Running

Rude and funny. Notes on taking up running, concluding with a brutal fisking of the advice offered to women by Runners’ World website. “In the changing rooms I discovered two things: 1) that most sports clothing manufacturers hate women and 2) that female runners know of a secret supplier, who fashions magic leggings that hold in your stomach, lift up your arse and make the outline of your knickers disappear” (1,600 words)

The Immortal Horizon Pick of the day

On running the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in northern Tennessee. “What makes it so bad? No trail, for one. A cumulative elevation gain that’s nearly twice the height of Everest. Native flora called saw briars that can turn a man’s legs to raw meat in meters. The hills have names like Rat Jaw, Little Hell, Big Hell, Coffin Springs, Zip Line, and an uphill stretch, new this year, known simply as the Bad Thing” (6,880 words)

Baseball: Best Of All Games

From the archives. The philosopher John Rawls explains why baseball is the greatest of sports. “The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise”. Baseball engages the whole body, and favours no particular physique. Time is not limited; however badly the losing side may be lagging, there is always the possibility of a comeback (1,086 words)

The Electronic Holy War

Why it’s so much more difficult to programme a computer to win at Go, than to win at chess. Chess is highly directional: “At the grandmaster level, to tell who is winning, you add up the pieces on the board. To win, you just stay ahead the whole time”. With Go, “It is often hard to determine at any given time whether a group of pieces is being surrounded or doing the surrounding, and thus who is ahead” (1,350 words)

Football As Financial Economics

On Arsenal Football Club and tail risk. “Ordinarily, teams play a bit better than normal or a bit worse, but performances and results are usually roughly normally distributed. Not so for Arsenal: 10% of games this season account for 50% of goals conceded”. For balance, Arsenal needs more players with what investors would call “negative beta” — ones who perform better when their team-mates are performing worse (612 words)

The Reign In Spain

Football in the age of Franco. Portrait of Santiago Bernabéu, president of Real Madrid from 1943 to 1978. When he took over Real was Madrid’s lesser team (behind Atletico) with average home gates of 16,000. By the mid-1950s it was “the biggest team in the world”. Foul-tempered, foul-mouthed, “Bernabéu would know when the most insignificant referee in the lowest division had a birthday and a gift would be sent” (4,300 words)

Dropped

The “greatest juggler alive, maybe of all time”, is a 40-year-old Floridian named Anthony Gatto, who alone can “juggle eight clubs for 16 catches”. And he’s giving it all up. A few bit parts with the Cirque du Soleil; that aside he runs a concrete company in Orlando, Florida. Why? You won’t find a surprising answer here; he got bored, mostly, and needed more money. But prepare to learn a lot about juggling along the way (6,300 words)

Rage Against The Machines

On the exploitative nature of videogames. The piece starts clumsily, invoking Sandy Hook and Columbine, before getting on to its proper subject, the evolution of “free-to-play” games such as Farmville, portrayed here as “a kind of classic racket”. They “create a surge of interest by virtue of their easy access”, followed by “a tidal wave of improbable revenue coerced out of players on terms that weren’t disclosed at the outset” (3,580 words)

Why Does Test Cricket Run In Families?

Cricketing countries are “replete with test dynasties” — the Mohammads, Khans, Manjrekars, Roys, Hadlees, Headleys, Chappels, Pollocks. Genetics at work? Perhaps, but more probably environment. “Even in sports that don’t require extreme physical attributes, family patterns will be favoured to the extent that (a) the necessary skills are hard to learn and (b) youngsters aren’t all exposed to the necessary training” (1,720 words)

How Will The 2014 World Cup Ball Swerve?

On the aerodynamics of footballs. The traditional ball has 32 panels stitched by hand; the Teamgeist developed by Adidas for 2006 World Cup had 14 heat-bonded panels; the Jabulani, for the 2010 World Cup, eight panels; the new ball for 2014, the Brazuca, has six. The Teamgeist and Jabulani were both notorious for swerving unpredictably; the Brazuca should be more stable in flight thanks to very deep seams (1,100 words)

The Lego Movie

It surprises on the upside. A lot. “Clever, vividly imagined, consistently funny, eye-poppingly pretty and oddly profound”, it pits “the perfection-obsessed, freedom-stifling President Business” on the one hand, against “a sort of Goth biker-chick minifig voiced by Elizabeth Banks” on the other, with “naively psyched” construction worked Emmet Brickowski in the middle. The last 20 minutes contain “a big conceptual twist” (940 words)

What Planet Are You From?

Discussion of arguably the greatest goal in the history of soccer, scored by Diego Maradona for Argentina against England on 22nd June 1986. It was “a goal so unusual, almost romantic, that it might have been scored by some schoolboy hero, or some remote Corinthian, from the days when dribbling was the vogue”. For Argentina it offered “a symbolic balancing of accounts” after the Falklands War (1,080 words)

An Argument With A Fly Rod

Review of The Habit of Rivers, a “lush collection of essays” about trout fishing by Ted Leeson, “lifelong practitioner of fly fishing and a masterful writer of lyric nonfiction”. “To construct an ‘argument’ by fly fishing (by choosing what fly to use, where to cast it, how to control its drift, and so on) is to attempt to answer a fundamental question: as Leeson asks, ‘Have I accurately inferred and observed the principles by which the river works?’” (1,170 words)

How To Win At Jeopardy!

Interview with four-time champion Arthur Chu. “There’s a cultural bias to what they put in. US Presidents are very important. State nicknames they keep going back to. If they mention a ‘Norwegian composer’ it will be Edvard Grieg. If they mention a ‘Polish Nobel Prize Winner’ it’s likely to be Marie Curie. Jeopardy! is aimed at the average TV viewer, so they focus on these cultural touchstones that we all know” (4,860 words)

The Man Who Solved Cicada 3301

Conversation with Joel Eriksson, who solved last year’s Cicada 3301 puzzle thanks to steganography, cryptography, ancient Mayan numerology and familiarity with cyberpunk fiction. But when he got to the end, an address on Tor, he found a message telling him he was too late; the winners had already been admitted, the door was closed. The winners aren’t talking. The mystery endures (2,100 words)

Supporting a Team Isn’t Like Choosing A Washing Machine

“How can fans sensibly suppose that it is important for their side to win, even when there is no objective basis for their favouritism?” It’s because humans “give meaning to our lives by adopting long-term goals and working to achieve them”. We invest our energies in projects — family, career, house and garden, reputation. When you become a fan, your team becomes a project. You sign up for its mission (1,120 words)

How Teams Really Work

What makes for a great sports team? “From a management perspective, the challenge is to establish two distinct but overlapping majorities: a majority of strong characters who have the ability to carry people with them, and a majority of players in form on any given day. A subtler kind of majority is also needed for long-term victory: a core of team-spirited players. The story of good teams is really the story of good senior players” (950 words)

Obituary: Mae Young, Lady Wrestler

“Mae Young — make that the Great Mae Young — who pulled hair and took cheap shots, who preferred actually fighting to pretending, who was, by her own account and that of many other female wrestlers, the greatest and dirtiest of them all, died on Tuesday in Columbia, S.C. She was 90, and her last round in the ring was in 2010 … She was a rough, tough broad” (Metered paywall) (830 words)

Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic: Football’s Superheroes

Today’s football stars are fitter, more durable, more disciplined than their predecessors. But less interesting. “Maradona offered the spectacle of the footballer’s struggle with the inner man. Messi offers only a perfectly professional genius, as if Claude Monet had signed a contract to produce masterpieces twice a week and then actually did. Messi is a genius like Monet, but Messi’s genius is easier for most people to appreciate” (900 words)

Choking, The Yips And Not Having Your Mind Right

A philosopher writes: “When Jonathan Trott was struggling in the first two tests of the current Ashes tour, some cricket commentators suggested that he was suffering from The Yips. This didn’t make sense to me. You can’t get The Yips when batting in cricket, nor for that matter in baseball, for reasons explained below. Rather Trott’s problem was simply that he Did Not Have His Mind Right” (1,324 words)

The Caviar Olympics

Tales of “ambition, hubris, and greed leading to fabulous extravagance on the shores of the Black Sea”, where the Russian government is spending $51bn on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi. A single road and rail link has cost more than the entire 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. “It can be hard to determine at which point inefficient and repeated work becomes outright theft, but there seems to have been plenty of that” (4,800 words)

What Makes A Football Player Smart?

American football depends on layers of sophisticated tactics. Winning means out-thinking the opposition. Players need to be smart in special ways. They have to think clearly, and fast, under pressure. They need be good at pattern recognition. “When people see the game, they think we’re meatheads, they think of the way jocks acted in high school. But we spend more time studying than we do on the field” (2,200 words)

Fergie Time

Shrewd, illuminating review of My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson. “It is a hectoring, petty, repetitive book. Ferguson returns again and again to the things that nag him. It’s ugly, it’s grinding, but it gives you the flavour of the man. The only other autobiography I’ve read recently that comes across like this is Tony Blair’s, which was also so disconnected, erratic and self-referential that it had the unmistakeable ring of authenticity” (3,890 words)

The Paranoid And Obsessive Life Of A Mid-Level Bookie

Luke and Steve used to be gamblers until they went broke and decided to run their own sports book. Steve explains the trade. “You just have to find degenerates that want to gamble.” Sports bars are a good place to look. “You go to a bar and you can tell, you can just tell the guy’s gambling on games, you can just f**king tell. The guy’s paying attention to the game nobody should give a sh*t about, that’s the first telltale sign” (4,570 words)

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