I woke up this morning to a suggested video on my phone, which was by one of the people that I find most interesting on this planet, John Green, but about a subject that I find one of the least interesting on the planet (to me), which is sports. But, as usual, John Green found a way to teach me that something that I thought was not worth my time was, well, worth my time.
John Green (I use both names because I also follow and am inspired by his brother, Hank Green), is a HUGE what we call “soccer” fan, which the rest of the world calls football. Thus, of course he is very into the current World Cup, which I guess is the biggest international competition between the best? or at least the national teams of many countries, playing to see which is the best team in the world. And you know how it is with people you love (even in a platonic Internet way)…you may not love everything THEY love, but you love them enough to tolerate listening to them enthuse about the things they love that, honestly, you don’t really care about.
But John Green’s video today about the World Cup, entitled or hash tagged as “You can never know.” started with what I thought was a brilliant insight:
“Sports are really just a form of theater in which neither the actors nor the audience yet know the script.”
Wow! That’s a hook that could actually get me, who is a big theater, book, and story person, seeing the value I might get in becoming a sports fan. My brothers tend to be borderline obsessive about their sports teams, so it could be in my DNA.
He goes on to tell the story of a “miracle” play in the World Cup match between Japan and Spain (from the video, I assume that football is a much bigger deal in Spain than it is in Japan and so that this is an example of one of my favorite story arcs, the underdog). He talks through the play, and ends with the words:
“It’s a hopeless situation. It’s a lost cause, and yet it is about to be one of the greatest moments in the history of Japanese men’s football. Sometimes, only sometimes, the unlikely does occur, and that is why we cling to hope, because you can never know.”
I was really touched and inspired by those words, first thing in the dark of the dawning day (ok, I teared up a little, I admit it). But I continued with my early morning routine. One of the things that I enjoy those mornings when I have time, as I did this Saturday morning, is not a sports challenge like the World Cup, but an intellectual one: my daily bout with the online word game, Wordle.
For those who don’t know Wordle, it is an online word game in which you try to guess a 5-letter word in 6 guesses or less. Once you enter the word for each guess, Wordle lets you know what letters are NOT in that word, what letters ARE in that word but you have them in the spot, and what letters you have that are both in the word and in the right spot. I played it when it was free from the guy who had the original idea and created the game, but he was bought out by the New York Times, which offers the daily word at: https://www.nytimes.com/games/wordle/index.html
Typically, I correctly identify the word at my 4th guess, which I think is about average. Today, however, I got it on my THIRD guess! So hooray!
While I used to like playing it when it was just a guy putting a great idea up on the Internet for free (I hope he got a good amount of money for his creativity), one thing I like about the NY Times running it is that they give an analysis afterwards about how well you did. There is some kind of computer program called the WordleBot that tries to solve the puzzle and you can see if it takes you more, less, or the same number of guesses as the computer. WordleBot rates you on your skill and also on your luck compared to the other players that day and suggests the logically better guesses you could have made.
I find that all interesting, and I’m pleased to say that most days I get it in the same number of guesses as the WordleBot. But WordleBot and I have some distinctly different habits in our play strategy.
Some players try different words; some players always start with the same word. John Green played Wordle for a year using a completely different word every day! But then, as I’ve said in previous posts, both that man and his brother are geniuses. However, WordleBot and I stick to the strategy of using the same opening word every day. There are all sorts of advice online on what is the optimal starting word; WordleBot uses SLATE.
Me? Since it is usually part of my morning routine and so I want to start the day off with positive energy, I put a good bit of thought into my opening word. It has to be 5 letters, so words like LOVE or HOPE are too short, and POSITIVE or AWESOME are too long. I could use PEACE or HAPPY, but I don’t think it is optimal to repeat letters in your first word. Finally, I decided on the word HEART to remind me to be led by my heart in the day ahead.
For the second guess, WordleBot and I diverge. If I get some letters right in the first round, I try a word with those letters combined with some of the next most frequently-used letters in the English language. But not WordleBot. WordleBot makes a word with the next most frequently-used letters as well, but it doesn’t necessarily include all, or occasionally any, of the letters it got from the first round.
I guess logically, it may reduce the number of guesses you need if you combine some of the top recommended starting words with different frequently-used letters. So if WordleBot uses SLATE for its first guess and AUDIO for its second, it will identify the vowel(s) for sure and maybe a consonant or two. But today, for example, my HEART guess told me the word had at least one R and T, although not in those places. So my next guess was TRIPS, which said I had the T in the right place, R still needed a different position, and S was a correct letter, but not in that ending spot. With that, I was able for figure out the final word, which I won’t reveal in case people are still playing.
My point is, however, that WordleBot sacrifices its chance to solve the puzzle in 2 guesses to ensure it will win (get the word within 6 guesses) and to reduce the overall guesses needed. I, though, cling to the HOPE that I might solve it in only 2 guesses, as unlikely as that is.
My epiphany through all this is that I have more in common with sports fans than I realized. Most sports fans don’t root for a team based on LOGIC (another potential first guess); they root based on HEART. I’m OBVIOUSLY no expert, but my sense is that at all levels of sports, from high school to college to professional teams to the Olympics, teams aren’t evenly matched. Some teams have more resources and/or more talented players and/or more…whatever. Still, fans don’t typically calculate the odds of, for example, which baseball team is most likely to win the World Series that year, and then root for that team. They usually keep rooting for the same team, based on whatever irrational love or attachment they have for that team, despite their losing records and their lousy facilities and their lower-achieving players and coaches, etc.
Because, as John Green says, you can never know.
Sometimes those sports Davids DO defeat the sports Goliaths. And even if it is just one game or one series or one season, it makes it all the sweeter because it is unexpected. Today I gained a greater level of appreciation and love and connection for/with sports fans…which makes today a very good day for me.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about artificial intelligence. AI can do really cool stuff. But so far, it doesn’t appear as if AI can HOPE.
But HOPE is a precious thing that is worth clinging to.