My OCR Origins (Plus Another Questionable OCR Idea)

There is a weird thread that connects my late teens to my late 30s. In a sense, I was an obstacle course racer back then, even though I was not serious about fitness and the term didn’t exist. (Does that make me OG or OPP or OTT or OTOH or another term that I’m vaguely familiar with but not cool enough to understand?)

And no, before you ask, I wasn’t a Double Dare contestant. So I’m not taking the basic cable technicality.*

My high school obstacle course experience was through something called dog agility. As you might expect that involves dogs, and even though I wasn’t one at the time,** humans get to play along as the handler.

Agility course

Agility course image by Ellen Finch, via and available under Creative Commons.

Agility pops up on TV now and then, but if you haven’t seen it, here is an overview. The dog runs through a course of about 12 to 20 obstacles, directed by the handler. There are really only a few kinds of obstacles: jumps, tunnels (which are a lot like the ones kids play with, only a lot sturdier), ramps that the dog has to walk over, and weave poles (which are just a series of poles that the dog has to weave through). The dog can get faults if they don’t do an obstacle correctly, like if they knock down a pole in one of the jumps or if they don’t touch the yellow contact zone at the start and finish of each ramp, or by exceeding the courts time for the run. Fewest faults wins, with fastest time as a tiebreaker, although in general people are more concerned about having a qualifying run than their placement. Qualifying is difficult—in most of the agility organizations (there are many), any fault of any kind is renders a run non-qualifying—but qualifying runs lead to titles that let you move up to higher classes with harder courses.

Much like OCR, agility is a lot of fun. If you’ve got a dog and you think you might be interested, I’d encourage you to check it out—it’s open to all types of dogs (they all use the same obstacles, although the height of the dog determines how high the jumps are set at), and I recall representatives of most dog shapes participating successfully, with the possible exception of some of the more massive working breeds. (When I was very young, my family had a St. Bernard; agility might not have been ideal for him, due to all the jumping, but something German Shepherdy would probably be ok. And Wikipedia has a picture of a St. Bernard doing agility, so obviously they can.) The dogs seem to enjoy it, and generally I think doing things with pets will enrich their lives. (Of course, I have no pets now and haven’t in 20 years, but I still think the statement is valid.) The one concern I would have is the tendency of humans to ascribe competitive importance to things, which may not be fair to the dog, although I suspect it’s possible for most people to separate the two to an appropriate degree.

One other thing about agility that’s worth noting from an OCR perspective. In addition to the standard course run for titles and qualification, there were several games. These were mostly for fun, although at higher levels you had to earn qualifying scores in them to earn titles. The typical games were:

  • Pairs, a two-dog relay (occasionally expanded to a larger team relay).
  • Jumpers, a slightly misnamed game that consists of a course made up mostly of jumps, but tunnels and weave poles were included too.
  • Gamblers, a two-part game. In part 1, obstacles were set up around the course, and you can do them in any order. Every one completed successfully earns points, based on how long the obstacle typically takes and how far from the “gamble” it is. After a set amount of time on the course, a whistle blows and you go to said gamble, which is a series of obstacles that the dog has to do properly. The real tricky part is that the handler is restricted in where he or she can go and has to direct the dog from a distance. If the dog does it within the time limit, they get a sizable point bonus. (In the early days, the gamble was optional and carried a penalty for failure, thus the name of the class, but that had pretty much stopped by the time I was involved.)
  • Snooker: An asinine concept that was fun. It translates the pool table game to agility. There are three 1 point obstacles, and then other obstacles spread around the course from 2 to 7 points. First, you do a 1 point obstacle, then any of the other obstacles, then one of the other 1-point obstacles, then any other obstacle, then the last 1-pointer and any of the others. Then, you do the 2- through 7- point obstacles in order, for as long as you can until time runs out. Most points wins.

I’m not sure if any of this has applicability to OCR, but it might. The title concept might be an alternative to the age-group-swimming-based ranking system I pitched a few weeks ago. The relay format with specialization turned out to be true the next day, because I am both psychic and awesome. The gamble concept could be implemented by having optional obstacles that could be completed for a time bonus, although logistically that would be a nightmare.

The asinine OCR Snooker concept is, horrifyingly enough, the most intriguing. It’s not something that would work for general crowds, but as a televisable event it might. It would be a test of both physical ability and strategy, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a lot of variety in what courses different racers choose.

The drawbacks? It’s really not a head to head competition, since only 1 person could be on course at a time. There’s also a fairness issue, since there’s a huge benefit to going last—both to get a sense of how much time it takes to get from obstacle to obstacle and do each obstacle, and to know what score you need to win. And, just like in the dog world, it does seem a bit cutesy.

Still, if anyone’s in the mood to try to take a shot at it, feel free.

*apropos of nothing, one of the best Halloween costumes I ever saw was a pair of friends who went as Double Dare contestants. It was the perfect costume. They’d Assembled it themselves, with me pads and those plastic cups with lines on them on their heads, but it was cheap and easy and everyone on the bus knew that they had one Halloween forever. Unfortunately two stops later another pair of double dare contestants got on completely unrelated and really ruined the magic of it.

**I mean, I was ugly, and still am, but species-wise, I’m not a canis anythingus.


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Filed under Metapost, Obstacle Course Racing, OCR Ideas

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