Games We Like to Play

Most of us have some sort of games we enjoy, whether it's running races, playing bridge or checkers, solving crossword puzzles, charades, following Jeopardy on TV daily, or whatever. Consider this one ... see if you think you'd like the competition.

The contestants compete to achieve the highest number of what I'll call "brief occupations" of a high ground. The rules state that you can either find an unoccupied spot and get someone to come and exchange "info" with you, or you can call out to someone already on such a spot and hope that they will invite you to join them for the exchange. This last part can be hard if others also are trying to be "invited to the spot." You call harder and louder, perhaps. Or try a little different tone of voice. At any rate, the intriguing rules specify that once someone had the spot first, and then exchanged the "info," they cannot stay there and have to move on and try to locate another spot, either open, or to talk their way into the exchange. Once you have reached the high spot, you are allowed to invite only one other person to join you, and then you yourself have to leave. This compensates, to some extent, for the "strong man" sitting on one spot, never leaving, and dominating the playing field. Even the strongest must move fast and locate a new spot. So in summary, you can make only two exchanges maximum from the same location ... then you have to either find a new one, or convince the person already there to allow you to join them. The first example results in one point, while the second example, where you stay for another "exchange, results in two, or a "couplet" from that spot altogether.

The "info exchange" is your name and your actual geographic location, along with a serial number indicating the total number of successful exchanges up to and including that one. As an example, if you're Judy, and you're at location "ABC," and this is your fifteenth exchange, you would tell the person joining you "Judy, ABC, #15," then get the corresponding information from the new partner, and leave if you had started on the "high ground spot" in the first place. You can tell, at least to a first approximation, how you're doing based on how your "number" compares with the other person's "number." Higher is better!

Now that your minds are open to something new, or you think this is the silliest example of a game you've ever heard, consider that this process actually does go on in the world of ham radio. Since the process of seeking and finding new "hilltops" corresponds to different short wave frequencies, and the "locations" are US states and/or Canadian provinces, etc, the competition can be frenetic, and it's a mad dash to find or to "win the battle to be recognized" and make an exchange. The key, as in the above example, is that strong stations can not just "camp out" on one hilltop (a frequency) and dominate with others coming along in series, seeking to be recognized. Everyone must "hit and run" and the madcap scramble is called a "sprint."

There are two "major league" Sprints every year, lasting four hours each, once in February and once in August. This is insufficient for those who enjoy the fast and furious pace of skipping around and alighting on little lily pad hilltops in a sea of short wave frequencies. As a result, a popular weekly event has sprung up every Thursday evening. This madcap event, called the NS (shorthand for Northern California Contest Club Sprint) runs for exactly thirty minutes, starting at 02:30 Zulu  (2:30 a.m. in Greenwich Mean Time, or the time at the Prime Meridian in the U.K.). That corresponds to 8:30 p.m. in Texas in the winter, or 9:30 p.m. on daylight savings time in the summer. There are forty to sixty radio hams, spread mostly in the U.S. and Canada, who love this format and are active most weeks. To make the "lily pad pond" more interesting, the rules allow stations to use five (Five! Count 'em) different frequency "bands" and so the operators start out on the highest frequency and move quickly down one-by-one until they end up n the lowest frequency, which is just barely higher than the one used for AM radio! Inside this 30 minutes, some of the fastest set of hands and Morse code fingers make between fifty and sixty contacts, or a rate of two contacts a minute on average. Everyone posts his/her (mostly his) reports on an Internet Site, where the scores are automatically ranked and the "battle stories" are recounted.

Now you know a piece of trivia! It's totally unrelated to most people's lives, but just be aware that on Thursday nights, a small but driven bunch is doing their competition hell-bent for leather (where did that term come from?), or whatever. Think that these radio peeps are even more unusual than ever? Madcap Morse fun fun fun!

J.K. (Jim) George (N3BB)

(And in the spirit of candor, one of those folks having a great time!)


Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <> with any remarks.

I would much appreciate your recommendation of this blog and my books to friends, book clubs, and (if appropriate) radio clubs. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.

Author: Reunion, and Contact Sport.


8 Responses

  1. Looked up hell-bent for leather to see the origin, but there seemed to be no consensus! Enjoy your blogs,
    • JK James George
      Thanks Pat. You are my favorite person back in the home burg. Hoping to get back the end of September, so will look you up for a meal with Diana and me for sure! JK/Jimmy/etc.
  2. The best non-ham description of Sprints I've read. I discovered Sprints after returning to ham radio after a long absence. And I was hooked. No one who knows me wonders where I'm at on Thursday evenings.
    • JK James George
      Thanks, Ken. All forty or fifty or us are either in a subset of wackos, or we have discovered something really cool and interesting. Either way, like Mick Jagger says, sort of, "It'ssss only the Thursday NSssss, but I liiiiike it!" Jim.
  3. This sounds absolutely crazy. Fortunately, I have my own set of crazy activities that have kept my attention for years. One of mine involves driving to every state on every US highway, eating at chain restaurants along the way. To each his own.
    • JK James George
      Lyle, you are totally weird and I love it! Jim G.
  4. Great article Jim! I was hooked the very first time I tried this "cure for wellness" and look up to all you masters whom make it look easy. I simply couldn't find a better bunch to emulate. All my best, Mike N4EEV
    • JK James George
      Hello Mike, and you are a welcome addition to the NS gang. We are a sort of unique little bunch, with very good operators in general. I"m happy that you enjoy the Thursday "follies," and look forward to "seeing you" each week. You and "Judge John" can ensure you get another GA mult! 73, and many thanks for the nice comments. Jim

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