Saturday, April 18, 2009
Victorian Gamers Get Wired
The Illustrated London News for 12 April 1845 depicts the first online match in Britain
I'm in this week's New Scientist to talk about the Victorian fad for chess by telegraph... and just about everything else by telegraph...
After the first Newnes [transatlantic chess] match, the British humorous magazine Punch published what it claimed was an interview with a London telegraph office's new "sport by wire" manager: "We cable over to the Associated Press full particulars of our imaginary [soccer] kickoff... [they] wire back their return kick with name, age, weight and address of the kicker... There's our Ladies' Inter-Varsity Stay-at-Home Hockey Contest... That's the river editor, hard at work in that armchair, rowing against Yale by cable... But I must ask you to excuse me now, as I have a billiard tournament, a yacht race and a cricket match with all Australia to manage simultaneously."
Punch's satire wasn't so wide of the mark. A number of North American cities began to stage telegraphed intercity bowling tournaments, with one in 1911 pitting New York, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle against each other simultaneously. The telegraph was rather less practical for other games. Telegraphed billiards matches used a gridded table that enabled players to cable the positions of the balls, but the system proved frustratingly slow - though not as slow as previous attempts at billiards by mail.