Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Monday, November 07, 2005

Watching football...thinking route choice


It isn't often that watching football on TV makes me think about route choice....but it happened yesterday.

With five seconds left in the football game, Kansas City had the ball on the 1. Oakland had a 3 point lead.

The commentators described two options:

1. KC could try a field goal to tie the game and go to overtime, or

2. KC could try a quick pass, then try a field goal if the pass didn't work.

Those are the only two options the TV commentators talked about.

But there was a third option. An option the commentators didn't expect. Kansas City could run the ball. If they ran the 1 yard, they'd win the game. But, if they didn't gain the yard, time would run out and Oakland would win.

Kansas City ran the ball, scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock and won the game.

The commentators came on after the score and said, "what a great call." Well, that struck me as strange. If they really thought it was a great call, why hadn't they talked about it?

I think they didn't talk about it because they actually thought it was a bad decision, but a good result.

What does this have to do with orienteering?

I think the same confusion -- mixing up the decision with the result -- happens when course setters design legs and when orienteers analyze what they did.

I remember a conversation last spring with a course setter who designed some interesting courses. He asked me what route I took on one leg. I explained my route. I took trails to avoid some green. The course setter said my route wasn't the best because you could get through the green on that part of the map. The green turned out to be less thick on the leg in question than on earlier parts of the course.

The course setter thought going through the green was the best decision because it was fastest. But, he was mixing up the decision with the result. At that point in the course, the best decision was to go around the green even though it turned out that straight was faster. But, you could only know that afterwards; after you knew the result.

posted by Michael | 7:55 PM


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