"Games are models of real-life situations ... intensifying human experience in ways that are relatively safe."
- Brian Sutton-Smith
The Atlanta Braves are in a season-ending nail-biter for yet another division championship, and fans are glued to every pitch.
Why? Isn't it time for someone else to win?
"No, no!" the faithful reply. The Braves need to win 10 more times to make up for all the years unsold tickets were trucked to the landfill, owners couldn't pay any player more than a million dollars a season and, so the joke goes, judges sentenced the guilty to Braves games.
I've never cared for football. "Well, ma'am, football is a dangerous sport," some well-meaning fan told this mother, whose only two children were getting trounced and pounced before her eyes. But from April to October each year I pour all my cheering, nail-biting energy into the sport I passionately enjoy.
Actually, I was quite the softball hero myself back in the seventh grade. As one of the only kids who could hit the ball at all, I had more times at bat that season than Andruw Jones.
Heroes get a lot of attention, right? Attention was what I got the day I walloped a stinging, last-strike single during an afternoon-recess game - and sprained my ankle on the way to first base. Thus ended my athletic career, after which I channeled my "striking" ability toward the piano keys. You don't need strong ankles to play the piano. However, according to sports analyst Brian Sutton-Smith, it's human nature even for spectators to enjoy "the game."
In the simplest of cultures, games are played for the sense of accomplishment in learning the game. Take "ring around the rosies," for example, where everyone wins - falls down - at the same time.
But for the 99 percent of us who like our games competitive, there have always been ways to exercise Sutton-Smith's "safe, intensive, human experience."
Yet, surprisingly, games of chance, not skill, have always been the most popular games of all. Even today, more money is spent on lotteries and other forms of gambling than all other games combined. Such games are played by those who either don't believe they can influence their lives any other way, or who enjoy the possibilities offered by games of chance. And since most of us will never play in the World Series - or past a seventh-grade recess team - these games level the playing field. Most of the time, we "all fall down" together.
But since this is peak baseball-fever time, here's a "chance" for you to show your spectator skill at the sport. Just read the following sentences and locate the names of 12 hidden (current or recent) Major League teams. Answers and winners will be published at a later date.
1. Determination and persistence helped Pat win some respect from her peers.
2. Denny's expert yard work showed he cared something about appearances.
3. Everyone in the chess club raves about Andy's skill.
4. Floyd can't accept defeat without a lot of complex posturing.
5. Aunt Flo said I looked like the last rose of summer in my old pink smock.
6. After venting her anger, Susan felt much better.
7. On her trip to Rio, Leslie visited the botanical gardens twice.
8. By taking pictures at the top of a steep hill I establish an out-of-the-world effect.
9. Gina is trying to destroy Al's self-confidence with her nagging.
10. Camp wasn't much fun until I met some girls from Boston who played tennis.
11. When the clerk asked what I had in mind, I answered, "A suit that makes me look dignified."
12. Long before the alarm rang, Elsie was up and busy at her loom.
(From Dell Pencil Puzzles, Winter 2004.)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments and puzzle answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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