A Million Little Boxes | FiveThirtyEight

Feyer brought his A-game. He ripped into Puzzle 1 (see image at left) like a kid on Christmas morning. The final time was 1:55, which was the first sub-two-minute puzzle ever completed in the tournament...To make sense of his time, I conducted a little experiment. I wrote my first name over and over again in the same grid, as fast as I could while maintaining legibility. It took me 1:40.

I love this expose on the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I haven't consistently done the crossword every day in years, but this makes me want to dive back in. I'm 100% positive I'll be terrible.

On a related note, if you've never read The Queen's Gambit, the novel about a young female chess prodigy -- check it out. Riveting.



Why You Should Hope Alabama Makes the National Championship Game

If you ever want to see a playoff system for college football’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly I-A), you should be hoping and praying that the University of Alabama earns the number two spot in the final BCS results. Why? Thanks for asking.The BCS is broken. We know this. Just about anyone who’s a real fan of college football believes that a 8-10 team playoff system would be far superior to today’s highly complex and deeply flawed shitshow.

And yet - most of you (that aren’t Alabama players, students or alumni) use one or both of the arguments below as reasons to keep Alabama out of the championship game:

1. Alabama has already faced LSU this season, and lost. A hell of a game among regional and national powers, but a loss is a loss.
2. Alabama didn’t win their conference (the SEC). Teams that can’t even win their own conference shouldn’t play for the national championship.

Over the last twenty five years, college football has emerged as America’s fifth major sport. It’s arguably one of the most prominent sporting leagues in the world. College football now rivals the NFL and major league baseball in many ways: attendance, revenue, merchandise, gambling and passionate fans. It demands to be taken seriously. It’s more popular than the NBA, the NHL, NASCAR, MLS and college basketball.

Here’s where college football stands apart:

Every other major sporting league in the world features teams that are eligible to play or compete for the championship through a “wild-card” or seeded playoff system. That is to say, every one of these leagues - and many others (Champions League football/soccer, for example) - allow, and frequently feature, non-conference winning teams as post-season tournament and, eventually, championship game participants.

There are variations on their terms of eligibility, of course, for gaining this entry: no home games, playing an extra “play in” game, facing off against the top seed in the first round, etc. But the fact remains: college football is the only major sporting league in the world that doesn’t allow non-conference winners to feature in the championship game.

Part of this is due to the fact that the college football season is, as some would say, an endless playoff. If you really want in, you’d better win every game. And yet sometimes, depending on your respective conference, strength of schedule and the play of your rivals, it doesn’t even matter. And yet part of it is due to the fact that for some bizarre reason, we let computers have an overwhelming say in who should be placed into that game, a game played over a month after the regular season ends. Because that makes sense.

Unless, of course, Alabama is named the number two ranked BCS team.

And then we’ll have something new. We’ll be armed with the best real threat to the BCS anyone’s seen since the system’s immaculate inception years ago. We’ll have a rematch. You do remember those, don’t you? That little American thing called a second chance? Why on earth wouldn’t you want a rematch? You do in every other sport.

You do realize that in all of the other major sports, not only do the best teams usually play each other during the regular season and then, often, face off in the championship game, many times they play multiple successive “rematches” for the championship: see the MLB, NBA, NHL and more as examples of a successful “best of 7” format. Of course, best of 7 doesn’t make sense for sports like football, soccer or rugby, lest we want fields littered with broken men (and women). But I digress.

Everything here lends itself to the need for a completely revamped championship, playoff format, but realize this: your arguments for 2011 just don’t make any sense.

That is, unless you like the BCS. When you say “any team that doesn’t win their conference shouldn’t play in the championship game”, you’re siding with the current system. You’re taking a very short term view of things, and aiding the enemy. And unless you’re a player, student or coach from Oklahoma State, you really don’t actually have anything invested in the short term, do you?

Let’s make this very real for some of you.

If you’re a fan of any of the teams below, raise your hand:

Florida Marlins
Anaheim Angels
Boston Red Sox
St. Louis Cardinals
Oakland Raiders
Denver Broncos
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants
Green Bay Packers

If you raised your hand, I urge you to consider the fact that your team made the playoffs and won your sport’s championship title because you made your way in through the wild-card spot. I repeat: your team may have faltered down the stretch, or played in a tough division, but your team did NOT win your conference. And yet you won your championship. Marlins fans (all five of you), you won twice as the NL wild-card entry.

Again, raise your hand:

New York Mets
San Francisco Giants
Houston Astros
Detroit Tigers
Colorado Rockies
Dallas Cowboys
New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills
Tennessee Titans

Congratulations, and my condolences: your team made the playoffs and championship game through the wild-card slot, but just missed out, and lost in the final moments. Or got blown out. Whatever. The point is, you made it. And you didn’t win your conference.

I haven’t even listed all of the NBA and NHL championship winners who weren’t seeded first, or even second, in their conference (geographically split). Of course, with only two conferences, it’d be pretty boring if only the top team in each qualified. We wouldn’t even need the playoffs. We’d just have one game. Wait a minute…

This year and next should be testaments to how stupid the college football system is. Far away teams joining previously geographically oriented conferences for a better shot at the big game, or one of the big four bowls. Some teams aren’t even in a conference. Some teams already get “at large” bids, but not for the championship game. And that’s because the BCS deal is that the top two seeded teams at the end of the regular season, both teams winners of their respective conferences (to date), play one game four weeks later for the national championship.

Because that makes sense.

Vote Alabama. Threaten the system. Vote for a rematch. Vote for the wild-card this year.