I used to serve on the committee of a croquet club (don’t laugh, croquet is a serious matter).  It is a select club, with a glorious history stretching back for more that a century, with about 150 croquet-playing members.  Some have short names, like Sue Mew, and others have long names, like Anastazia Jelita-Klementyna. You’ll soon see why I mention the length of names. 

At a meeting of the committee, the treasurer, a suitably solemn fellow, itemised all the expenditure that had been incurred since the last time the committee met.  This included the cost of engraving the various trophies that had been won in hard-fought tournaments during the season.  He remarked that he had been shocked by the total figure for this work (some £290) and that this represented a 30% increase on the previous year.

A committee member asked if the engraver charged for each letter and, if so, would short names cost less than long ones?  No-one knew precisely how the charge was calculated and the treasurer volunteered to find out and report back.

At the next meeting, the treasurer confirmed that the engraver did indeed base his charge on the number of letters that had to be engraved – with a premium if you chose a fancy script.

A discussion ensued where it was suggested that, in these bleak times calling for economic restraint, only people with short names should be permitted to win tournaments.  Incredulous, the chair enquired how this could be brought about. Various suggestions were made; only members with short names would be eligible to enter tournaments; members with long names could only enter if they used a nickname or an abbreviation of their real name; all members playing in tournaments would be randomly issued with a letter from the alphabet – A, B, C and so on – and, if they won, their letter, not their full name, would be engraved on the trophy with their real name recorded an accompanying ledger.

Impressive lateral thinking, eh?  If Edward de Bono been present he’d have been proud of us. 

Warming to the task, a member of the committee pointed out that the last suggestion had the added attraction of providing a means of extending the life of some of the older trophies where a limited amount of space remained for recording the names of winners.

But as creativity flagged, there was some unease about the practicality and even the ethics of these suggestions. After some soul-searching, a committee member had a brainwave; the handicap system was the answer!  Members with long names, who insisted on entering tournaments, would do so on the understanding that their handicap would be substantially reduced, making it very unlikely that they could ever win when playing someone with a shorter name and a higher handicap.

Problem solved!

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