Let Me Tell You How Interesting March Madness Could Possibly Be

I read something alarming in the daily “Best of GoComics” e-mail this morning. It was a panel of Dave Whamond’s Reality Check. It’s a panel comic, although it stands out from the pack by having a squirrel character in the margins. And here’s the panel.

Three mathematicians standing around chalkboards. One says: 'My pick is (9 +/- sqrt(5)). What's your bracket?' '(x + 3).' '(n - 1).' Caption: 'March Mathness'.
Dave Whamond’s Reality Check for the 2nd of March, 2019. Edge City inspires discussions in the essays at this link. I don’t know when or how Reality Check dropped off my comics page. It must have been after October 2018. Here’s essays including Reality Check, to serve as proof. I probably won’t go reading five months’ worth of the strip to get all the strips I’d missed. But the strip should return to my regular Reading the Comics posts now.

Certainly a solid enough pun to rate a mention. I don’t know of anyone actually doing a March Mathness bracket, but it’s not a bad idea. Rating mathematical terms for their importance or usefulness or just beauty might be fun. And might give a reason to talk about their meaning some. It’s a good angle to discuss what’s intersting about mathematical terms.

And that lets me segue into talking about a set of essays. The next few weeks see the NCAA college basketball tournament, March Madness. I’ve used that to write some stuff about information theory, as it applies to the question: is a basketball game interesting?

Along the way here I got to looking up actual scoring results from major sports. This let me estimate the information-theory content of the scores of soccer, (US) football, and baseball scores, to match my estimate of basketball scores’ information content.

  • How Interesting Is A Football Score? Football scoring is a complicated thing. But I was able to find a trove of historical data to give me an estimate of the information theory content of a score.
  • How Interesting Is A Baseball Score? Some Partial Results I found some summaries of actual historical baseball scores. Somehow I couldn’t find the detail I wanted for baseball, a sport that since 1845 has kept track of every possible bit of information, including how long the games ran, about every game ever. I made do, though.
  • How Interesting Is A Baseball Score? Some Further Results Since I found some more detailed summaries and refined the estimate a little.
  • How Interesting Is A Low-Scoring Game? And here, well, I start making up scores. It’s meant to represent low-scoring games such as soccer, hockey, or baseball to draw some conclusions. This includes the question: just because a distribution of small whole numbers is good for mathematicians, is that a good match for what sports scores are like?

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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