It was the beginning of the second week so I asked one of the students to pick the attendance question. S, who is already a strong player, said ‘Favorite breakfast cereal’. I started with, ‘O equals K….. my name is Joe and I like Honey Crunches of Oats’. And I do like Honey Crunches of Oats and all that good-for-you-looking sweetness. Anyway, it comes around to S-who-is-a-strong-player and they say,’My name is S, and I like coffee and a bagel’. Shoot, I would have said ‘coffee and a bagel’ in a second.
After attendance I asked if there were any philosophy majors in the class. When no one raised their hand, I reminded them about K Popper’s theory of knowledge. Popper considered human knowledge as a separate organ shaped by conjecture and refutation. Popper calls induction an illusion and deprecates conjecture to guess, leaving refutation to do the work. His theory is attractive not in the least because of its fine homologonimity with Darwinian evolution. In any case, this is just how you learn ping-pong: Every shot a conjecture; The net the benignly-indifferent critic. Within K Popper’s theory of knowledge then, the role of the instructor, c’est moi, is to provide realms in which students can fruitiously err. Part of that realm is called: Forehand equals forearm to forehead, like this!
Couple of simple ones and then try to step back from the table. That’s the ticket, couple of good ones there. Don’t forget your giant fish bowl: don’t break through the middle, polish the whole thing, like this! Good, good, good. Put the lid on it! Like this! Try and see how slowly you can hit it: large momentum plus small velocity equals good shot. Nice! Get your luggage. Like this! Good equals shot! Don’t forget: they bounce space craft off Jupiter not Mercury!
We rotated partners every five minutes counter clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, skipped coaches, and continued our practice in a like manner until special-treat game time at 6. It was easy to split the class into two teams since there were 8 of them and still at table. I never liked that thing about lining them up against the wall and having two captains pick them to the last drop.
Okay! This game is called ‘Round About’. You have 4 players to a team and you start with a player at each of the 4 sides of the table. Like bridge, we will call these North, South, East and West. Play starts with South serving to North and continues with North hitting to West who has taken South’s place, West hitting to East who has replaced North, East to North, North to West who hits to South, starting the cycle again. The goal is to get consecutive hits. To start the game I will say the word ‘Start’. Start.
Luckily, my assistant coach asked me to maybe pick up a couple of balls and they got started rotating the table while keeping the ball in play in no time. After ten minutes I rang the ding-ding-ding bell and found out that the score was 14-7 with just 4 minutes left. Luckily, said I, the second round is double scoring. Each team selects a Vogel-im-Baum and the other three rotate the table. To start the game, I name a category and each time the ball is struck the Vogel-im-Baum has to say something in that category. If Vogel-im-Baum can’t think of anything or repeats then that is the same as a miss: I equals E start equals over. Ready: ‘Animals of North America!’
My assistant coach admitted that they didn’t really remember this version themselves. And I suggested, ‘Bear’, ‘Deer’, ‘Salmon’. After some further elucidation we were ready to try again. Ready: ‘transcendental numbers’.
Luckily, the bell rang, with a: Ding-ding-ding thanks for a fun class, if you have a few minutes please help put the equipment away. And I think I saw D-who-knows-pi-to-200-digits smile.