Sunday, February 23, 2014

Closing ceremonies (Sunday brunch: February 23, 2014)

With the Olympics winding down, it’s time to look back on the past two weeks’ action.  The hockey was fabulous (aside from the USA letdown in the bronze medal game), but at times the officiating didn’t match it, particularly in the women’s games.  I agreed with the penalty shot no-call that Canada fans complained about, but there were several other plays that got me yelling at the TV.

There’s a linesman who’s probably pretty glad that shot at the end of the game went off the post of the empty Canadian net, since if it went in, it could have been argued that her elementary positioning mistake ended up deciding the game.  The correct position for the linesman is on the determining edge of the blue line: that’s the edge away from the puck.  Reason one is that the rules say that the blue line, which is a foot wide, is considered part of the zone the puck is in.  So if the play is in the neutral zone, the puck is in the neutral zone and offsides isn’t determined until the entire puck crosses the entire line.  And if the puck is in the attacking zone, the play stays on-side until the entire puck goes outside the line.  Reason two for being on the opposite side of the line from the puck is to make sure you don’t interfere with play by stopping the puck from going in or out of the zone.

But at the end of the game, the USA winger brought the puck up along the boards to where the Canadian defender was pinching in on the blue line.  As she backed up towards the line, she backed into the linesman, who was still inside the zone instead of outside.  As she stumbled from the unexpected collision, the American was freed up enough to get a shot on goal, which as we know slid tantalizingly close to sealing a gold medal, and then bounced off the goalpost.

I think what happened there was the linesman was too wrapped up in the tension and excitement of the biggest moment of the biggest game she ever worked in her career, and she became a spectator rather than maintaining concentration on the job.  It happens to me too a couple of times a season, but the stakes are a lot lower.  The root cause is that the women’s officials don’t have enough experience with games like this.  While the number of good female officials is growing and they keep getting better and better, the guys working professional hockey get 60 or 70 big games a year plus playoffs: for every one of them almost twenty thousand in the stands and many thousands more watching on TV.  The Olympics are a novelty to them like State Games was to me, but once the puck is dropped, it’s another game with the same NHL players they see all season.  The top women might get one or two of those international games or an international tournament, but that’s it for their big games in a season.  Maybe the answer is to give the top women officials some AHL or NHL pre-season games or European league games, or perhaps bring in the best officials regardless of sex until we have some women with that much experience.

Meanwhile the ISU and the figure skating judges deserve all the grief they got over the judging in the women’s competition.  I don’t think they blew the call--as some of the commentators said, the Russian skater took better advantage of the IJS point system and won the event with what The Other Doctor Mitchell and I thought was a less impressive program.  But when the ISU not only reinstates one of the judges involved in the 2002 scandal but also lets her judge the most important competition in the sport, it makes clear that their leadership puts taking care of their friends ahead of the integrity of the sport. That is my pick for the worst officiating call of these Olympics.

This weekend also brings the end of Olympic-theme puzzles for another two years, but the Wall Street Journal has an appropriately themed cryptic by Hex (printable version).  It has ten unclued answers and no numbers in the grid, so some of you may find it hard to get a toehold on.  If you are one of those people, I have hints posted.  Then when you’re done, you can check against the solution post.

Hex also have their straight cryptic in the National Post, blogged by Falcon.   I don’t see a theme in it even though it’s been an excellent Olympics for Canada: winning both men’s and women’s curling and women’s hockey, and facing off with Sweden for the men’s hockey gold.  Fraser Simpson’s weekly Brit-style cryptic is in the Globe and Mail (Java, printable).  I haven’t solved it yet, but I don’t think he does themed puzzles

The New York Times puzzle (behind the paywall) is an acrostic.

Kevin Wald has a new (and difficult) variety cryptic up, and LizR has a new Brit cryptic too.  She thinks Araucaria would have liked it.  I think Araucaria would be happy just to know that there are plenty of constructors still taking inspiration from him.

News from the Cryptic All-Stars project is that their print books have shipped, and those of us who contributed to the Kickstarter have also received a PDF of the puzzles.  I think some of the grids are too small, but with the PDF, it’s easy to clip out the grid and print an enlarged copy.

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