Thursday, June 13, 2019

Answer: Unusual sports?

The odd and unusual are fun to search for!  

As we noticed last week, there are lots of fascinating sporting 
(if you use that term loosely) events in the world, many of which deserve a bit of background research.  

I love these kinds of SearchResearch Challenges because I always learn a few fascinating things along the way.  These slightly whacky events are perfect for a quick SRS lesson.

Let's dive into this Challenge... 

1. As Europe grows increasingly warmer with the passing years, will the long distance ice-skating race that passes through 11 Dutch towns still be able to be held?  What's that event called?  When was it last held (and who won)?  

Like many of you, I did the obvious search: 

     [ ice skating race 11 Dutch towns ] 

and found a number of sources that told me this is the Elfstedentocht a nearly 200 km ice skating tour of 11 towns in the Netherlands.  The race goes on canals, rivers, and lakes that are frozen over.  The problem, of course, is that the canals don't freeze sufficiently every year.   (I found the official site in Holland by doing [ elfstedentocht ] limiting the search to just websites in the Netherlands.)

It was last held on January 4, 1997, [1]  and the prospects for future events is fairly grim. An article in the Washington Post comments that "... the Netherlands is no longer a romantic wintry wonderland, and there hasn’t been an Elfstedentocht since 1997, marking the longest drought ever between races. Climate change has endangered the race and is slowly dousing hopes across the province.  ...A lot of people really think that there will never be another one.” [2]    "In the past century, the average annual temperature in the Netherlands has increased by about 3 1/2 degrees, according to Peter Kuipers Munneke, a researcher and polar meteorologist at Utrecht University. He says in recent decades winters have warmed more than the other seasons, thanks in part to westerly winds coming over the North Sea."  [2]  

Yeah.  Here's a chart from that article that makes the point clearly. 

Sigh.  Don't hold your breath waiting for the next elfstedentocht

2.  Several of us in the discussion were former collegiate volleyball players, but since it was a very international evening, other folks started to tell us about different versions of volleyball that are played with feet alone.  Is this for real?  How could you bump/set/spike a ball with just your feet?  If so, what is this sport, and where is it played?  (Participants insist there are at least 2 different versions of this sport.) 

To answer this, I did:

     [ volleyball with feet ] 

And saw this as the results...

Clicking on a few of these results show me that Sepak takraw is a version of volleyball that's played with the feet and a rattan ball.  It's certainly impressive if you watch a video or two.  (Example video of Sepak takraw.)  Those guys are wild!  They serve, bump, set, and SPIKE the ball with incredibly athletic leaps (and incredibly graceful recoveries).  

I was thinking, though, that I had heard of a South American version of this sport.  Why didn't it show up here?  All I can see are the results about the Malaysian version of the sport.  

So my next query was intended to find results that are NOT about Malaysian sports: 

     [ volleyball with feet -Malaysia ] 

That is, I want to see this query without all of the Malaysian results, so I used the MINUS operator to exclude all results with the term "Malaysia." I wasn't terribly surprised when I found many results from Brazil for their sport of footvolley.  

It is also a beautiful sport that is often played on the sand at famous Brazilian beaches (like Ipanema), which looks to be crazy hard.  Imagine trying to jump high enough to kick the ball over the net... while starting on the sand!  (Another video worth a watch of footvolley played on sand.

3.  Although the next summer Olympics are still a year away, we started talking about former Olympic events that aren't held any more.  Tug of war at the summer Olympics (1900-1920) is a famous example of a now discontinued sport.  While there seems to be an endless number of swimming events, was there ever a swimming event that was held underwater?  If so, what was it?  When was it last held?  Is there an Olympic champion?  
A query like: 

     [ Olympic underwater swimming ] 

quickly leads you to several sites that tell us that underwater swimming WAS a thing at the 1900 Olympics.  [Olympic official site, SportsReference]  This somewhat odd event was in the Olympic Games only in 1900. Two Frenchman, Charles Devendeville and Andrés Six], won first and second place. However, the French publication, Journal des Sports, noted that the third-place finisher, Peder Lykkeberg, was the best overall. However,  Lykkeberg swam in a circle, swimming much more than 60 meters, but the official distance was measured only in a straight line from the starting point with two points for each meter swum and one point was awarded for each second swum underwater.  (He swam for 90 seconds!  Who knows what happened there?!?)  

Oddly, this doesn't sound like much of a spectator event.  All you'd see is a blurry image of someone swimming underwater for 1.5 minutes or less.  I can see why they didn't repeat the event.  (It's about as exciting as plunge for distance held in the 1904 summer Olympics, which is the same event, except you can only glide to the end, you can't kick or paddle so there's even less to watch.  Talk about dull!)  

Search Lessons

This week's Challenge wasn't that hard, although as always, there are sometimes nuances that require a bit more search skill than usual.  In this case, just choosing good search terms is (mostly) enough.  But in the case of foot-volleyball... 

1.  Expanding your search results by removing consistent terms can sometimes lead to surprising results.  In this case, the first query [ volleyball with feet ] gave us good results, but because Malaysia was SUCH a big part of those results, I thought about trying the query WITHOUT Malaysia.  That's how I found the  Brazilian version of the game.  (And yes, I did another query that was [ volleyball with feet -Malaysia -Brazil ], but it was clear that I'd fallen off the "good results" list at that point.  

Search on! 

Book update 

Sorry about being a day late with this week's SRS answer, but I have a good excuse... 

I spent yesterday in the lovely town of Victoria, British Columbia, giving my first book talk about The Joy of Search.  I was the keynote speaker at a small conference in the Computer Science department where I was able to hand out some of my postcards with the book information.  It's odd to have a book talk sans book, but the marketing collateral helps!  More talks to come, including one at the American Library Association conference next week.  If you're at the ALA meeting, come by and say hi!  (My talk is at 10:30AM on Saturday, June 22, 2019.)  



  1. Hello Dr. Russell!

    Thanks for one very interesting and funny Challenge. It was great to learn and discover.

    I wish the conference could be available on Internet.

    About The Joy of Search, I was thinking. Being on the section of Computers and Technology won't lose market share? I mean it could also fit in so many other sections because SearchReSearch is for all of us and for all the topics. Of course, book publishers know how to do the business. I am sure it will be a success.

    1. Hello everyone! First, I want to wish a happy father's day tomorrow to Dr. Russell and all fathers in SRS group. Cheers!!

      Alos, want to share this article. Is very interesting and I am sure Dr. Russell will get more inspiration to future Challenges. And is related to previous ones due to teeth, unusual, funny and many more. I couldn't find it in English. Sweden's Lördagsgodis And, found this that adds other traditions: 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SWEDISH FOOD

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