September 28, 2006

It's Always Something (This Time, It's the Football Field)

Just like with Do Elephants Jump?, Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? has been out for less than a week and a sharp-eyed reader found a mistake. A really dumb one.

On page 83-84, we discuss why an American football field is the distinctly messy 53-1/3 yards wide. Before we researched this Imponderable, we didn't know that the dimensions of the football field has changed over the years.

In the earliest days of football, the field was 420 feet long and 210 feet wide. Until 1881, the forward pass didn't exist, so there were no end zones. In 1881, the length was reduced to 330 feet but the width wasn't reduced to the usual 1:2 ratio, but to 160 feet rather than 165. Why? I wrote:

"...possibly because it was an even number, possibly because someone hadn't done a very good job comprehending their pre-algebra lessons. The playing area was later reduced to 100 yards, with two ten-foot end zones, but the damage had been done: The 2:1 ratio of length to width was a thing of the past."

We heard from a fatithful, long-time reader, Rob Hoffman, of Richmond, Virginia:

I’m sure you’ve heard about this already, but just in case…

“Pirates”, Page 84… talking about a football field… “The playing area was later reduced to 100 yards, with two ten-foot end zones, but the damage had been done…”

Yeah, imagine the damage with those short end zones… (insert obligatory smilie) the game would have been changed forever…

OK, seriously… that was supposed to say “two ten-yard end zones”, wasn’t it?

I wrote back to Rob, in part:

Ironically, I'm writing this email as I'm watching Monday Night Football.

Agggh. How did this get past my editor, the copy editor, the production editor, and worst of all, ME, who read the manuscript several times. Sheesh!

Sheeesh, indeed. The mistake will be corrected for future printings and the paperback edition. But the shame will remain.