Monday, August 29, 2005

No, It's ALL About Winning

We took the kids bowling for a family bonding activity, which it was for the most part. It had been a while since we'd bowled and David in particular was impressed with a sport that required such stylish apparell.

"These are snappy tappy shoes," he said, looking at his two-toned, flat-soled feet and proceeded to tap his way around the wooden floor in an excellent Fred Astaire impersonation that drew looks from everyone at the alley plus those outside the window roaming the mall.

Besides discovering that David has a natural ability at tap dancing (you wouldn't expect the moves we saw over the next hour from a six year-old) we soon learned that he is a whiz of a bowler. Yes, even with a computer glitch that failed to record three or four spares he still trounced the rest of us by at least 20 points--and that was in between his shuffling trips to Buffalo.

The result was simple: Spencer found his younger, shorter and weaker brother whom he normally dominates to be better at something--which really chapped his cookies. All the way home we had to repeat the "It's just important that we all played and had fun" slogan that no child believes. It didn't help that Grace saw an opportunity for more Spencer Mind Games and quietly told David from the back seat, "Whatever I ask, just say 'twenty-four'."

"David, what's six times four?"


"That's great David," we say over Spencer's protests that as an Un-realized First Grader, David doesn't have a right to know any such thing.

"David, what's twelve times two?"



"What's forty-eight divided by two?"

Spencer got more and more furious at David appearing to be smarter while we laughed more and more until it was a complete blow-out. Does everything have to be a competition?

Yup. It wasn't a half an hour after arriving home that my kids' favorite person--next to Santa Claus--arrived, their Uncle Luke, and in his arms he bore spoils from his lucrative day at Lagoon.

To understand Luke is to understand the yin and yang of the universe, he is an enigma wrapped in a Young Republican's baseball hat and a Che Guevera t-shirt. One who spent the better part of his grade school years failing his classes while perfecting the secret formula for fake scabs (he says the secret ingredient is Elmer's glue--only then will the red, black and brown marker ink solidify in that truly horrific-lumpy-blackish scab way that will convince the kids around you that you're picking the mother of all scabs and your art teacher that she's about to lose her job because you bumped into her kiln and got third degree burns) but who passed the LSAT with a score that's making law schools take notice of him. And my kids love him.

Turns out that in addition to his abilities with scab prosthetics he is a genius--and I don't use the term lightly--with carnival games. Milk Bottles, Break-a-Plate, Skee Ball, whatever the game he's all over it. He's come up to Alaska to work for the next six weeks but his wife has to remain at home and they spent their last day together at Lagoon where he went from booth to booth winning her the biggest and best stuffed prizes available. He was about to pass on the ways of the Force to my competetive young Jedis who were all ears.

So forget all this "it doesn't matter who wins" junk, it's all about winning which means watching and observing. Forget games of luck like the Whiffle Ball Toss or the Milk Bottle Ring toss. Yes, he concedes there may be some skill involved but don't waste your time on games you can't win by skill. Don't waste time on "sucker" games like the Ball Roll. He was an engineering major in college and even he couldn't keep the ball from rolling back over the nearly frictionless rails.

Competetive games are fine but scope them out first, see which gun consistently fires straightest and then wait for a row of seven year-olds to beat. Check out the trajectory, will they let you throw on a diagonal and thus increase your likelihood of hitting an open tube? And prizes, look for "Quality Prizes" none of these tight bean-stuffed bears that rip when you hug them, no, only soft and squishy will do. Did he mention he nearly won Rebecca a six foot gecko? Ah yes, it was about three o'clock at the Rope Ladder booth . . .

But from carnival games he strayed into murkier territory.

"Did you guys ever go someplace like the carnival or Chuck E. Cheese's?" he asks eagerly.

"No" they say, hanging their heads, "Mom says they're a waste of money and won't take us."

"Waste of money? What I'm about to tell you will change your world. Do you know how you can go to Chuck E. Cheese's and play the games without any money at all?"

"Tell us!" they cry in rapture.

"Well, it was a day much like any other day when I was at Mission Beach wishing I had tokens to play the games. I stood watching little kids play the Trash Can game at the ball pit--you know, the one where the trash cans open at random intervals and the goal is to throw in as many armfuls of balls as you can in the time given? Well, I watched and noticed how the kids would come to the game with fists full of tokens. When the game starts, where're they gonna put them, huh?"

My kids stare back, waiting.

"Well, any of you ever seen that movie, Paint Your Wagon, where gold panners had dropped gold dust through the cracks in the floor of the saloon whenever they got drunk so the logical thing was to tunnel under the saloon and collect the fallen gold dust? Well, that's what was happening. The kids at the ride were setting their tokens down on the ledge of the ball pit then throwing up arm loads of balls which would rain down and knock some of the tokens off into the pit. When I realized that I cornered off the pit, pushed the balls back and got your Aunt Melissa to collect the fallen tokens. That was some day, we collected over seven dollars worth of tokens."

He paused with his head tilted, looking off into his memory with a pleasant sigh then he was off on another subject, "And Skee Ball, you kids ever played Skee Ball? Well, sometimes you can find a machine where the gears that feed out the tickets are a little worn and if you don't rip--that's the key, kids, don't rip--just pull gently, oh so gently and you can get the whole roll of tickets to come off in your hands. 'Course that'll only buy you a pencil or two but . . . "

At this point I somehow felt he'd crossed into the realm of Questionable Ethics (told you he was heading to law school didn't I?) and started to object but like the great and mesmerizing orators of the past he had his audience in his hand and they weren't ready to let him stop.

"Tell us some more!"

"Well, did I ever tell you about the time I won the Guessing Jar Game? You ever seen the games where someone has a big jar of something and you have to guess how many items are in the jar--like jelly beans or something? I can tell you how to win every time."

And at this point I have to warn you it gets truly scary. He said, "All you need is a known volume and quantity. You could count the number of beans going up and the number of beans around the circumference of the jar and then calculate the volume of the cylinder using height times pi-r-squared but that's quite inacurate.

If, say, the jar contains pennies all you need to do is get a small container like a baby food jar and fill it will pennies, count how many pennies are in it, then calculate the volume using height times pi-r-squared and you have your known quantity and volume, get it?"

Blank looks.

"Well, once you know there are 200 pennies in your baby food jar and that the volume of the jar is, say, 4 then you look at the big jar of pennies, measure the height and calculate it's volume then you've got your ratio--say the jar's volume is 20--and you just multiply 200 times five and BANG! you win the prize."

I don't think they really got it, but I was having a great time listening to his ill-spent engineering years. Does he roam around campus with a list of items from his baby food jar? Candy corns: 178, navy beans: 192, M&Ms: 137 . . . But the one that really got me was this:

"Yea, I'm really good at this," he continued, "there was a jar like that in my high school library full of tiny candy hearts, the kind with words on them. I went home, took a single candy and treated it as a cube, calculating its mass. I then used the dimensions on the jar to determine an approximate volume for the whole jar. But of course I figured on a 10% ineffecieny rate in the volume because they wouldn't stack exactly as cubes and made my guess based on that number. The great part was, you could enter as many guesses as you want so I entered my original guess then entered every number in increments of five in both directions to one hundred. It really freaked out the librarian because of course I won. I not only won first place, but I won second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and so on. It was brilliant."

Yes, it's not the winning that's important, but that's my brother. Good thing he's here for six weeks, I just pray he uses his powers for good.


local girl said...

I have to admit I have still have no idea what he was talking about in regards to the mathematical formula. It went right over my head!

Thanks for sharing this with the Carnival of Family Life.

Holly said...

Ah the winning beast...LOL It gets the best of us. ;o)

Holly's Corner
Here via the Carnival of Family Life. ;o)

Mike said...

Can Luke come over to my house to play with me...I mean my kids?

The only contest I can ever remember winning was counting the jelly beans in the jar contest in grade school. I got the exact number. I didn't use math though. Just a good guess. Luke's way makes the math major in a previous life in me happy.

Lisa said...

Ah, the counting the beans contest. I remember those games. I never won, I should have had Luke around!!!

Here via the carnival of family life.