The Joy of Darts

A post by C. S. Wyatt started me thinking about what games and sports I enjoy, and why.

I have always enjoyed word-based puzzles, particularly crosswords, and complete at least one cryptic crossword most days – my favorite is the Daily Telegraph which I usually finish in under 20 minutes. What attracts me is the challenge of interpreting the clue in the correct way to construct the answer – it’s a combination of an extensive vocabulary, an awareness of multiple meanings of words and logical reasoning.

I occasionally solve Sudoku puzzles but find them much less satisfying because of the purely mechanical methods involved. I found it much more interesting to write a computer program to apply the methods and solve the puzzles that way.

Quizzes in various forms can be fun. I used to enjoy taking part in a local pub quiz but after a while got bored by the consistently variable level of difficulty of the questions – the first few would be insultingly easy, while the final ones would often be so obscure that they just resulted in a random choice of one of the multiple options provided. I enjoy playing Trivial Pursuit now and again but get frustrated by the element of luck introduced by rolling a die to determine where I can move my counter.

I have played card games in the past – blackjack, poker – in social settings for chips rather than “real” money in a casino. While I did very much enjoy studying and designing strategies to guide my play (I bought a copy of Hoyle as a reference), I found that the random turn of the cards and the unpredictability of other players meant I did not get nearly as much pleasure from actually playing the games.

I play pool (8-ball) on occasion – I used to captain a pub team – and ten-pin bowling, but the sport I play most has to be darts. In all of these sports, how well I do depends on my individual skill – there is no significant random element apart from the very small variation in ambient conditions – these being indoor sports – which affect all the players equally. I also enjoy the fact that, unlike in team sports such as rugby, I can play at whatever pace suits me.

In summary, I have a strong preference for games of skill rather than chance. I much prefer turn-based games. I enjoy puzzles and other activities that exercise my mind. I prefer games where it is only my individual performance that affects the outcome, although I have played pairs matches in both pool and darts. I believe that the individual turn-based nature of these is a much more significant factor than any interaction between myself and my partner in the pair – there is not the depth of strategy and real-time interaction involved unlike a regular team sport.

In fact, having considered the reasons why my preferences lie in a particular direction, I can see strong parallels between these leisure activities and my love of programming. There are the same elements of skill, knowledge, problem-solving and individual effort. Just as I am happiest and perform best when left to my own devices at work, so I prefer those leisure activities that involve solo endeavor.


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