Nerdy March Madness contest

So those of you who know me well know that I’m a sucker for “nerdy” sports pools and contests. So pro-football-reference has once again come up with a unique type of contest – it’s a twist on the regular March Madness bracket filling out.

All “64″ teams are listed, and each team is assigned a “cost”. You can pick as many teams as you want, as long as the total price stays at 100 or less. The winner is the entry with the most total wins by all teams in the entry.

So if you want to join the contest, go do that first before reading some of my strategy.

Spoiler space….




So I came at this from a few different angles. I looked at the odds to win as published by the gambling community, to see people that had good odds at a relatively low cost. I also got folks Sagarin ratings, with the idea of looking at teams that were either under-seeded or under-costed. I definitely wanted to stay away from me picking who I thought would win, as I have a historical record as “world’s worst bracket filler-outer”

I then thought to see if I could do any sort of arbitraging. I added up the costs for each “pod” of 4 teams (1/8/9, 2/7/10, 3/6/11, 4/5/12/13), assuming that the 14-16 seeds would all lose. The cheapest ones cost 17, so if you got 6 of those, that would be 3 guaranteed wins each, or 18 total, plus any Sweet 16 and later wins for any of those folks (#3 and #4 seeds likely). But I wasn’t sure if 20 or so wins would be enough to win, though I thought probably not.

And plus, it seems a bit wasteful to spend money on teams that you KNOW have to lose. So, I moved on to figuring out expected wins by round by seed. I kind of made up probabilities for each seed to win each game. So for example, I have the #3 seed as a 90% chance to win Round 1, a 65% chance to win round 2 (assuming they make it there), etc. etc. That gives expected wins by seed up to the final 4. So of those 4 games, #1 seeds came up with 2.5 expected wins, which sounds about right. So then I used that number to try and come up with a max team. That is discounting the last 3 games, but hopefully will at least be close.

So the top pick there was Wake Forest, who as a 9 seed has 0.53 expected wins (.48 for beating the #8 seed in Round 1, and then .048 for beating the #1 seed in Round 2 (I guesstimated a 10% chance of the 8-9 winner beating the #31 seed) and then .006 chance of winning in the Elite 8). But they only have a cost of 2, so they have 0.265 wins per cost.

The top 17 teams in wins per cost (Wake Forest, Florida, Ohio State, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga, UNLV, Cornell, Notre Dame, Kansas State, Villanova, Butler, Kentucky, Louisville, Northern Iowa) have an exact cost of 100, and come out at 19.72 expected wins, with 3 #2 seeds (all but WVU) and Kentucky in my picks, so a decent chance for 1-2 more wins in the Final 4.

But that is assuming that all #1 seeds are identical, as well as better than all #2 seeds, who are in turn better than all #3 seeds, which we all know is not true. So incorporating the team’s actual strengths will also tell me who might be under or over seeded. After searching for a few measures, I found that the folks over at had already figured out odds for each team to win each game. So let’s use their numbers! :-)

I did have to convert their numbers, which give the chance that a given team will reach a given round, into the percentages that a given team will win a particular number of games, but that wasn’t too bad with my trusty friend, Mr. Excel! The top 21 teams from that cost 100 and give me 24.93 expected wins, led by 11 seed Washington, who is given a 23.4% chance to win its first game at a cost of 1.

But that does at least peg a decent strategy as somewhere around 25 wins as a baseline. So I should be looking for 1 win per 4 points of cost at a minimum.

So I like a few low seed / low cost first round upset fodder, listed with seed, Pomeroy chances to win 1st round game, and cost
#14 Montana, 23.4%, 1
#13 Murray St. 40.9%, 2
#12 Utah St. 51.8%, 3
#13 Siena, 25.6%, 2 – they are probably under-represented here as they are playing a Purdue team that is now w/o one of their best players.

I think it’s good (but not really sure) that Utah St. and Siena would play each other in the 2nd round if they both won their first games.

So, if we are shooting for around 25, then all of a sudden the 17 cost 4-team “pods” start to look attractive.

Pitt/Xavier/Minnesota (3/6/11) cost 17, and have 3.47 expected wins (3 guaranteed wins). Wisconsin/Temple (4/5) have 3.59 expected wins for a 15 cost or 3.9 wins for 17 if you throw in #12 Cornell

In the end, here were my picks

Florida St.
Georgia Tech
Murray St.
Ohio St.
San Diego St.
Utah St.
Wake Forest

That’s 100 cost, and 23.94 expected wins. You’ll see that I couldn’t help myself from subjectively screwing myself out of 1 win :-)

Health Miles step challenge

So, I’ve been in this Health Miles program at work for almost a year now. Click the link where I explain it more but basically they pay you for being healthy and walking.

So for the month of April the company has been doing a step challenge. Basically whoever takes the most steps wins. Plus, there’s money involved. Top guy gets $100, then $75, then $50, then $25 for places 4-10, and $10 for places 11-20.

Now, I knew that I was not going to win because there are just far too many freaks out there. On April 1st (day 1), I uploaded so that I could see myself in 1st place with about 9,000 steps at about noon. I lasted there about all of 10 minutes before someone else uploaded their steps and wasted me with about 15,000. But then an hour or so later, someone else uploaded and had 25,000 steps by 2:00 on the first day.

I was calling shenanigans, but apparently this guy was seen running on the treadmill for about 90 minutes before work, and then for another hour or so at lunch. So like I said, there’s a lot of FREAKS out there.

As some comparison, it is commonly recommended that 10,000 steps a day is a healthy goal to have. In the 9 months or so that I’ve had this pedometer, I’ve been averaging about 10,500, so that’s nice.

So since this challenge started, I’ve been actively trying to get more steps than that. I’ve been working out extra in the mornings (also triathlon training), and for the month, have an average of just over 14,000 steps. So about a 40% increase.

And yet, THAT’S NOT EVEN HALF OF WHAT SOME PEOPLE ARE DOING!!! It’s worse than I can even figure because as part of the challenge setup, there’s a daily maximum of 30,000 steps. So any steps that you take more than that are not counted towards the challenge. But there are 3 people in the company that have maxed out (30,000+) EVERY DAY! Like I said, there are a lot of freaks out there.

So today is the last day of the challenge, so I was trying to do some calculations as to where I stood. For the first week or two, I was holding on to some illusions of earning $25 by finishing in the top 10, but it has become increasingly clear that I’ll be lucky to hit the top 20.

So this afternoon, I looked at my calculations. I was at about 344K steps. But I also had 61K in the bank (I haven’t uploaded since Friday in a sort of sandbagging maneuver so that others don’t know how many steps I have – the pedometer has an internal memory that keeps track even if you don’t upload). I was also banking on a 15K day today, which would put me at 421K.

So looking at the leaderboard, there were 17 people that already had more than 421K, so I knew they’d be ahead of me. But then I realized something – because of the 30,000 / day maximum, anyone that had uploaded today (Wed) with less than 391K steps could not catch me, since the max they could do on Wed (the last day) was 30K. The leaderboard only tells you total steps and the last day uploaded – nothing about how they’ve done on particular days or what time they uploaded. Similarly, anyone with a last upload date of Tuesday and less than 361 could not catch me, and so on.

There was one lady who was at 413K with a last upload date of today. I figured she had likely uploaded in the morning and was probably going to work out later and pass me. Then there was one at 361K and a Saturday date who also looked likely to pass.

That would put me at 20th, and then there were only 2 others who had a chance (everyone else was eliminated due to the 30,000 daily max logic above). There was one guy at 363K and Monday, and one lady at 331K and Sunday. Both of those folks could theoretically catch me but it would be difficult.

I had worked out on the elliptical this morning. I tweaked my back bowling on Friday and it still kind of hurts. So I didn’t want to run on the treadmill for that reason. I tried a few elliptical machines this morning before finding one I liked. They were all various elliptical / stair stepping type things. The first one still felt like it was impactful. Then the second one only was counting every other step of mine (similar to how it works when I bike), but then the 3rd one hit the sweet spot. 45 minutes at about 150 steps per minute, so about 6500.

But in looking at my chances, I figured I’d better seal the deal and so I went after work too. Even used the same smelly clothes (and they were pretty rank). Did another 40 minutes and currently sit at 26,177 steps for the day. So I’m feeling good – even the 413K / Wed lady will have to do another 21K today to catch me.

I’ll keep you posted!

2008 college football bowl contest

Okay. So as many of you know, I like sports. And I also like nerdery. So what better than to combine sports and nerdery??!?

It is the annual bowl contest sponsored by Here is the contest page (picks due this Saturday before the first game) as well as last year’s contest and their NFL contest from earlier this year (here’s the explanation of my picks to the NFL contest)

I did enter last year’s contest and I thought that I had posted a blog entry with an explanation to my picks, but I could not find it, so apparently I did not. But fear not, gentle reader, I will leave you a detailed explanation this year. I have modeled (read: blatantly copied) my strategy this year off of this post where Chase explained his methodology, and also the #1 comment from JKL (who won last year). I tied for 6th out of 12 teams. I will also note that 3 of the entries were from folks I recruited to join (in addition to my own).

So, the first thing that I did is whip up a handy dandy spreadsheet with all the teams. I got their Sagarin ratings from the pure predictor rankings.

First let’s look at the longshots, with their Sagarin ratings and the point spreads:

87	Alabama 	 Utah 	89.91	-11	-2.91
85.79	USC 	 Penn State 	85.24	-10	0.55
80.78	Missouri Northwestern	77.08	-10.5	3.72
78.02	Kansas 	 Minnesota 	70.7	-10	7.32
93.63	Texas 	 Ohio State 	83.88	-8	9.75
74.84	South Florida 	 Memphis 	62.75	-11.5	12.09

Utah is also rated as a BETTER team than Alabama, and USC and Penn State are close. USC does get some credit for having the game played at the Rose Bowl, but from the analysis seems to indicate that if a team has about a 15% shot of winning it’s better to take them as a longshot, due to the mechanics of the contest heavily favoring the picking of longshots.

So I will take Utah and Penn State, despite the fact that I think the Big 10 stinks.  I will also take Northwestern – Missouri lost to every good team that they played and so I will again go with the longshot. Minnesota was 3-5 in the Big 10 and just lost their last game 55-0 to Iowa. Uh… no thanks. Also I will take a Texas team that probably has a chip on their shoulder. Not sure about USF / Memphis. South Florida beat exactly one good team (which of course is one more than Memphis has beaten…). I’ll come back to them.

Now here’s a list of all the games, sorted by point spread.  Again, longshots in bold, and I italicized teams that are listed as favorites for the contest but are underdogs according to Sagarin.

74.84	South Florida	Memphis	62.75	-11.5	12.09
87	Alabama	Utah	89.91	-11	-2.91
80.8	Missouri	Northwestern	77.08	-10.5	3.72
78.02	Kansas	Minnesota	70.7	-10	7.32
85.79	USC	Penn State	85.24	-10	0.55
77.15	Cal	Miami	80.21	-9	-3.06
82.25	Georgia	Michigan State	79.77	-8.5	2.48
93.63	Texas	Ohio State	83.88	-8	9.75
71.58	Central Michigan	Florida Atlantic	63.36	-7	8.22
69.56	Houston	Air Force	75.55	-5.5	-5.99
75.78	Rutgers	NC State	77.59	-4.5	-1.81
93.04	Texas Tech	Ole Miss	77.52	-4	15.52
82	Boston College	Vanderbilt	73.15	-3.5	8.85
79.42	Georgia Tech	LSU	74.36	-3.5	5.06
72.95	Rice	Western Michigan	74.54	-3.5	-1.59
83.14	Florida State	Wisconsin	73.03	-3	10.11
79.06	Wake Forest	Navy	75.85	-3	3.21
75.89	Connecticut	Buffalo	72.91	-3	2.98
78.73	Oregon State	Pitt	80.74	-3	-2.01
70.52	Arizona	BYU	82.07	-3	-11.55
68.76	Troy	Southern Miss	65.23	-2.5	3.53
75.93	Iowa	South Carolina	76.37	-2.5	-0.44
75.73	East Carolina	Kentucky	69.99	-2.5	5.74
85.2	Oklahoma State	Oregon	79.42	-1.5	5.78
76.2	Ball State	Tulsa	70.43	-1.5	5.77
81.67	North Carolina	West Virginia	77.69	-1.5	3.98
79.74	Clemson	Nebraska	79.63	-1.5	0.11
90.79	Florida	Oklahoma	94.52	-1.5	-3.73
71.69	Hawaii	Notre Dame	72.06	-1	-0.37
72.52	Nevada	Maryland	78.67	1	-6.15
84.16	Cincinnati	Virginia Tech	84.48	0	-0.32
85.32	TCU	Boise State	85.9	0	-0.58
65.59	Northern Illinois	La. Tech	69.2	0	-3.61
66.97	Fresno State	Colorado State	71.28	0	-4.31

So the biggest “Sagarin favorite” is BYU over Arizona. On that vein, I will also take Maryland, Colorado State, Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech. Houston has already lost to Air Force this season, Air Force is rated a 6 point better team, and it is the Armed Forces bowl after all. I’ll bank on one of those 3 things meaning anything and take Air Force as a dog.

Moving on to banking against middling teams from power conferences playing in crappy early bowls. I will use that logic to take Navy over Wake and Hawaii over Notre Dame.

Some favorites I like: Texas Tech (a 15 pt Sagarin favorite) in the Cotton Bowl, BC over Vandy (lost 6 of their last 7), Central Michigan, and I’ll come back and take South Florida as well as Oklahoma State, and Georgia Tech. I’ll also take Cincinnati because I’m a homer.

Some dogs I like: Miami and Pitt (Pac-10 stinks), So. Miss (playing well lately), WVU (conference homerism), Buffalo and Tulsa.

So at this point I have 3 longshots, 13 underdogs, and 11 favorites, with 7 games left to pick. The only way it balances out is if I take 6 of the last 7 favorites. So I need 1 underdog out of NC State, Western Michigan, South Carolina, or Nebraska (I also could take Mich. St, Wisconsin or Kentucky but those 3 are all much bigger dogs). Hard to take NC state against a Rutgers team that has won 6 straight (the last 5 by 18 points or more). I’ll go with Nebraska over Clemson. So with 17 favorites, and 14 underdogs (and 3 longshots), I need just one group of 3 favorites. I’ll go with Chase’s wisdom and take my 3 strongest favorites which are Texas, S. Florida and Kansas.

Now to match up 14 favorites with 14 underdogs. I will try to match strength with strength, while also looking to match up conferences (either in the teams I picked or the teams I picked against). My philosophy there is that if there are teams that are over or under-rated, based on their actual strengths, they are likely to be grouped in conferences. Since say if Oklahoma is overrated, then Texas is somewhat overrated, since their win over Oklahoma counts for more than it should. That at least seems to make sense to me?

That gives me Central Michigan and BYU, Maryland and Boston College, Ok. State and Colorado State, Hawaii and La. Tech, Texas Tech and Oklahoma (double Big 12 over SEC!), Rutgers and WVU (double Big East over ACC), Florida State and Miami, Tulsa and Rice, Air Force and Georgia, Cincinnati and Navy, Pitt and Georgia Tech, TCU and Nebraska, Buffalo and E. Carolina, and Iowa and So. Miss. Lots of guesswork there but hey that’s what it’s all about!

So in nerd-ese (i.e. the official format of the contest) that would be 57,53,24|40|48|61|3,9|6,28|12,43|21,27|44,56|51,66|17,30|59,50|0,20|10,35|49,19|36,55|7,14|23,54|

You can follow along if you want at the official “nerdy web page

Holiday song / carol quiz

This is a quiz that I came up with as something to pass the time while we waited for people to arrive at our recent work gift exchange party.  So I thought I would pass it on to you guys to see how you do.

Below you will find the first lines of 25 holiday songs / carols.  But each line has been compressed with just the first letter of each word.  For example SBRAYL would be “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?” from the song Winter Wonderland.  Some are more difficult than others – how many can you get?

I will note that most if not all of these answers can be found somewhere on the Internet.  Come up with your answers in the comments and just note how many you could get without relying on Internet help for an accurate comparison with those that choose not to use it.


The winner at our little get-together got 16 right (in about 15 minutes or so) – just as a comparison.  Good luck!