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More thoughts on the rules of Quidditch

In my earlier link to Richard Re’s post about the rules of Quidditch and state constitutional amendments, one of you pointed out that the post actually slightly oversimplifies Quidditch. It is not the case that your team automatically wins if it catches the snitch; the snitch is worth 150 points, so if your opponents have amassed a really large margin, even the snitch will not save you. On the other hand, it is also not the case that you can directly win a game of Quidditch through the non-snitch path alone; the game is never over until the snitch is caught.

But that simplification doesn’t matter. Richard’s substantive point still stands — you can win Quidditch by amassing such a large margin of victory that it doesn’t matter who eventually catches the snitch, or in almost any normal game, you win by catching the snitch. (I don’t know much about boxing, but I think the TKO example still works too.)

Of course, as many people have pointed out, this makes Quidditch a really stupid game. (See this previous post from Eugene.) In “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”, Harry quickly figures out how stupid the rules are, and refuses to play. From chapter seven:

“So let me get this straight,” Harry said as it seemed that Ron’s explanation (with associated hand gestures) was winding down. “Catching the Snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points?”

“Yeah -”

“How many ten-point goals does one side usually score not counting the Snitch?”

“Um, maybe fifteen or twenty in professional games -”

“That’s just wrong. That violates every possible rule of game design. Look, the rest of this game sounds like it might make sense, sort of, for a sport I mean, but you’re basically saying that catching the Snitch overwhelms almost any ordinary point spread. … It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it. Who was the first Seeker, the King’s idiot son who wanted to play Quidditch but couldn’t understand the rules?” Actually, now that Harry thought about it, that seemed like a surprisingly good hypothesis. Put him on a broomstick and tell him to catch the shiny thing…

Ron’s face pulled into a scowl. “If you don’t like Quidditch, you don’t have to make fun of it!”

“If you can’t criticise, you can’t optimise. I’m suggesting how to improve the game. And it’s very simple. Get rid of the Snitch.”

A look of absolute horror was spreading over Ron’s face. “But, but if you get rid of the Snitch, how will anyone know when the game ends?”

“Buy… a… clock.”

This is one of the many reasons that “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” is the best Harry Potter book ever written, though it is not written by J.K. Rowling.

Will Baude is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and federal courts. His recent articles include Rethinking the Federal Eminent Domain Power, (Yale Law Journal, 2013), and Beyond DOMA: State Choice of Law in Federal Statutes, (Stanford Law Review, 2012).



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