2852: Parameterball

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The ball's density also varies, but players don't learn the value until after choosing their raquets. The infamous 'bowling ball table tennis' region of the parameter space often leads to equipment damage.
Title text: The ball's density also varies, but players don't learn the value until after choosing their raquets. The infamous 'bowling ball table tennis' region of the parameter space often leads to equipment damage.


This comic depicts the game of parameterball, a "raquet" game. This is a misspelling (creative or unintentional) of the sports equipment that is spelled "raquette" in French (probably from the Dutch for the action of "striking back"), was adopted into English as "racquet" and later acquired the alternative (and extremely common) form "racket" (etymologically distinct from the noise/"protection racket" use of that word).

There are a number of distinct racket sports, which generalise to various forms of opposing players hitting a projectile between their respective zones of control. These are usually two-sided (2-or-4 players) point-scoring games using a delineated court/playing-surface, with a net or markings defining either side's control of play. The projectile is often a ball of some kind (or equivalent, such as the shuttlecock), which must be hit with a racket(/'paddle' bat). Often, the objective of the game is to hit the ball so that it bounces on your opponent's side, in a legitimate manner, that cannot then be legitimately returned. Two notable examples of this kind of game are Tennis and Table Tennis (also known as Ping-Pong), which demonstrate the potentially different scales of playing area, ball and net.

In this comic, a game called "Parameterball" is proposed, where net size, ball size, and court size are randomized every quarter. There are 4 different instances of Megan and Cueball playing this game, each in one corner of the comic, so we can assume all four of these were used within the same game of Parameterball. The different examples provide insight into the absurd games that may be played in Parameterball, depending on how mismatched the racket, court, and ball size are.

Such kind of parameterization is typical in designing video games. Typically, the main premise of the game is written in code with several parameters added to the logic to fine-tune the feel and balance of the game by trying different values. In this case, the main premise of the game is hitting a projectile back to the opponent, as noted above, while the parameters are the size and height of the court, ball, and net. The comic, in its extreme absurdity of parameter range and selection, illustrates the wide range of possible games by tuning a few parameters. Some video games similarly also provide alternate modes that provide a minor tweak in parameters to provide a different feeling game. Video game designers often talk about the arduous process of selecting the ideal parameters to tune the game exactly so the game is fun and challenging to play. Here, the aspect of playing random variations of the parameters itself is part of the game, rather than playing a finely-tuned set of parameters by someone else perfected for enjoyment.

The title text mentions that the ball's density is also randomized, and refers to instances where the net size, ball size, and court size were similar to that of a Ping-pong match, but with a ball as dense as a bowling ball, which not only led to equipment damage, but does so regularly. Despite this, the participants do not learn the density until after their racket is chosen, meaning that they have no way of determining whether the racket they chose is durable enough until it's already too late. (Conversely, choosing an excessively robust item could be a bad decision when trying to play with a light ball, as it would be detrimental in reacting against rapid volleys by a more aptly-equipped opponent.)

The mention of this 'region in parameter space' may reference the 'bowling ball on a sheet' metaphor sometimes used to try to illustrate how the gravitational fields of objects, often more specifically black holes, 'bend' spacetime around them. If the parameters of the game allow for balls with densities such that they create a singularity, this would indeed seem highly likely to damage not just equipment, but players as well. More simply, though, a 'parameter space' is the theoretical n-dimensional mapping of all theoretical combinations of individual variables - the specific variable of ball density will render an entire slice of this 'gamespace' problematic (irrespective of the other slices, or covarible regions where everything else might work or otherwise).

Note that the players can choose their own racket, and can do so after finding out the three parameters given in the main comic. Only the density of the ball is unknown when they choose the racket. Thus this indirectly leads to some randomness in the selection of racket also, as the players try to guess what would be best for a random choice of ball density.

It’s unknown whether the parameters of Parameterball are unlimited or limited to what human players can reasonably work with, although the fourth phase of the game as demonstrated in the comic certainly seems to represent an extreme of both net height and ball size that appears to be causing problems. But if the comic shows the outliers then the table below lists the limits for the parameters.

Randall may have been inspired by Pickleball, a type of racket sport rising sharply in popularity in the US at the time this comic came out. Pickleball is a middle-ground of tennis and table tennis, with an intermediate-sized ball, court, and net height. Randall may have noticed the distinct parameters of pickleball’s elements compared to its cousin sports and was inspired to imagine a scenario in which such parameters might be randomized.

This comic is reminiscent of 2663: Tetherball Configurations, also four different settings for the same sport, that makes it more or less playable. Randall also invented more unusual ball games with 1507: Metaball, 1920: Emoji Sports, and 2705: Spacetime Soccer

The parameters of the game being randomized is reminiscent of the "Calvinball" game in the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, which is never played twice with the same rules.

Table of limits in the comic[edit]

Assuming that the comic shows the full breadth of options, here are the approximate, apparent upper and lower limits of the four parameters mentioned:

Parameter Apparent Lower Limit Apparent Upper Limit
Ball Size Ping pong ball Human hamster “Zorb” ball
Court Size Large board game board NHL ice hockey rink
Net Height Soda bottle Giraffe
Ball Density Ping pong ball Bowling ball

It is unclear what rules, if any, there are about the size below which the court will be elevated on a table.

From what is shown, racket choice appears to be limited to those commonly in use in other existing racket sports.


[Megan and Cueball are playing a game that looks similar to tennis or table tennis in four different settings, one in each quadrant of the comic. Each setting has different parameters for three parts of the game, the size of the court, the size of the ball and the height of the net. In each case Megan is on the left and Cueball is on the right.]
[Top left: The court is much smaller than a normal tennis court, each half slightly wider and deeper than a person is tall. The net, however, is a fairly normal height, maybe a bit higher than in tennis. But the ball is much larger, even bigger than a beach ball but with curved 'seam' to it similar to certain types of more robust balls. The ball has just bounced on Cueball's side and he is about to hit it.]
[Top right: The ball and the net closely match that of a regular tennis game, but the court has a size much like a five-a-side football field. Cueball has just hit the ball, which is currently flying towards Megan's side, but could seem like it will barely make it all the way over to the net. Both players are thus very small, compared with this huge court.]
[Bottom left: The ball, and net are basically the same as in table tennis, and the rackets also looks like table tennis bats. But the 'court' is a much smaller tabletop. The ball has just bounced back up on Megan's side, and she is poised to smash it back. This is the only case in which the court has been elevated and the players are not standing on it.]
[Bottom right: The court is slightly larger than the top left, but the net is much taller than the humans, more than double their height, thus much higher than in for instance volleyball. Also the ball is several times larger than a beach ball (with the same curved seam). The ball is larger than Cueball, like a human hamster ball. Cueball is apparently fighting to push the huge ball high enough to get over the net, indicated by movement lines in which he is barely managing to keep the ball on the racket itself, not to mention he has only gotten the ball halfway up the net. Megan is just standing on the other side waiting to see if Cueball manages to get the ball over to her.]
[Caption below the panel:]
Parameterball is a raquet game divided into four quarters, with ball size, court size, and net height randomized each quarter.


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added transcript and a kinda crappy explanation Me[citation needed] 17:36, 8 November 2023 (UTC)

added a bit of crappy info to the explanation. also hi nqh someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 17:42, 8 November 2023 (UTC)
added crappy edits. also do i have an account or… TenGolf MathHacker (talk) 19:30, 8 November 2023 (UTC)

Does the tennis court in upper right look about 50% larger than normal to anyone else? The ping-pong table definitely looks too small, about half size. Barmar (talk) 18:07, 8 November 2023 (UTC)

I'd say the the upper right is similar width to a tennis court but is 25% longer. The lower left looks to be similar width to table tennis / ping pong but is about half as long. So the explanations for those need revising. 18:13, 8 November 2023 (UTC)
My first reaction to the upper right was very clear: “Aha, Randall means that the players are scaled down to 20cm! Therefore parameterball.”-- 23:11, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

I have some neat plans for that Incomplete template. Get ready for an occasional change to something random that uses anything but metric... someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 18:29, 8 November 2023 (UTC)

mobile account here, first of many implemented 20:55, 8 November 2023 (UTC)

If no limits, then neutron star or black hole ball exists as much as more non lethal games. (talk) 00:06, 9 November 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Could the title text be talking about the mass of a bowling ball, rather than then density? If the diameter of a bowling ball is 20cm and the diameter of a table tennis ball is 4cm, which is consistent with a quick Google search, than the volume of the bowling ball is around 125 times as big as the table tennis ball (because we have to cube it for three dimensions). Let's assume a bowling ball is 12 pounds, which is about average. Therefore, a ping pong ball with the density of a bowling ball would weigh much less than a pound. A 12 pound table tennis ball, however, could easily cause equipment damage. Thexkcdnerd (talk) 02:44, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

I'm sure a one-pound table tennis ball could do sufficient damage to destroy a racquet, but I guess there's really only one way to find out, and I don't know where to find a one-pound ping pong ball. Or is it pingpong? Ping-Pong? pingPong? 05:03, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
Originally "gossima", with hard rubber balls, even before "whiff-waff" (or "wiff-waff" or "whiff-whaff" or something). First properly marketed as "ping-pong", in its recognisable form though. 09:07, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
A snooker/pool ball would probably have similar density to a bowling ball. I can well imagine equipment (and bodily) damage playing table tennis with a snooker ball. (talk) 13:23, 9 November 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Isn't the bowling ball a reference to the 'bowling ball on a sheet' metaphor for the distortion of space-time by the gravitational fields of massive objects? 09:31, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
Also, isn't the density of a bowling ball also a changing parameter in the game of ten-pin bowling? Don't have bowling balls different weights, and unlike nine-pin bowling a fixed volume/size, and thus a variable density? It doesn't really matter for the explanation but describing the end point with an item that itself is variable isn't really helpful. The entries giraffe, screwdriver and large board game board are having the same problem. "A large boulder the size of a small boulder" https://twitter.com/SheriffAlert/status/1221881862244749315 Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:34, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
The size isn't fixed, but yes, the weight can be changed by varying the size or density (within limits), and they can even have varying density within the ball. 17:30, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
Yes, too dense a ping-pong "ball" (e.g. a pebble) is able to damage the foam coating of a "more professional" racket models. As a kid I have had been yelled at by the PE teacher for such horseplay and I have been given a basic and inferior plywood-and-thin-rubber model (with the rubber peeling off) as a punishment. -- 13:32, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

Does the screwdriver measurement relate to the drink or the tool? 09:32, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

The explanation claims that the max density depicted is that of a bowling ball. However, the balls in the first three panels look much too light for that, and the ball in the fourth would probably have crushed the player if it was that dense. I would guess a solid rubber ball would be a better estimate (although the one in the second panel is hard to judge). 11:28, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

Only now have I learned that links can exist in the incomplete explanation text. It seems self-evident now,, but still. 13:55, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

Can each player choose a different raquet[sic] size? None of the examples suggest this. Also, is the construction of the racket a parameter? Tennis rackets have woven strings in the racket head, which a really tiny ball could pass through, and would have trouble controlling something marble-sized. Ping-pong paddles have a solid head with a rubber surface, which nothing larger than atomic size is likely to pass through. Barmar (talk) 14:54, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

The racquets they're using in the different panels are different sizes, and the title text says that 'players don't learn the [ball density] until after choosing their raquets Or do you mean could the two players have different racquets from each other?. 09:35, 10 November 2023 (UTC)
Well, Megan in the lower-right panel appears to have one about half the size of Cueball’s. At least if I measure it against the tip of my mouse cursor. -- 13:37, 18 November 2023 (UTC)

The fact that people keep editing the EXPLANATION NEEDED template made me realize we should have an archive for that purely for the lols 15:51, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

That's a bet someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 16:21, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
I didn't think anyone would actually do that, thanks! =) 16:51, 9 November 2023 (UTC)
Was actually planning on doing it earlier today, but this reminded me about it someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 17:02, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

I wonder how long this will keep going. My guess is that I'll be the only one still doing it when the next comic gets released 17:04, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

I have a few more to push out (wink) someone, i guess(talk i guess|le edit list) 17:06, 9 November 2023 (UTC)

This would make a GREAT video game.... - 09:17, 10 November 2023 (UTC)

Idea: To avoid edit spam, we make another copy of the page meant for parameter editing. 12:40, 10 November 2023 (UTC)

Idea: We don't bother. I had collected a whole lot of Incomplete non-BOT versions (from the point just before someone removes them, mainly) and was going to put them up in my userpage (once I bothered to get one), but I don't think it's worth kt. And, in this case, it's just self-promotion to alter one when not making any other valid change. I prefer spontaneity in my humor, not "trying to one-up the last person". Personal opinion, YMMV. 13:49, 10 November 2023 (UTC)

Fair enough, but could we least link to the archive page SomeoneIGuess made? 12:45, 13 November 2023 (UTC)

I doubt the misspelling is anything more than a typo of "racquet". The French derivation is an interesting side note, but it seems like a leap to say it's "likely" Randall's intention. 15:21, 10 November 2023 (UTC)

Randall has just made plain typos, but he's also several times made deliberate 'errors' with actual reference to his love of language/writing and skill. And, given his US-spelling bias, it's a strange leap to a Anglo-French mish-mash if he just miswrote (in typing and comic-lettering) something quite so far from his 'normal' version. On balance, having had no part in that particular bit of wording, I think "likely" is a good hedge by the one who wrote that. And still perfectly allows for it to be a typo, if it was. (But keep an eye out for revised comic/alt-text!) 15:33, 10 November 2023 (UTC)
I often find I understand Randall's thinking well above average, that I just instinctively get what he's getting at even when others are stuck in debate, and I'm of the opinion that he just wanted to get fancier/more formal than "racket" (maybe partly to stay distinct from other uses of that word), but since that spelling is unusual in North America that he simply forgot or didn't realize there's a C. I find this explanation is strengthened by him spelling it the same way in the Mouseover text. I feel confident it's nothing more complicated than that (remembering Occam's Razor). :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:31, 11 November 2023 (UTC)
Why fixate on these bizarre details? Randall is a normal, fallible human writing with his human hands. ~AgentMuffin 13:27, 11 November 2023 (UTC)