Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pondering a number

The National Hockey League canceled its entire 2004-2005 season and has canceled all games this season through December 30.  What that means is that since October 2004, the Washington Capitals could have played in 693 games over that eight-plus year span as they contemplated New Year’s Eve this year.  They did not.  When the ball drops in Times Square to usher in 2013, the Caps will have played in 574 regular season games out of those 693 contests that were on the schedule.

17 percent of those games, lost to stupidity.

Worse things can happen, though.  For example, Poland lost 17 percent of its population in World War II.  And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of American adults binge drink.

But maybe it’s not a coincidence that 17 percent of the games have been lost.  According to the “Jargon File” – a glossary of computer slang – “17” is the least “random” number (I’ll have to take their word for it…).

That number might be a bit mysterious, though, having a solution we cannot readily see.  The number “17” happens to be that corresponding to the smallest number of givens in a Sudoku puzzle that has a unique solution.

For fans feeling themselves imprisoned by the lockout, remember that “17” was part of the title of a famous movie of imprisonment… “Stalag 17.”  There is also the fact that the old television series, “The Prisoner,” had 17 episodes.  And if fans feel as though they have been robbed of the joys of hockey, “Number Seventeen” was an early film by Alfred Hitchcock.  It’s about a robbery.

The Number of the Beast – 666 – is derived by summing the squares of the first seven prime numbers, “17” being the last of them.

There are 17 species of Penguins, not including any you might find in Pittsburgh.

The next player to wear “17” for the Washington Capitals will be the 17th player in franchise history to do so.

But looking at it from the other side, there is this.  Of those 693 scheduled games since 2004, 83 percent of them will have been played when 2013 dawns.  If you score an “83” in the classroom, that works out to a “C+” grade.

Frankly, that would be an obscenely generous grade to give the NHL.

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