17 November 2009

Not Everyone Likes Chess

A few years ago I posted a piece on About.com called The Not Everyone Likes Chess Department [Archive.org]. Here's an excerpt:

In 1997, one of the seminal battles between the human brain and artificial intelligence was fought and lost by the greatest chess player of all time, Garry Kasparov. In a contest of electrifying tedium, the Charles Atlas of mental arithmetic was soundly thrashed by a fridge called Deep Blue. [timesonline.co.uk]

It was intended to be an irregular series, but it was so irregular that I only wrote the one post. There just wasn't enough material. A recent SciAm article would have fit the bill perfectly : Hello Moon, Good-Bye Rennie, 'We look at the contents of the July issue of Scientific American magazine, the last under outgoing Editor in-Chief John Rennie'.

Podcast TranscriptionSteve: Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly Podcast of Scientific American, posted on June 26th 2009. I'm Steve Mirsky. This week, we'll take a look at the contents of the July issue of Scientific American magazine with Editor in Chief John Rennie, which includes taking a look backward. [...]

Steve: And, of course, one of my favorite sections in the magazine that we usually talk about a little bit. The 50, 100 and 150 years ago.

Rennie: Column.

Steve: Column, that's it.

Rennie: Steve, what was in the magazine?

Steve: A 150 years ago, here's a real indication of how cultural mores may change over time. 150 years ago we wrote,
"A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this it may be asked? We answer chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler requirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game. They require out of door exercises not this sort of mental gladiatorship."
Rennie: Wow.

Steve: Can you imagine, we came out against chess.

Rennie: Well, as you know, Steve it is well established that playing of chess leads to the playing of whist and mumblety-peg -- it's a gateway game.

Since that 1859 article, Scientific American has published other articles about the positive aspects of chess. I'll summarize them in a future post.

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