Saturday, February 8, 2014

IJS (Sunday brunch: February 9, 2014)

It’s that time again when millions of people tune in to figure skating on the TV, which is soon followed by the time when millions of people wonder how in the dickens they keep score.  That’s why you read this blog. 

OK, so you read this blog to learn about the intricacies of breaking up a hockey fight?

No?  You said “puzzles?”  All right.  Here are the weekend’s new cryptics and other puzzles of interest.  Jump down below the fold to continue with the skating.

It’s a two-acrostic weekend.  Mike Shenk in the Wall Street Journal and Hex (behind the paywall) in the New York Times. Deb Amlen thinks the latter will be hard unless you recognize the quote. 

For cryptics (as well as for some of the contenders in figure skating), look north to Canada: Hex in the National Post and Fraser Simpson in the Globe and Mail (PDF or Java). 

Aries has added a new wrinkle to his bi-weekly Rows Gardens (available by subscription: name your price): two new less difficult versions of each puzzle where the enumerations of the rows are provided (like I do with the WSJ hint posts). 

(continued below the fold)

So the new point system (well, not so new anymore: they’ve had it about ten years) is called IJS (International Judging System).  The International Skating Union put it in place after the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics where a French judge conspired to mark down a Canadian pair so the Russians could win, in exchange for the Russian judge giving the French ice dance couple a higher score.  The object of the new system is to make the system more objective and transparent, though about half or maybe two-thirds is still subjective and murky. 

IJS scores come in two parts: technical elements and program components.  The technical score grades the skater on specific elements of the program: jumps, spins, footwork sequences, etc.  Each particular element has a point value: the harder it is, the more points.  A single toe loop is worth 0.4 points, a double toe loop is 1.3, a triple toe loop is 4.1, and a quad is 10.3.  A quad axel (which nobody has landed yet) gets 15.  Different kinds of spins can score between 1.0 and 3.5 points.  See the full table here.

The judges rate the performance of each of these elements on a scale from –3 (bad) to +3 (excellent).  To get a plus rating, the element not only needs to be skated cleanly, but must also be done in an unusually skillful way, like a difficult entry into a spin or a different hand position in a jump.  That rating increases or decreases the points awarded for the element: so a triple flip that goes for 5.3 base value could be as high as 7.4 points for a +3 GOE and as low as 3.2 for a –3.

Meanwhile, the technical specialist and a video replay judge look at the details of the element, particularly the takeoff and landing of a jump and the number of rotations of a spin.  If the element has some kind of fault, like two-footing a landing or taking off off the wrong edge (most often in a lutz jump), the technical specialist will call it, and the judges must mark down the grade of execution. 

Add up all the elements in the program, give a 10% bonus to elements done in the second half of the program (when the skater is more tired), and that’s the technical score: the first part of the numbers you see on TV. 

The second part is the program component score, and this is more like the old 6.0 system where judges just give the skater a number score.  Now though there are five specific qualities that each skater is evaluated on with a score from 0 to 10, like skating skills (deep edges and powerful stroking) and interpretation of the music.  By breaking out those components, the system tries to make the judging more standardized and isolate scores that seem out of line with the rest.  The high and low scores are thrown out and the remainder of the panel is averaged. 

One peculiarity in some international competitions is that one or two of the judges scores will be randomly thrown out, as well as the high and low scores being thrown out.  The idea is to prevent rigging a result, since the judge who’s cheating could wind up having no impact, but most of the time it could still happen, so many people think this part of the system is a sham.  The USFSA thinks that way, which is why not only they don’t throw out scores, but they also release the judges’ names with the marks, which the ISU doesn’t do.  So people think the ISU isn’t really serious about wiping out corruption in judging.  And indeed it still happens: a Ukranian judge recently was given a two-year suspension after hearing her implore one of her fellow judges to help out a Ukranian skater with higher scores. 

The last piece of the IJS scoring is deductions.  A skater loses (only) one point for a fall, and one point for things like the program going under or over the required time or for a costume malfunction (not the Janet Jackson kind: a malfunction like a piece of the costume falling off onto the ice).

The scoresheet for each skater (called a protocol) is posted after the event is over.  With the Olympic skating being broadcast on delay in prime time, this means that if you don’t mind spoilers, you can see what each element is and how the judges graded it while you watch it.  Bookmark this page for all the results.  

Come back Monday and we’ll have a little more skating talk as well as the solution to this week’s The Nation cryptic.

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