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Leprechauns Stay Home

March 17, 2020


Stay safe, everyone

Cropped from Floss Dance source

Neil L. is a Leprechaun. He has visited me once every year since I started GLL. I had never seen a leprechaun before I began the blog—there must be some connection.

Today, Ken and I want to share the experiences we had with him on this morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

I thought because of the pandemic that he might not come. I thought that since New York City is on virtual lock-down he might not come. So I decided not to wait up for his visit, which always occurs in the wee hours of the morning. I looked it up: Wee hours is between 1am and 4am. We—that is Kathryn and I not wee—went to bed before midnight.

Something woke me up at 3am. Not any noise but a bright green light. It was coming from my laptop, which was on the dresser but closed and switched off. I took it out of the bedroom and opened the lid and there he was.

Top o’ the morning to ye.

Neil Says Hi

The first thing I noticed was: no pipe. There was no puff of smoke in my living room. Neil smokes a special brand of tobacco—green of course—that I would recognize in an instant. Otherwise he looked as usual: green coat and hat, brown vest and shoes, red beard. I could see all of him.


“Glad as always to see you Neil. But why no pipe?”


Neil started his usual pipe-puffing gesture but stopped his hand from touching his face.

‘Tis virus not microbe. Smoke nae gan do good. All of us doing without. Least of our troubles.

Wow—that was hard for me to fathom. I thought of the travel bans. “Are you all having to stay home?”

Aye. We obey the bans. Crown or Republic, nae matter.

I had to wrap my mind around this—leprechauns too? “The virus applies to you?”

Sadly, we can carry it. Were it not, we could help folks point-to-point.

I realized: leprechauns can go anywhere instantly. The planar aspects of simulations like this do not apply to them. Neil read my mind—at least he could do that remotely:

Aye. I noted all your comment thread about expander graphs and spreading the disease. Fixed dimensions don’t constrain us. This compounds our main trouble, which be…

Of course our main trouble and concern is the danger of the virus—our being able to care for those who catch it and measures to ensure many do not catch it. I realize leprechauns, being immortal, have fewer worries there—and I did not ask Neil if they can get sick. So I thought of all the canceled St. Patrick’s Day parades, bars closing, no public merriment, sporting events gone too. But Neil’s next word went straight to the heart.

Boredom.

Boredom and Randomness

I thought about fun things Neil had recounted in the past: tricks with math and codes and logic, tricks on people, even tricks during March Madness. The NCAA tournament got completely canceled, unpostponable. Neil read my mind again and picked up on the topic of sporting events.

Consider me neighbor Bertie. He had his accommodations booked on the wee island in the pond of the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. For last weekend during the Players Championship. That’s why they built the island, ye know.

“The Purest Test in Golf” source

But of course, the Players was canceled. Even the Masters has been postponed. Neil continued,

He and his fellows’ best craic was playing with the balls goon o’er the water. Not in a nasty way. Ye know by the Rule of Indistinguishability we canna do them bad. Not allowed to make them play worse than other tough holes so ye could tell it is more than the usual hobgoblins in your head and butterflies in your chest. What we do must have the same expectation and other moments as random variation. But random is measure-1 so it is easy to comply.

Of course. We have written about feigned randomness, and we haven’t yet had time to write a post this year on scientists taking superdeterminism seriouslyeven computationally. How could we tell that stuff apart from leprechauns? But thinking of Bertie gave me a more obvious question:


“Neil, can’t Bertie and his pals do that remotely? Like lots of other things we’re doing now.”


Neil’s answer exposed my lack of basic leprechaun knowledge.

In every story of leprechaun tricks, who is present? The leprechaun. He cannot be remote—and he must run the risk of being catched. He can dance, run to the end of the rainbow, and disappear, but fun happens only when he is around.

Hearing this, I would have puffed my own pipe, if I smoked and had one. Neil continued:

Besides, remotely we cannot control well enough to abide the Rule of Indistinguishability.

All this about randomness and conspiracy physics, with the world already weighing heavily, was too much. I winked out on the couch, without closing my laptop or seeing if Neil said goodbye with his usual flourish.

I woke up in late morning and called Ken. As I told this part, Ken was instantly alarmed and horrified.


“We must get Neil back. Is he still on your laptop?”


He was not. Ken plugged in and opened his own laptop—Neil has in the past visited him too—but nothing. He could not find any leprechauns registered on Skype or Zoom or Hangouts. Then Ken had a thought: “See if your laptop has the IP records.”

It did. I could not tell what they signified, but my old IT contact at Tech said he could pinpoint the origin in minutes. Meanwhile, Ken calmed down enough to explain. I’ll let him write the rest of the story.

The One Uncanceled Competition

What is apparently the lone major human sporting competition in the world not to be canceled began today. It is chess—the Candidates Tournament to determine who will face Magnus Carlsen in the next world championship match. It is taking place in Yekaterinburg, Russia—in Siberia, still far from the worst virus activity. It has only the 8 players plus officials onsite—no spectators, press limited—and they are all subject to daily screenings. The players shake hands only virtually.

Controversy about its starting continued today with one former World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik, stepping down from a broadcast commentary team “considering the nowadays disastrous humanitarian situation in the world.” But I’m with those saying that its value as a diversion—something to follow live in community—outweighs the concerns. I said this after some reflection on risks from our previous post and before being contacted about monitoring the tournament. One Chinese broadcast had over 1 million viewers today. Other broadcasts can be found on the official site and several other places. Today’s first round was vigorous, with all four games going beyond the turn-40 time control and two decisive.

But if it is a lone attraction for us, omigosh, for the leprechauns… Dick’s story proved they can at least read minds remotely. What if they all banded together to mess with the players’ moves? Neil had told of the Indistinguishability constraint, but I realized my own work could enable getting around it. My model enables randomly simulating a human distribution of moves at any rating level. I’ve had the idea to try a “Turing Test” akin to one Garry Kasparov turned aside, as part of the Turing Centennial in 2012, by distinguishing five games played by human 2200-level players from five by computers set to play at 2200 strength. If the leprechauns passed the Turing test at a 2800 rating level they could derange the tournament. This all verges on real concerns in my statistical anti-cheating work, with humans not leprechauns.

I quickly looked up the lore for summoning a leprechaun. This is far more audacious than knocking on a professor’s door outside office hours—not that that will happen anytime soon. I did not have real shamrocks but strewed countryside photos from my family’s trip to Ireland last summer around my laptop. I needed Kathryn as well as Dick online by videoconference to make the quorum of three. The IT person came back with the coordinates so that uniquely Neil would be summoned. I adapted the ancient incantation to our new age of interaction by laptop:

Oh Leprechaun, Leprechaun, I humbly call unto thee,
Ride the Irish rainbows of joy across the virtual sea,
Let the cables be lit with the beacon of your Shillelagh,
In dire peril of bad luck I make this plea,
For an unknown evil lies near, I ween:
Oh Leprechaun, Leprechaun, please appear on my screen!

It worked. Neil crackled into view. After a short greeting I blurted out my concerns.

Nae worry. Nae worry. The International Chess Federation—FIDE—took the most important step to assure the fair play.

Wait—I know the fair-play measures FIDE developed. I’ve been part of them. That didn’t assuage what I’d just said.

FIDE put not just one but two Scotsmen on the tournament staff. One of them is in charge of fair play. Nae Leprechaun gan cross a Scotsman!

And with that Neil was gone.

Open Problems

Our hearts go out to all those affected more immediately than we so far. Amid all the worries, we wish you a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.


[some formatting and wording tweaks]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2020 6:32 pm

    Left on the cutting-room floor: how this will be a watershed for MOOCs, with concerns about cheating, segueing to this past Sunday’s NYT article on cheating in chess. About the last, my main reservation is that the article does not adequately distinguish the difference in paradigm between online cheating detection and what the article calls “live” tournaments (really: over-the-board). This gap was clarified for me in a conversation with Internet Chess Club co-founder Daniel Sleator in Nov. 2006, and I have not seen any field test to witness that others have been able to cross it; nor am I yet aware of others’ involvement with OTB events in these roles.

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