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Guest post: The competitiveness of a former mathlete named RandBall

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • January 7, 2014 - 3:09 PM

From time to time, our special lady friend/RandBall Better Half has the inspiration to write a guest post. Four years back, she famously penned a ranking of the roles and positions of baseball players, which many of you seemed to enjoy. The obligation to post these is pretty much 100 percent ... which is why it is a good thing we also find them entertaining! In this case, the RBBH has chosen to write about competitiveness and to out me as a once-mathlete! Please do enjoy:

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As many of you know, I have never been a big sports fan.  It took a few years after I started dating RandBall for me to understand baseball play-by-play on the radio, and a decade to understand football — on TV OR the radio.  That is not to say I have had no exposure to sports or competition.  I grew up playing soccer, and as a child I was one of my brother’s number one spectators at his soccer and hockey games.  Seven years my senior, my brother and his teammates took the games seriously — and in my eyes were the true athletes; they suffered injuries, played through rainstorms, and behaved as though the fate of the world hinged on the results of one game.  It was nothing like the level of competition I experienced in RAAA soccer.

While I’ve never been much for sports themed video games, I do like strategy games.  Tetris was a big hit in my household, and when Sega Genesis came out, Columns was my game of choice.  In my adult life, I have not happened upon any other video games that have held my attention as much as those early strategy games, save one:  Bejeweled.

Bejeweled is like columns on steroids.  Not only is there strategy involved, but if you play particularly well— what I call “getting into the zone” — what unfolds is a series of events not unlike the domino effect. The simple goal of matching three gems in a row becomes four or five or SIX gems in a row. A Normal Gem soon becomes a Flame Gem, then a Star Gem — then a Hypercube. Your points add up, the levels fly by, and soon enough, you’ve got your all-time high score. It’s riveting, it’s exciting, it passes time in the waiting room at the dentist, it keeps your mind alert, and it’s fun! 

But that’s the only real goal — surpassing your own previous high score.  This is not the case with Yushino, RandBall’s new obsession. (Don’t even get me started with online Scrabble.) In this numbers strategy game, players get 7 "tiles" at a time (like Scrabble) and compete against each other to make numerical sequences that each add up to the last digit of the next number. For instance, 1-2-3 is a sequence you can play. So is 9-4-3-7.

Each player’s ranking among all players globally is available to see. RandBall was ranked No. 2 for several weeks. Currently, as he has not had enough time to keep his ranking up, he has slipped to No. 28.  Curious, I checked the high scores for Bejeweled. For Classic Bejeweled (one of several modes) of the 3,043,459 registered players, “kamizoom” is in first place, with a high score of 9,223,372,036,854,775,807.  For comparison, my high score is 435,360.

I suppose we all fall somewhere on the spectrum — from non-competitive to super-competitive.  While I like to tell people that I’m not competitive at all, I do make comparisons against my previous efforts.  When marathon training, I pay attention to my pace and set expectations and goals around my previous accomplishments.

RandBall is a different breed: not only does he compare his efforts against those of others, but he can compete at such a level that the best of the best competing head-to-head includes none other than RandBall himself.  Of course, it would be great if his talent were developed in more profitable or notable pastimes. Imagine RandBall as a world class poker player, or a 10 time Olympic gold medalist.

As it is, though, I’m impressed with my once-mathlete husband. He’s no AP, but he will pummel you in a game of Yushino.

Editor's note: You will be pummeled. Seriously.

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