A Hodgepodge: Games People Play

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a series of op-eds on “Games People Play.”

My favorite quotes (with links to the originals) below.

Francine Prose on solitaire and the “fireworks” on your computer:

No wonder so many writers (including myself) play more solitaire than we should. All I have to do is complete a decent paragraph to feel I’ve earned the right to take a break and play a few games. Like many sports, it’s right on the border between addiction and pastime. That’s why teaching someone to play computer solitaire can feel like the equivalent of a giving a junkie that first shot, though the toll it takes isn’t in money or health, but in time, the writer’s most precious gift.

Of course, there are moments when I think: what a ridiculous waste! I keep resolving to quit. But how could I ever give up that little burst of hope whenever a new game deals itself out, or the lightly adrenalized buzz of seeing the cards, when I’ve won, bounce in joyous cascades across the screen and set off computer solitaire’s version of fireworks?

Pico Iyer on the ping-pong culture in Japan:

In Japan, Ping-Pong is how you keep your wits about you and your reflexes, limbs and senses intensely sharp. Almost every afternoon for nine years, I’ve walked 15 minutes uphill to our local health club, here in suburban Nara, or taken a bus to an ancient gymnasium in a nearby park, to engage in furious bouts of table tennis with a group of 30 or so Japanese neighbors who teach me about engagement in their retirement years as once they did with co-workers or family members.

I soon begin sweating even on mid-February days while some of my pals are swathed in jackets, mufflers and gloves and our breath condenses in front of us, indoors. When it hits 100 degrees in the old wooden space in July, I slip away discreetly after 90 minutes, while my aged friends continue for up to four hours. “Pico-san,” they say, next time they see me. “What’s up? You’re the youngest by 20 years and you’re the first to stop.” “I’m the only non-Japanese,” I want to say.

James Atlas on the “love-love” of tennis:

 By the end of two hours, I’m dripping as if I’ve just exited a Navajo sweat lodge. Why do we put ourselves through this ordeal week after week? Our exertions have changed nothing in our lives. But it’s not about athletic prowess; it’s about forgiveness. To forgive the teammate who double faults (a small number when you consider how many faults most of us commit in a day); the opponent who, having sensed that you’re about to poach, slams a wicked passing shot down the line; above all, to forgive yourself for the netted volley, the backhand that went long, the drop shot that failed to drop. And, having forgiven, to persist. I cite the tennis enthusiast Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Charles A. Murray on the diversity of poker (it is America):

A poker table is America the way that television commercials portray it but it seldom is. A normal table of 10 at Charles Town has at least two or three Asians, one or two blacks, maybe a Latino, another one or two players who hail from some other part of the world, and maybe four or five plain-vanilla whites like me. Age is distributed from young guns in their 20s who raise relentlessly to geezers like me who are too tight and passive.

And last, but not least, Jason Lucero on the fluidity of ultimate frisbee:

It’s fluid in the way basketball and hockey are fluid — fast-paced and constantly evolving between offense and defense. But even in its most contested moments, the culture of the game requires civility. It’s only a matter of time until professional football players carry handguns during games. In ultimate, there is no bullying — no hard fouls to earn respect, retaliatory fouls to show even less respect, none of it. We don’t have or need referees — we play with a commitment to fairness. Our hippie forefathers reasoned well: ultimate is a game; it should be fun and only fun. It is.

If I had to pick a favorite of the five, it’s probably Pico Iyer’s piece, simply because the dialogue made me laugh out loud. But all of these are a quick read and worth reading.

Best Tennis Ever

Are we witnessing the best of men’s tennis today? After Djokovic’s victory at the 2012 Australian Open, Jason Gay thinks so (and it’s hard to disagree):

Conventional superlatives fail. Once-a-lifetime? Symphony of brilliance? Wicked good? It all sounds cheesy, inadequate. But what’s happening in the men’s game is as close as sports gets to unadulterated joy, the kind of outrageous viewer experience that leaves the audience gasping, as if anaerobic, as it did Sunday morning, in the men’s final of the Australian Open.

To be clear, when I say men’s tennis, I am really talking about the interactions of three players. Maybe four, if we want to be generous and include Andy Murray, who has yet to win a Grand Slam, and keeps grabbing for that glory, only to pull the doorknob off in his hand. The unquestioned top three are world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Between them, they have won 31 Slams, and Djokovic is still shopping in aisle one. They are as formidable and as entangled a trio as tennis has ever witnessed—as silly as it is to get into generational comparisons, it’s fair to say that the great three of Borg, McEnroe and Connors (26 combined Slams) are on the run, in their flowing hair and short-shorts.

These days are like those good old days. This past week there were early mornings, depending on where you lived, and your ability to have woken up in darkness to watch the spectacle. Reasonable people reasonably used a DVR, but Sunday’s 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 epic, won by Djokovic over Nadal, wasn’t designed to be breezed over via remote control. This was a match that accelerated and de-accelerated and accelerated again; that both men locked up and let escape; that left a pair of champions droop-shouldered and wobbly. It lasted a boiled egg under six hours, beating the second-longest Grand Slam final by 59 minutes. It was briefly delayed by rain. It ended with Djokovic yanking at his collar, stripping off his shirt, and unleashing a primal yell—Fred Stolle meets Freddie Mercury.

I am starting to get more into tennis as a fan. Perhaps 2012 will be the year I see a professional match live (for the first time ever). The U.S. Open in the fall sounds pretty good right about now.