Thursday, June 14, 2007

The News in Thongs / Old Puzzler Answer / New Fortnightly Puzzler

A Cribbage Tale

The highest ranked cribbage player in the states is DeLynn Colvert. He's won the Cribbage Nationals four times, as well as countless other tournaments. Because of the volatility of the game, the American Cribbage Congress awards points for tournament victories, and these points make up the ranking system (that is to say, you could win Nationals but not be the highest ranked player). Last time I checked, DeLynn's closest competitor was several thousand points behind him.

DeLynn Colvert is a full-time cribbage player. He travels over 40,000 miles a year to various tournaments. He lives and breathes cribbage, and when you see him, you start to understand. He is usually sporting an ACC cap and is often wearing a cribbage sweatshirt.

DeLynn also lives in Missoula, Montana, and I've been itching to play him for months. World Games of Montana carries his book "Play Winning Cribbage" with his now famous Theory of 26. I've only glanced at the book, so I can't go into much detail. The Theory of 26 is a law of averages for cribbage, and as such, it is a framework for how to play if you start the game as dealer or if you start as non-dealer.

Cribbage is a game I only picked up last year. I've read one book on it, didn't get perfect scores on any of the tests, and haven't read another book since. I would call myself a beginner, and a solid one at that, but nothing more. When DeLynn came in the store earlier this week, I challenged him to a game. He accepted.

At his own admittance, DeLynn believes that every beginner who doesn't make any substantial errors should win about four games out of ten against anyone. Basically, anyone should win four games out of ten against anyone. It's those two leftover games that are closely fought over, as far as averages go.

We cut to go first, and DeLynn got the lower card. "That just gave me a 4% edge," he said. But I got a nice cut card in the first round (a 5) to match my double run of face cards, so I started off just behind DeLynn. He led the way around the board for more than 60 points of the game, but then had a terrible streak of no-pointers.

What I found incredible was his pegging during these awful hands. DeLynn was still getting around six to eight points and jumping ahead of me each time. In my opinion, pegging is the trickiest part of the game and at the heart of a lot of wins. Still, my better hands finally took a toll. I took the lead from around 90 points, with about ten to fifteen points between us.

As befitting this exciting occasion, I landed on 120 points as non-dealer and ended my turn. DeLynn caught up to about 110. In this situation, the game is usually won by a single pegged point. I felt pretty confident. My hand was an odd one; I kept two cards I thought were decent pegging cards and the other two were ten-counts. DeLynn, I soon found out, kept small numbered cards.

DeLynn laid a 4 down; I couldn't make points. I made a terrible play and played a 3; he paired it for two. Still, I couldn't make any points, so I played a 10 bringing the total up to 20. At this point, DeLynn deliberated. He quickly played an ace, bringing it up to 21. I looked at my hand and dropped the second face card, making 31 and my last point needed. Yes!

So perhaps the game was simply one of the four granted all beginners. Who knows? But after the game, DeLynn was the picture of perfect sportsmanship. He was so nice after the game you would have sworn he had just won. The board we played on was one he won in 2005, a $200 board that he had never played on before. He joked that he used up all his luck winning that cribbage board!

I really appreciated his time and courtesy. In those final moments, I feel I saw part of what it means to be a champion.

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Old Puzzler Q & A

Q: This is a personal story about a magician which will lead into the puzzler.

A friend once took me to see his uncle. His uncle loved magic tricks and jumped at the opportunity to show them off, especially to new people.

When I met him, it seemed we were opposites of sorts. I was a kid in high school; he was a husband and father of two. I wore a baseball cap to block the Texas sun; he wore nothing. I had baggy jeans; he wore shorts and a T-shirt. Somehow, he knew I was the perfect mark.

He had me sit down in a chair on the living room carpet. He then took a roll of paper towels and ripped off one sheet. He showed me both sides of his arms to demonstrate that he wasn't using any machine or apparatus.

He then started swinging his arms in front of me like a person mimicking a giant alligator. One arm would go high, and the other would go low. As he made this movement, he crumpled the paper towel and switched hands. Up and down the paper towel would travel, and smaller and smaller it became as he crumpled it. Finally, poof! It disappeared.

"Do you know where it went?" he asked. I shook my head. "Ok," he said, "I'll do it again." He repeated the trick. Again, the paper towel disappeared. Again, I didn't know what happened.

"Ok," he said, "This time, I'll make it easy on you." He then took the entire paper towel roll, a pretty hefty full roll, and did the same thing. Up and down it went in his alligator jaw pattern. Finally, and I kid you not, it disappeared right before my very eyes.

Can you guess how he was doing it?

A: Two people guessed and got it right, one with part of the details of the trick. My friend's uncle simply threw the paper towels, wadded up, over my head and behind me. While this seems pretty obvious, there are a few things to consider: 1) my cap cut off my upper peripheral vision, 2) we were on carpet so the already quiet paper towels were made even more quiet when they landed (even the roll didn't seem to make a sound), 3) common courtesy is to make eye contact, so I didn't consider looking behind me.

Magic tricks, both simple and complex, are fascinating when executed well. A good showman with a simple trick is likely to be talked about for a long time.

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New Fortnightly Puzzler

Here's a trivia question from long ago:

& (the 'and' sign) : ampersand :: # (the 'pound' sign) : _________.*

* Thanks for all puzzle solving attempts! Please do not post answers on the blog, however. If you feel the need, you can email me at smattathias@gmail.com. Thanks!

1 comment:

Greg said...

Basically, anyone should win four games out of ten against anyone. It's those two leftover games that are closely fought over, as far as averages go.

I think that's a fair comment about most two player games that have some element of luck.