thought about it, that seemed like a surprisingly good hypothesis. Put him on a broomstick and tell him to catch the shiny thing…

Ron’s face pulled into a scowl. “If you don’t like Quidditch, you don’t have to make fun of it!”

“If you can’t criticise, you can’t optimise. I’m suggesting how to improve the game. And it’s very simple. Get rid of the Snitch.”

A look of absolute horror was spreading over Ron’s face. “But, but if you get rid of the Snitch, how will anyone know when the game ends?”

“Buy… a… clock.”

No comments: