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The Cleveland Curse

Help.

Somebody. Anybody.

Dr. Phil. Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We're not picky.

No need for archaeologists to take a flyer on finding a hellmouth in Belize. We got you covered.

Basketball season. Football season. Baseball season. Any time of year will do.

We do not yet have a losing Lingerie Football League team but only because that inaugural season of the Cleveland Crush (I wish I were making that up) doesn't roll around until Fall.

You may think this is all coincidence, a cyclical downturn. You may think it's no reason to suspect forces of evil at work.

Then please explain why presently the city's only winning team is the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters.

Sorry, this city needs a "slayer." We thought we had one in Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert when he sent the Cleveland Curse packing in July. Stood right up and told the demons to hitch a ride to South Beach with LeBron James, he did.

Condemned them to walk the earth with James wherever his life of misery took him.

In a singular moment that rallied the rejected, Gilbert guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a NBA championship before the Miami Heat would.

"The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south," Gilbert wrote in a statement on the team's website. "And until he does 'right' by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."

So...how's that going?

• The Indians lost 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978. They finished last in Major League Baseball in home attendance, which is not easily accomplished outside of Pittsburgh.

• The NFL Browns finished 5-11 in consecutive seasons and fired a head coach for the fourth time since 1999. They are denying reports their latest coach, Pat Shurmur, came from a temp agency.

• Jim Brown, the greatest player in franchise history and maybe the greatest player in NFL history, got crossways with the organization and was a no-show for the September induction of 16 Hall of Fame Browns into the organization's stadium Ring of Honor.

• Gilbert's Cavaliers own the worst record in the NBA. They have lost 31 of 32 games. They have set a team record for consecutive road losses and have the record for consecutive losses overall in their crosshairs. In a "contest" against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers scored 57 points and lost by 55 points. Steven Seagal movies don't receive that kind of drubbing in the voting for Oscar nominations.

• Just recently my newspaper, The Plain Dealer, conducted a phone interview with Washington Generals' founder Red Klotz, whose team lost 2,495 consecutive exhibitions to the Harlem Globetrotters before winning a game in 1971. And we're calling him for advice.

• Did we mention the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns' most hated rival, are in the Super Bowl looking for their seventh Lombardi Trophy in eight tries? Pittsburgh's "One for the Thumb" slogan was hard enough to take in Cleveland. When we get around to "One for the Big Toe" Cleveland sports fans can only hope the Rapture occurs during the Super Bowl national anthem.

Gilbert is still popular among people here for puffing out his chest and telling LeBron James where to go. He called James a quitter. He called him a traitor.

Actually, he did more than call him one.

Gilbert. who also owns Fathead LLC, discounted the LeBron James' vinyl wall sticker to $17.41. Not coincidentally, 1741 is the year Benedict Arnold was born.

Gilbert made Clevelanders feel good the night of "The Decision," the hour-long exercise in narcissism staged by James on ESPN. He made everybody else say, "Whoa, was this guy channeling Sam Kinison or what? With such a vindictive owner running things, no wonder James got out of there."

His other mistake was in telling the Curse where to go. Curses leave when they're ready to leave. They do not take direction well as Cubs fans have learned in dealing with the Curse of the Billy Goat.

"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Gilbert wrote that July night...."I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only: DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue...."

Sure enough, people in Cleveland deserve a championship as Gilbert said.

It's been since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL title. Then Jim Brown retired. At age 29.

The Indians haven't won since 1948. The Cavaliers have never won.

Former Browns owner Art Modell, still Public Enemy No.1, moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The curse stayed. Modell won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Browns have played one postseason game since. (Good guess, yes, they lost. To Pittsburgh of all teams. After leading 24-7 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.)

Former Browns coach Bill Belichick didn't win in Cleveland and was roundly dismissed as an anti-social mope. He's won three Super Bowls in New England. When Stephen Hawking gets stuck trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, it's believed he calls Bill Belichick.

Based on all that and also on the crackling fire and hellish sounds heard under our city streets, you'd have to say LeBron James' chances to pick confetti out of his hair look pretty good.

Bad Company

Cleveland doesn't have the market cornered on depressing years in sports or on depressing championship droughts.

Circa 1972 in Philadelphia comes instantly to mind. The NBA's Sixers won just nine games in '72-73 (still a record). The NFL Eagles of 1972 won just twice and the Phillies went 59-97.

The difference: Philadelphia was only five years removed from winning a NBA title with Wilt Chamberlain.

ESPN put together a list of the most tortured sports cities a few years back. For good reason, Cleveland won.

Here was ESPN's Top Ten, with my comments. I took into account recent changes of fortune where applicable:

10. Houston. The Astros make Houston's spot on the list possible. But at least the Rockets won two championships while Michael Jordan was off swinging and missing at curve balls.

9. San Diego. OK, 91 seasons with only one championship. But life is so good otherwise, it wouldn't be on my list. I lived there. Fans only truly get upset when the Chargers lose or when the ocean breeze makes it difficult to light the beach fire pit on the first try.

8. Atlanta. It belongs in the conversation for all the losing that's gone on there: 147 seasons and one title. But a World Series 15 years ago and all that excellence from the Braves has kept hopes fairly fresh.

7. Seattle. Lost more than a basketball team to Oklahoma City. Lost Kevin Durant. Seattle did win a NBA title 31 years ago, which, in Cleveland and Buffalo, would feel like just yesterday.

6. Minneapolis. The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. If that happened in Cleveland, they'd immortalize everyone with a statue including the bullpen catcher.

5. Boston. OK, the Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series title in this decade. That was a long drought. But The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins? This is a city unworthy of any miserable list.

4. Chicago. I know all about the Curse of the Billy Goat and how the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. But now the Blackhawks have won. So have the White Sox. So did the Bears of Mike Ditka. Do we really need to mention Michael Jordan and the Bulls?

3. Buffalo. Hasn't won anything in 45 years. Gets the seat at the head table next to Cleveland at the roast.

2. Philadelphia. The Phillies won in 2008, ending a 25-year title drought. The key word there is "end." Please leave the list immediately.

1. Cleveland. Last NFL title: 1964. Last World Series championship: 1948. Last NBA title: never.
Not that anyone is counting.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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science
5 Ways You Do Complex Math in Your Head Without Realizing It
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The one thing that people who love math and people who hate math tend to agree on is this: You're only really doing math if you sit down and write formal equations. This idea is so widely embraced that to suggest otherwise is "to start a fight," says Maria Droujkova, math educator and founder of Natural Math, a site for kids and parents who want to incorporate math into their daily lives. Mathematicians cherish their formal proofs, considering them the best expression of their profession, while the anti-math don't believe that much of the math they studied in school applies to "real life."

But in reality, "we do an awful lot of things in our daily lives that are profoundly mathematical, but that may not look that way on the surface," Christopher Danielson, a Minnesota-based math educator and author of a number of books, including Common Core Math for Parents for Dummies, tells Mental Floss. Our mathematical thinking includes not just algebra or geometry, but trigonometry, calculus, probability, statistics, and any of the at least 60 types [PDF] of math out there. Here are five examples.

1. COOKING // ALGEBRA

Of all the maths, algebra seems to draw the most ire, with some people even writing entire books on why college students shouldn't have to endure it because, they claim, it holds the students back from graduating. But if you cook, you're likely doing algebra. When preparing a meal, you often have to think proportionally, and "reasoning with proportions is one of the cornerstones of algebraic thinking," Droujkova tells Mental Floss.

You're also thinking algebraically whenever you're adjusting a recipe, whether for a larger crowd or because you have to substitute or reduce ingredients. Say, for example, you want to make pancakes, but you only have two eggs left and the recipe calls for three. How much flour should you use when the original recipe calls for one cup? Since one cup is 8 ounces, you can figure this out using the following algebra equation: n/8 : 2/3.

algebraic equation illustrates adjustment of a recipe
Lucy Quintanilla

However, when thinking proportionally, you can just reason that since you have one-third less eggs, you should just use one-third less flour.

You're also doing that proportional thinking when you consider the cooking times of the various courses of your meal and plan accordingly so all the elements of your dinner are ready at the same time. For example, it will usually take three times as long to cook rice as it will a flattened chicken breast, so starting the rice first makes sense.

"People do mathematics in their own way," Droujkova says, "even if they cannot do it in a very formalized way."

2. LISTENING TO MUSIC // PATTERN THEORY AND SYMMETRY

woman enjoys listening to music in headphones
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The making of music involves many different types of math, from algebra and geometry to group theory and pattern theory and beyond, and a number of mathematicians (including Pythagoras and Galileo) and musicians have connected the two disciplines (Stravinsky claimed that music is "something like mathematical thinking").

But simply listening to music can make you think mathematically too. When you recognize a piece of music, you are identifying a pattern of sound. Patterns are a fundamental part of math; the branch known as pattern theory is applied to everything from statistics to machine learning.

Danielson, who teaches kids about patterns in his math classes, says figuring out the structure of a pattern is vital for understanding math at higher levels, so music is a great gateway: "If you're thinking about how two songs have similar beats, or time signatures, or you're creating harmonies, you're working on the structure of a pattern and doing some really important mathematical thinking along the way."

So maybe you weren't doing math on paper if you were debating with your friends about whether Tom Petty was right to sue Sam Smith in 2015 over "Stay With Me" sounding a lot like "I Won't Back Down," but you were still thinking mathematically when you compared the songs. And that earworm you can't get out of your head? It follows a pattern: intro, verse, chorus, bridge, end.

When you recognize these kinds of patterns, you're also recognizing symmetry (which in a pop song tends to involve the chorus and the hook, because both repeat). Symmetry [PDF] is the focus of group theory, but it's also key to geometry, algebra, and many other maths.

3. KNITTING AND CROCHETING // GEOMETRIC THINKING

six steps of crocheting a hyperbolic plane
Cheryl, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Droujkova, an avid crocheter, she says she is often intrigued by the very mathematical discussions fellow crafters have online about the best patterns for their projects, even if they will often insist they are awful at math or uninterested in it. And yet, such crafts cannot be done without geometric thinking: When you knit or crochet a hat, you're creating a half sphere, which follows a geometric formula.

Droujkova isn't the only math lover who has made the connection between geometry and crocheting. Cornell mathematician Daina Taimina found crocheting to be the perfect way to illustrate the geometry of a hyperbolic plane, or a surface that has a constant negative curvature, like a lettuce leaf. Hyperbolic geometry is also used in navigation apps, and explains why flat maps distort the size of landforms, making Greenland, for example, look far larger on most maps than it actually is.

4. PLAYING POOL // TRIGONOMETRY

people playing pool
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If you play billiards, pool, or snooker, it's very likely that you are using trigonometric reasoning. Sinking a ball into a pocket by using another ball involves understanding not just how to measure angles by sight but triangulation, which is the cornerstone of trigonometry. (Triangulation is a surprisingly accurate way to measure distance. Long before powered flight was possible, surveyors used triangulation to measure the heights of mountains from their bases and were off by only a matter of feet.)

In a 2010 paper [PDF], Louisiana mathematician Rick Mabry studied the trigonometry (and basic calculus) of pool, focusing on the straight-in shot. In a bar in Shreveport, Louisiana, he scribbled equations on napkins for each shot, and he calculated the most difficult straight-in shot of all. Most experienced pool players would say it’s one where the target ball is halfway between the pocket and the cue ball. But that, according to Mabry’s equations, turned out not to be true. The hardest shot of all had a surprising feature: The distance from the cue ball to the pocket was exactly 1.618 times the distance from the target ball to the pocket. That number is the golden ratio, which is found everywhere in nature—and, apparently, on pool tables.

Do you need to consider the golden ratio when deciding where to place the cue ball? Nope, unless you want to prove a point, or set someone else up to lose. You're doing the trig automatically. The pool sharks at the bar must have known this, because someone threw away Mabry's math napkins.

5. RE-TILING THE BATHROOM // CALCULUS

tiled bathroom with shower stall
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Many students don't get to calculus in high school, or even in college, but a cornerstone of that branch of math is optimization—or figuring out how to get the most precise use of a space or chunk of time.

Consider a home improvement project where you're confronted with tiling around something whose shape doesn't fit a geometric formula like a circle or rectangle, such as the asymmetric base of a toilet or freestanding sink. This is where the fundamental theorem of calculus—which can be used to calculate the precise area of an irregular object—comes in handy. When thinking about how those tiles will best fit around the curve of that sink or toilet, and how much of each tile needs to be cut off or added, you're employing the kind of reasoning done in a Riemann sum.

Riemann sums (named after a 19th-century German mathematician) are crucial to explaining integration in calculus, as tangible introductions to the more precise fundamental theorem. A graph of a Riemann sum shows how the area of a curve can be found by building rectangles along the x, or horizontal axis, first up to the curve, and then over it, and then averaging the distance between the over- and underlap to get a more precise measurement. 

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History
The Sky Was No Limit: The WASP Women Pilots of WWII
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Shirley Slade sat on the wing of a plane and looked off into an uncertain future. Slade—clad in her flight suit with pigtails guarding against Texas wind—was posing for the July 19, 1943 issue of Life magazine, and the composition between the aircraft and its operator was a juxtaposition spelled out in the cover headline: "Air Force Pilot."

Slade was one of more than 1000 women who had been solicited by the U.S. government to enter an intensive seven-month training course that would make them the first female pilots to enter the Air Force. What had been a boy's club was being forced into a kind of reluctant gender neutrality as a result of World War II and severe pilot shortages. By recruiting women, the Air Force could maintain delivery of aircraft, ferry supplies, and perform other non-combative functions that fueled the war efforts. Collectively, the group would become known as WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots.

While all of these women risked their lives—and more than a few lost them—they were not perceived as equals. Because they were designated as civilians, they were denied military honors and compensation. As the war wound down, men returning from combat jockeyed to take the WASPs' places as active-duty pilots. Occasionally, the women would be used in target practice. It would be decades before the women of WASP would finally get their due.

 
 

America's entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor heralded a new policy of rationing. Food, materials, and manpower were doled out carefully, but demand for pilots quickly exceeded the available personnel. By 1942, the Air Force realized they would have to tap into new sources in order to continue their campaign.

Jacqueline Cochran had a solution: A pilot in her own right and a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran knew there was a strong contingent of female fliers who had licenses and had logged air time who could be recruited for support missions. She petitioned the Air Force, including commanding general Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold, to approve a training program that would ultimately relocate volunteers to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, submitted a similar proposal.

WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner looks out from her plane while on a Texas runway
WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cochran and Love were up against considerable resistance to involving women in military efforts. General Dwight D. Eisenhower once admitted he was "violently against" the idea (before concluding that none of his concerns came to light and women were an integral part of the effort). Internally, there was concern as to whether women would even be capable of handling a massive aircraft like the B-29 bomber, so superiors hedged their bets by creating two organizations.

Love was put in charge of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)—an organization to ferry planes—while Cochran was put in charge of the Women's Flying Training Detachment, which did whatever the Army Air Corps required of it. A little under a year later, these two groups were merged into a single organization: the WASPs. This new group demanded that incoming women logged at least 35 hours of flight time before coming to Sweetwater. More importantly, the women would be considered civilians, not military personnel.

Roughly 25,000 women applied; around 1900 were accepted and 1100 completed training. On their own dimes, these women streamed into Texas to begin the seven-month program that taught them every aspect of military flying except for gunnery duty and formation flying. Every day in the barracks included intensive lessons, physical fitness training, and studying. At night, the women would dance, sing, or play ping-pong. Life described their ambitions as "piloting with an unfeminine purpose" and noted that some of the women needed cushions in order to sit comfortably in planes designed for male bodies. Their mascot, a tiny winged sprite named Miss Fifinella, was designed by Disney, and the patch appeared on many of their jumpsuits and plane noses.

According to Life, the Air Force reported that the women were faster on instruments while the men "had better memory for details." But in virtually every way that counted, the magazine wrote, there was no practical difference in ability.

Graduates were dispatched to bases around the country, though the most pressing job was ferrying new aircraft from factories to places like Newark, New Jersey, where the planes would make the jump overseas. The women shuttled 12,000 of these planes during the war. They also escorted military chaplains from base to base on Sundays for religious services and operated test flights for repaired aircraft to make sure they were safe to fly in combat. Sometimes, they'd be tasked with towing targets behind them so soldiers could use live ammunition for combat practice.

Simulated combat may have been nerve-wracking, but it was no more dangerous than the actual flying and the very real possibility that the WASPs would experience equipment malfunction or fuel issues. In the two years the squad was active, 38 women perished during missions. At the time—and for decades afterward—the families of those women were denied many of the basic privileges afforded to the families of their male counterparts. When a WASP died, her colleagues—not the government—would pitch in to pay for her burial. Their families were prohibited from putting a gold star in their windows, a sign of a military casualty, nor were they "allowed" to drape the American flag over their coffins.

 
 

On December 20, 1944, the WASPs were sent home. The war wasn't yet over, but men returning from the front lines were dismayed that jobs they expected to find waiting for them were being occupied by women. Despite Cochran's petition to have the WASPs permanently incorporated into the Air Force, Congress turned her down.

WASP pilots are photographed circa 1943
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The pride the women had felt serving their country turned to confusion. By being classified as "civilians," the WASPs found little respect for their efforts. When entering the workforce after the war, some even became flight attendants, as no commercial airline would hire a female pilot.

In the 1970s, the Air Force announced they'd be accepting female recruits for the "first time," a proclamation that angered the surviving WASPs. Their efforts had largely gone unheralded, and now it seemed like the government was wiping them from history completely. Petitioning for recognition and receiving aid from fellow war ferry pilot Senator Barry Goldwater, they were finally granted military status on November 23, 1977.

As the WASPs aged, a handful got the chance to enjoy another honor. In 2010, the women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their efforts. After flying 77 different types of planes over 60 million miles during wartime and being largely ignored for decades, it was recognition that was long overdue.

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