My Spotify Unwrapped for 2023 is a bit odd

With 2023 rapidly receding in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look back at the previous 12 months — or 11 months, in the case of Spotify’s 2023 Unwrapped. This is the first year that I really started using Spotify for much of my listening (in addition to BBC Sounds and the good old-fashioned over-the-air radio).

My Spotify Unwrapped has always been odd, but in past years, I could usually chalk it up to listening to a handful of songs sporadically over a year. Given that I was in the top 27% of listeners worldwide with 12,978 minutes worth of music in 2023 (and probably 14 hours of ads), I guess that Spotify may have a better finger on my listening tastes today than in years past.

And the verdict is — my listening tastes are still pretty weird. I seem to have settled on a couple of playlists and listened the heck out of them for months at a time.

My most-listened-to artist — a novelty a cappella group called The Blanks — is largely due to the fact that they’re on two separate playlists — a previous Top Songs list and a playlist I’m calling “Songs for the End.” Considering that The Blanks are primarily known for singing versions of TV theme songs and were most prominently featured on the sitcom “Scrubs” (where their most prominent performer, the late Sam Lloyd, was a recurring cast member) it’s an unusual artist to be my No. 1 of 2023. I apparently listened to the group so much, I’m in the top 0.05% of listeners to the artist.

A chart from Spotify 2023 Unwrapped shows when I listened to The Blanks, apparently my No. 1 artist of the year.

This year, Spotify provided charts mapping when I listened to each of my top five artists. While some of the artists were in pretty heavy rotation until the early summer when I switched away from a Top Songs playlist, The Blanks dipped a little in the middle of the year and then came back strong in July through September (when I created the “Songs for the End” playlist and began listening to a Top Songs playlist that didn’t feature the group as much).

‘Songs for the end’

The “Songs for the End” playlist are tunes that I thought would be nice to play at a memorial or funeral for me. Although I’m a journalist, I never had to do the Kobayashi Maru of journalism school projects — writing your own obituary.

I don’t feel particularly comfortable writing my obit today (despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize AND colonizing the Moon), but I believe that developing a playlist for a funeral is fun — memorial services need more bangers and jams. Another name I came up for the playlist is “Now THAT’S What I Call A Funeral, Vol. 7.” I’m not going to lie — I spent a few minutes trying to find a quick way to generate an album cover with that title.

As I starting adding tunes to this list, I prioritized songs that either speak of endings, would fit a spiritual or solemn moment (or tweaks such expectations), or otherwise speak to me from my past or memory. For example, I would often sing “Africa” or “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)” to finish karaoke nights. The REM song feels a little out of place, but I’m sticking with it for now. I also opted for a cover of “Africa” that’s not as rockin’ as the Toto version.

I eventually started listening to the playlist more at work because the songs are pretty decent tunes to have on in the background while I’m trying to focus. That’s also why I started listening to BBC Radio 1 Relax a lot more over the past year (except some of the white noise programs, which are simply too distracting).

Ultimately, four out of my top five songs are from the “Songs for the End” playlist. The other song is the main theme from the Apple TV+ series “Severance,” which I watched the heck out of this year. One of the episodes is called “Defiant Jazz” — I pretty much _have_ to watch this show.

Odd conclusions

A Spotify Unwrapped graphic describing the author as a "vampire" in 2023 due to a propensity to listen to emotional, atmospheric music more than most.

A Spotify Unwrapped graphic describing the author as a “vampire” in 2023 due to a propensity to listen to emotional, atmospheric music more than most.

While Unwrapped is all in good fun, I’m not sure I agree with some of the conclusions. For example, it described me as a “vampire” because I listen to “emotional, atmospheric music more than most.”

I get that part, but I don’t necessarily make the leap between that and “vampire.” It’s especially odd because Unwrapped identified “My Top Genres” as Rock, Brass Band, Jazz, Jazz Funk and Soul. I listen to so much jazz, it’s on the list three, maybe four, times.

Maybe part of my objection is that I associate vampires musically with emo. It’s probably not fair, but I don’t necessarily feel like I fall in that category (although I also suppose that emo as a genre or vibe could be expanded to encompass many, many things). 

As I listen to music while I work, I definitely tend towards more mellow tunes to set a pleasant foundation for me to get stuff done. Over the years, I’ve been in workplaces that sometimes play rock stations on the radio. I’ve found it incredibly distracting if I’m trying to focus (unless I’m playing marching band covers of rock songs — I’m oddly OK with that).

What’s missing

As I mentioned at the top of the post, this is really the first year that I’ve listened to Spotify with any regularity. At the same time, I still do listen to radio stations — either over the air or streaming.

When I’m driving to work, I bounce between terrestrial stations like X96 or Power 949 because it’s often easier than making sure Spotify launches correctly. I used to listen to podcasts or news on public radio, but I haven’t been in the mood lately.

I sometimes listen to YouTube Music, as that’s where my music archive is saved. However, I’ve found that YouTube Music is a more frustrating experience than its predecessor, Google Play Music, so I don’t linger very long. It’s OK to listen to my own music, but YouTube throws an ad between every song elsewhere on the site. It’s unpleasant.

At work, I bounce between Spotify and BBC Radio 1 Relax because it’s pretty chill. After discovering that I can connect Shazam to Spotify, I’ve (mostly) enjoyed listening to the nearly 5 hours of songs that piqued my curiosity in the wild.

I used to listen to the “Hearts of Space,” but the distributor changed something up on its site and it isn’t easily available to me (unless I want to pay for it).

When I wind down for the night, I often queue up KUVO Jazz from Denver, KSDS Jazz 88 from San Diego, or “NIghtstream” from CBC Music (“Whatever gets you through the night.”). After I turn out the lights, I put KBYU Classical 89 on a sleep timer for the best way to end the day.

While I appreciate Spotify’s access to scads of music, I do find myself often sticking to one or two playlists (which, again, explains how The Blanks is my most listened-to artist of 2023). Many people decry over-the-air radio stations and their narrow playlists, but I find that these stations point me down different paths than I would normally travel. I appreciate the variety, which I guess explains why I bounce from station to station and different services over the course of the day.

I don’t feel as connected to music as I did when I hosted a jazz program on public radio, but it’s heartening to look back at some of the things I’ve listened to in 2023 and realize that music is still very much a part of my life. Here’s to the great songs that will be added to my 2024 playlist.

Missing New Year’s Eve tradition brings down party at Salt Lake City mall

A view of Olympic Plaza at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Dec. 31, 2018.

After over a month of Christmas tunes, it’s time to bust out all of those classic New Year’s tunes like …

… um, I can think of one New Year’s song — “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” as performed by Ella Fitzgerald. I’m sure there are more New Year’s songs, but that’s the one that leaps to mind.

”What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is an apt question. While most people want to be home for Christmas, New Year’s Eve destinations can vary wildly — especially depending on one’s willingness to stay up until midnight.

This year, I may wind up on the couch (or at karaoke at Paxton Pub in South Salt Lake), but I probably won’t go to the Last Hurrah! at The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake.

I generally had an enjoyable time during my one visit in 2018, but the event skipped a key New Year’s tradition at midnight that disappointed me and will likely dissuade me from returning this year. No, it wasn’t sharing a kiss with a date.

For those that don’t know, The Gateway was originally a bougie and chic outdoor shopping center based around the former Union Pacific Depot train station on the western edge of downtown. It’s been struggling in recent years, especially after a bougie-er and chic-er mostly outdoor shopping center called City Creek opened atop the rubble of the former Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls a few blocks east (presumably they cleared the rubble).

In recent years, The Gateway operators have tried various ways to encourage crowds to visit, particularly by hosting community events like New Year’s Eve.

Since I didn’t have any plans in 2018, I decided to give the Last Hurrah a shot. I planned a little carefully — starting with bundling up for the cold. I also parked near the Delta Center (then Vivint Smart Home Arena) on city streets a couple blocks away, so I didn’t have to deal too much with traffic after the event.

It was a starkly cold night with no snow, but spirits seemed high among the crowd that started small and grew right up until midnight. There were food and drink vendors set up along the main road through the heart of the shopping center, but I didn’t linger as I was on a fairly tight budget and it was chilly.

Shelter was provided in the form of vacant storefronts that had been repurposed as pop-up bars and karaoke lounges. The spaces had been stripped down to the walls, but were gussied up with decorations like balloons and colorful lights.

A crowd gathers in a vacant storefront transformed into a pop-up bar during the Last Hurrah 2018! at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Dec. 31, 2018.

It was clever to reuse the storefronts, but it was also slightly depressing how many retail spaces were available. There were signs of the struggling mall all around, including a Sur La Table holding a going out of business sale. One of the largest tenants appeared to be WeWork. It’s not there anymore (although the struggling company apparently still has space nearby).

There were also a lot of temporary barriers promising upgrades, but I’ve never really checked to see if the upgrades were finished.

While repurposing closed stores did much to create a lively atmosphere for the event, the fenced-off areas were a bit of a bummer.

A closed-off area at The Gateway featured a large banner promising upgrades during Last Hurrah 2018! at The Gateway on Dec. 31, 2018. It’s unknown if the upgrades were ever completed.

The barriers also got me thinking about what used to be in certain locations. I remember there being a small, slightly depressing food court in 2016 — where did that go? There is a more prominent restaurant row that still offers a decent number of casual eateries, but the disappeared food court featured more fast food options.

Throughout the evening, I tended to gravitate toward the indoor spaces to stay relatively warm. I would normally be a fiend for karaoke, but the lines looked long at many of the spaces and I don’t think I bothered signing up.

The biggest pop-up bar was pretty bustling and I think there was a band. Otherwise, it was an OK communal spot. I also tried an underwhelming beer from Salt Flats Brewing Co. for the first time. I was so unimpressed by the beverage, I haven’t sought it out since.

As midnight neared, I made my way toward Olympic Plaza to find a good viewing position for the live music and the fireworks. Crowds also flocked to some fire pits scattered around the plaza that provided a little relief from the frigid cold.

Event goers gather around one of the large fire pits set up around Olympic Plaza during Last Hurrah! on Dec. 31, 2018, at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.

The music was OK for these types of public events. The band played a mix of classic rock and country tunes, but I don’t recall much of their performance five years later.

The band kept rocking up until midnight when there was the traditional countdown with added fireworks. My heart soared a bit as the crowd counted down in unison and then celebrated the start of 2019.

My heart sank back to earth when I realized that they weren’t going to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I started singing what I knew of the song at a normal volume, but I gradually lowered my voice to sotto voce when it became obvious that no one else was singing.

I really missed the group singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I guess it’s one of those traditions that you see every year on TV and want to re-create wherever you happen to be at midnight, even if you don’t remember all the words. It’s also a moment of collective celebration and catharsis that seems to be growing increasingly scarce over the years.

At the same time, traditions are often meaningful because we ascribe meaning to them. For the vast majority of people in the Last Hurrah! crowd, perhaps being in downtown Salt Lake City for New Year’s Eve is a tradition or will be in the years to come.

For me, I’d like to keep the tradition of singing “Auld Lang Syne” for the sake of old times. Also, taking a cup of kindness sounds a lot tastier than that Salt Flats beer.

So this year, I’ll probably be skipping Last Hurrah! rather than take the chance of being disappointed that there’s no “Auld Lang Syne.” Staying closer to home may be preferable, especially because I have to work relatively early on New Year’s Day (before going to celebrate the new year with relatives — a family and cultural tradition that reaches back decades).

On the other hand, there’s Laser Taylor Swift at the nearby Clark Planetarium. Maybe I’ve just got to “Shake it Off.”

In any event, I wish everyone a joyous New Year and a glorious 2024!

Mapping my journeys from sea to shining sea

An iPad screenshot shows a heat map from Google Photos indicating where photos had been taken based on geotagging or Google determining identifiable landmarks.

An iPad screenshot shows a heat map from Google Photos indicating where photos had been taken based on geotagging or Google determining identifiable landmarks.

With this year’s Independence Day celebrations fading into memory, I was thinking about the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to travel across great swaths of this wonderful and beautiful nation. In one sense, I’ve been everywhere (man) — from coast to coast to coast to coast. In another, I haven’t been to nearly enough destinations.

I’ve wanted to write about the map feature in the Google Photos app (Android and iOS) for quite some time, but it was hard for me to summarize why I feel this feature is so amazing. The Fourth of July celebrations brought this picture into focus as I realized that I’ve been able to visit so many different destinations, as specified in many of the songs about our nation.

The first song that came to mind was “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. This song stands out strongly in my memory in part because we sang it every morning in kindergarten when I was living in Southern California.

A photo of the author in front of a pair of redwood trees at the Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, Calif, on May 8, 2016.

A photo of the author in front of a pair of redwood trees at the Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, Calif., on May 8, 2016.

For as encompassing as the song is, “This Land is Your Land” mentions only four specific destinations and they’re in the first verse — “From California to the New York island/From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters.”

Of those four, admittedly broad locales, I realized that I’ve been able to either visit or live in all four over the course of my life. Unfortunately, the map feature in Google Photos doesn’t reflect this — my trips to New York and the coasts of Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all predate when we all carried cameras with us on a daily basis and where we could take endless numbers of photos without worrying about loading or developing film (so before the iPhone, basically).

Using the photos that are uploaded to the site/app, Google Photos generates a heat map based on the location data in the user’s photos plus whatever identifiable landmarks Google can identify in the images itself. The features is accessible under the search menu. It shows up as “Your map” (but it’s not available on the desktop version of the app).

A screenshot shows the Places map in Apple Photos.

A screenshot shows the Places map in Apple Photos.

I will note that Apple Photos also has the option of showing photos based on where they were taken, but I don’t find Apple’s solution as engaging or appealing as Google’s. Apple Photos shows thumbnails based on location. Zooming in will increase the number of thumbnails, but it seems clunky and inelegant compared to Google’s heat map.

The heat map evokes memories of past travels, family reunions and other adventures. I’m agog seeing some of the paths that I’ve taken over the past 39 years.

It evokes the spirit of roaming and rambling from Woody Guthrie’s song. There’s also some of the energy from the burgeoning lists of destinations called out in songs like “I’ve Been Everywhere” or “Living in America.”

The map displayed by Google Photos also reminds me of the map from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” by C.S. Lewis. In that book from “The Chronicles of Narnia,” a magician gives the captain of the titular ship a map of the ship’s voyage to that point. The map was so detailed that when one looked closely with a magnifying lens, they could see accurate drawings of the actual place albeit at some distance. On the other hand, the map was incomplete in some areas because it could only depict where the ship had traveled.

The Google Photos map can feel like magic at times, even though it is simply a matter of technology and information (although Arthur C. Clarke did say something about technology and magic…). Zooming in on the map offers some joy as I can see the areas where I’ve been able to visit. Like the magician’s map from “Dawn Treader,” it can show documented locations in remarkable detail but be incomplete in areas lacking photos.

A screenshot from Google Photos shows a map indicating where photos were taken during a flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego in October 2016. Thumbnails of the photos from the trip are displayed on the right side of the iPad application.

A screenshot from Google Photos shows a map indicating where photos were taken during a flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego in October 2016. Thumbnails of the photos from the trip are displayed on the right side of the iPad application.

When one zooms in far enough, one can sometimes see individual points along a trip, which can be an interesting way to relive a past journey. At other times, the data can be a bit of a muddled mess — good luck sorting through the 2,800 photos I’ve taken over the course of six years around the venue where I curl, the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. The Oval is my most-photographed location by far.

A screenshot shows a heat map from the Google Maps app showing the approximate location of 2,700+ photos taken in and around the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah.

A screenshot shows a heat map from the Google Maps app showing the approximate location of 2,700+ photos taken in and around the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah.

The heat map of the Utah Olympic Oval also exposes some inaccuracies with the location data. GPS can give a good approximation of where a photo was taken (or where your phone is at a given point), but it’s not 100% accurate all the time. Some of the photos that the map says were taken outside the building were very much taken _inside_ the building (the ice is usually a giveaway, particularly in the summer).

It’s amazing that over 27,000 of my photos have been tagged — it’s probably about 95% of the photos that I’ve ever taken in my life. The vast majority of photos have tags because I took them with a smartphone with GPS. That era essentially started for me in September 2013 with an iPhone 5 issued for work (I bought a Samsung Galaxy SII in April 2013 but it didn’t have a data plan).

For the earlier era where photos were taken with a film camera, a digital point-and-shoot, a “dumb phone” or a feature phone, I’ve had to go back and manually map where I took the photos. That process is inevitably incomplete — there are some places that I don’t remember exactly where I was or there are photos where it doesn’t make sense to tag (including photos of loved ones taken by others but I was not actually present for).

Before tonight, I didn’t know how many photos were tagged by Google based on its ability to identify landmarks. When I first discovered that Google was attempting to locate photos way back in 2017, the process could be hit-or-miss. For example, I had taken a photo of a train car during a 2009 trip through California. For some reason, Google thought the photo was taken in Kunming Shi, China. It’s northwest of Vietnam — and nearly 7,500 miles from the nearest Amtrak stop.

Just a bit off the mark. in 2017, Google Photos thought this photo of an Amtrak train car was taken in China — about 7,500 miles from where it was actually taken.

Just a bit off the mark. In 2017, Google Photos thought this photo of an Amtrak train car was taken in China — about 7,500 miles from where it was actually taken.

Since then, Google has appeared to get better as guessing where I might have been. It’s been interesting to take photos or videos during plane trips (when the phone is supposed to be in airplane mode) and to later see that Google had apparently located where they had been taken (again assuming that I wasn’t a dummy and I remembered to put the phone in airplane mode during the flight).

For example, here’s a screenshot of a photo I took of the Salton Sea. Google Photos was able to correctly identify the location.

A screenshot shows a photo taken in September 2021 from an airplane showing the Salton Sea and an estimated location by Google Photos.

A screenshot shows a photo taken in September 2021 from an airplane showing the Salton Sea and an estimated location by Google Photos.

Apparently, Google Photos has estimated locations for about 6,200 of my images. Interestingly, it doesn’t include some of the aerial photos of the St. George area that I thought Google was able to place. That must mean that I was an insensitive jerk and didn’t use airplane mode during that trip. Whoops.

By the way — It may seem creepy for Google to have so much location data and it can be. Unfortunately, it appears that Google Photos only has an option to remove the estimated location data. As Google notes, “If the location of a photo or video was automatically added by your camera, you can’t edit or remove the location.” In that case, it seems that the best option is to disable location data on the phone/camera _before_ taking the photo.

I don’t necessarily mind saving location data because I find it to be a useful set of information. I do try to be selective in the images that I share, but if I needed to be extra careful, I would need to take additional steps to ensure that people couldn’t find geodata (or identifiable landmarks) in the images.

While I find this data useful, it seems like it would be difficult for a stranger to really root through the information. Google Photos presents the location data in a heat map that someone needs to interact with to learn any additional context (such as dates). The map also doesn’t appear to be shareable.

Google has taken the additional step of turning off location sharing by default in some common ways of sharing information like shared albums or conversations (it can be turned on by the user and was apparently on prior to 2021).

I also know that the heat map is woefully incomplete — as I mentioned earlier, the map can only show places that I’ve taken photos of. I’ve visited or traveled through 42 states, but the heat map can’t show that because there simply aren’t many photos from my time living in the Southeast or my lengthy trips across the Sun Belt, Midwest or the Northeast (or visits to Canada and Mexico, for that matter).

The map can also exaggerate single trips across great distances. This can be seen with my single trip aboard the Empire Builder train across the Upper Midwest in 2009. It was memorable, but my only trip through North Dakota and Montana is depicted as a giant blue ribbon on the map.

The map is ultimately a fun look at where I’ve been. It is truly amazing that we have so much freedom to travel about the country. It’s a right that has sometimes been denied to Americans (and regrettably still is to some extent today). I certainly don’t wish to take this right for granted.

The map also indirectly shows places where I haven’t been. Even in areas where it looks like I’m well traveled, there are destinations that I haven’t yet been able to visit such as national parks in Utah.

I don’t know if I’ll get to some of these locales — such expeditions depend on time, money and planning. If I do, I’ll make sure that photos from those trips are added to my Google Photos map.

Flashback Fourth – Check out my July 4 ‘Evening Jazz’ from 2014

An American flag is on display at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, California, on Feb. 9, 2009.

An American flag is on display at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, California, sometime before 2009.

Many of you may know that I was a volunteer disc jockey for North State Public Radio for about eight years. From 2008 to April 2016, I was one of a rotating set of hosts for “Evening Jazz” (most often hosting on Mondays and Fridays) and sometimes “Blues People” on Saturdays. It was my third gig as a volunteer DJ, after starting at KSDT in college and having a show at WMTU in Michigan.

During my nearly eight years, I hosted on Independence Day once or twice. I recorded the July 4 episode from 2014 for my personal enjoyment.

Given the July Fourth holiday, I thought I would temporarily share that episode from my archive.

[Link]

I loved all of my shows and approached each program as an ongoing exploration of music for both myself and the audience. I don’t think I ever presented myself as an expert in any genre, just someone who loved good tunes and checking out past greats and what’s new.

Every so often, “Evening Jazz” would fall on or near a holiday. I would often take advantage of the occasion by presenting music appropriate for the day. For example, I tried to find songs from Boston and Vancouver performers during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Another year, I did a combined Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day episode.

The 2014 July 4 episode was a little different from my usual episodes, as it tried to encompass different elements of the holiday.

Enjoy and happy Independence Day!

Edited to take down the broadcast link.

‘New’ CurlingZone doc ‘Anything is Possible’ to debut July 4 on YouTube

The documentary "Anything is Possible" is set to debut on YouTube on Saturday, July 4, 2020, on YouTube.

The documentary “Anything is Possible” is set to debut on YouTube on Saturday, July 4, 2020, on YouTube.

I first posted this on r/curling on July 4, 2020.

CurlingZone is debuting a documentary “Anything is Possible – An American Curling Story” on YouTube at 6 p.m. ET tonight (July 4).
https://youtu.be/RqeBwXAf0Lc

By all appearances, this looks like it might be a rebranded update of “Making Curling Great Again” that first appeared a year ago. The title card for both films appears to be very similar and the YouTube page for “Anything is Possible” refers back to a “Making Curling Great Again” page on CurlingZone (with dead links to the original documentary). The description of “Anything is Possible” also sounds like it covers the same territory (curling in the United States up to Team Shuster winning gold).

When the documentary first appeared last year, many, many people disliked the overly political nature of the title, including on Reddit. That thread got only 47% upvotes and shows no overall upvotes (which is probably one of the most lukewarm responses I’ve seen on this usually friendly group). Several redditors noted that the documentary itself wasn’t overly political (and they had other critiques of the film).

Gerry Geurts started a thread on CurlingZone introducing the film and defending the choice of the title.

The title “Making Curling Great Again” was adopted as a way to take back the power of these words and try to bring people back together again, though I didn’t fully understand the depth of hurt this title had for many people as a parody of the more contentious slogan that has become a battle cry for a cause. This was strongly debated internally as to the direction, but we ultimately felt that the title fit in so many ways and we’re comfortable with trying to create conversation. We just wish it could be more constructive and less about winning and losing and the insults that flow from the debate.

Ultimately, I think a lot of curlers didn’t want to engage in that conversation because the name of the doc. Many curlers I know will share anything related to the sport, but I don’t recall seeing many shares when the original film came out. The number of views on YouTube didn’t appear to be high compared to other CurlingZone docs.

The Twine-Time blog delved deeper into the name controversy in a post last July.

Personally, I’m more willing to share info on a film entitled “Anything is Possible,” even if it is the same film (and the new name isn’t very eye-catching). I’m interested to see what is posted later today on YouTube.

Winter Olympics – Curling replays

Swedish skip Niklas Edin prepares to deliver a curling stone during a game at the 2018 World Men's Curling Championship in Las Vegas on Monday, April 2, 2018.

Swedish skip Niklas Edin prepares to deliver a curling stone during a game at the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championship in Las Vegas on Monday, April 2, 2018. Team Sweden won the silver medal for men’s curling at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

This is a re-creation of pages previously hosted by the World Curling Federation linking to replays of curling games from the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. The replays are hosted on OlympicChannel.com, as of this writing.

One of the great things about the Olympic broadcasts is that they’ve recently broadcast every game from each session. At most curling events, the broadcaster picks a game from a featured sheet or two when there are four or five games happening at the same time.

I’m very thankful that the World Curling Federation, International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Broadcasting Services has made these recordings available for viewing.

PyeongChang 2018

Sochi 2014

PyeongChang 2018

Mixed Doubles – Feb. 8 to Feb. 13

Day Date Time Draw Sheet A Sheet B Sheet C Sheet D
Thursday 08-Feb 09:05 MD1 USA v OAR CAN v NOR KOR v FIN CHN v SUI
20:04 MD2 FIN v SUI KOR v CHN OAR v NOR USA v CAN
Friday 09-Feb 08:35 MD3 KOR v NOR USA v SUI CHN v CAN OAR v FIN
13:35 MD4 CAN v FIN CHN v OAR USA v KOR SUI v NOR
Saturday 10-Feb 09:05 MD5 CHN v USA NOR v FIN CAN v SUI KOR v OAR
20:04 MD6 OAR v CAN SUI v KOR NOR v USA FIN v CHN
Sunday 11-Feb 09:05 MD7 NOR v CHN FIN v USA SUI v OAR CAN v KOR
20:04 MDTB CHN v NOR (Tie-breaker)
Monday 12-Feb 09:05 MDSF CAN v NOR (Semi-final)
20:04 MDSF OAR v SUI (Semi-final)
Tuesday 13-Feb 09:05 MD Bronze NOR v OAR (Bronze Medal game)
20:04 MD Gold CAN v SUI (Gold Medal game)

Women’s tournament – Feb. 14 to Feb. 25

Day Date Time Draw Sheet A Sheet B Sheet C Sheet D
Wednesday 14-Feb 14:05 W1 JPN v USA OAR v GBR DEN v SWE SUI v CHN
Thursday 15-Feb 09:05 W2 CAN v KOR DEN v JPN CHN v OAR GBR v USA
20:04 W3 CHN v GBR CAN v SWE USA v SUI KOR v JPN
Friday 16-Feb 14:05 W4 DEN v CAN KOR v SUI X SWE v OAR
Saturday 17-Feb 09:05 W5 SUI v SWE OAR v USA JPN v CHN DEN v GBR
20:04 W6 OAR v JPN CHN v DEN KOR v GBR USA v CAN
Sunday 18-Feb 14:05 W7 X GBR v SWE CAN v SUI CHN v KOR
Monday 19-Feb 09:05 W8 USA v DEN JPN v CAN SWE v KOR OAR v SUI
20:04 W9 GBR v SUI DEN v OAR CHN v USA JPN v SWE
Tuesday 20-Feb 14:05 W10 CAN v CHN USA v KOR GBR v JPN X
Wednesday 21-Feb 09:05 W11 KOR v OAR SWE v CHN SUI v DEN CAN v GBR
20:04 W12 SWE v USA SUI v JPN OAR v CAN KOR v DEN
Friday 23-Feb 20:04 W KOR v JPN (Semi-final) SWE v GBR (Semi-final)
Saturday 24-Feb 20:04 W JPN v GBR (Women Bronze Medal game)
Sunday 25-Feb 09:05 W KOR v SWE (Women Gold Medal game)

Men’s tournament – Feb. 14 to Feb. 24

Day Date Time Draw Sheet A Sheet B Sheet C Sheet D
Wednesday 14-Feb 09:05 M1 DEN v SWE CAN v ITA KOR v USA SUI v GBR
20:04 M2 CAN v GBR KOR v SWE SUI v ITA NOR v JPN
Thursday 15-Feb 14:05 M3 USA v ITA NOR v CAN GBR v JPN DEN v SUI
Friday 16-Feb 09:05 M4 X ITA v DEN NOR v KOR SWE v USA
20:04 M5 JPN v SUI SWE v GBR DEN v USA CAN v KOR
Saturday 17-Feb 14:05 M6 KOR v GBR SUI v NOR CAN v SWE JPN v ITA
Sunday 18-Feb 09:05 M7 NOR v DEN USA v JPN X SUI v CAN
20:04 M8 SWE v JPN DEN v KOR ITA v GBR USA v NOR
Monday 19-Feb 14:05 M9 ITA v KOR SWE v SUI USA v CAN GBR v DEN
Tuesday 20-Feb 09:05 M10 GBR v NOR JPN v CAN KOR v SUI ITA v SWE
20:04 M11 SUI v USA NOR v ITA JPN v DEN X
Wednesday 21-Feb 14:05 M12 DEN v CAN GBR v USA SWE v NOR KOR v JPN
Thursday 22-Feb 09:05 M SUI v GBR (Men Tie-breaker)
20:04 M SWE v SUI (Semi-final) CAN v USA (Semi-final)
Friday 23-Feb 15:35 M SUI v CAN (Men Bronze Medal game)
Saturday 24-Feb 15:35 M SWE v USA (Men Gold Medal game)

Sochi 2014

Women’s tournament – Feb. 11-21, 2014

Day Date Time Session Sheet A Sheet B Sheet C Sheet D
Monday 11-Feb 14:00 W1 CHN v CAN SUI v USA SWE v GBR RUS v DEN
Tuesday 12-Feb 09:00 W2 SUI v DEN SWE v CAN RUS v USA KOR v JPN
19:00 W3 GBR v USA KOR v SUI DEN v JPN CHN v RUS
Wednesday 13-Feb 14:00 W4 JPN v RUS USA v CHN KOR v SWE CAN v GBR
Thursday 14-Feb 09:00 W5 X CAN v DEN CHN v GBR SUI v SWE
19:00 W6 SWE v DEN RUS v KOR SUI v CAN JPN v USA
Friday 15-Feb 14:00 W7 KOR v CHN GBR v JPN USA v DEN RUS v SUI
Saturday 16-Feb 09:00 W8 CAN v JPN CHN v SWE X GBR v KOR
19:00 W9 USA v SWE CAN v RUS GBR v SUI DEN v CHN
Sunday 17-Feb 14:00 W10 DEN v KOR JPN v SUI SWE v RUS USA v CAN
Monday 18-Feb 09:00 W11 RUS v GBR KOR v USA JPN v CHN X
19:00 W12 CHN v SUI DEN v GBR CAN v KOR SWE v JPN
Wednesday 20-Feb 14:00 W GBR v CAN – Semi-final SWE v SUI – Semi-final
Thursday 21-Feb 12:30 W GBR v SUI – Bronze Medal Game
17:30 W SWE v CAN – Gold Medal Game

Men’s tournament – Feb. 11-22, 2014

Day Date Time Session Sheet A Sheet B Sheet C Sheet D
Monday 11-Feb 09:00 M1 RUS v GBR SUI v SWE DEN v CHN GER v CAN
19:00 M2 USA v NOR DEN v RUS CAN v SUI SWE v GBR
Tuesday 12-Feb 14:00 M3 CAN v SWE USA v CHN GBR v GER NOR v RUS
Wednesday 13-Feb 09:00 M4 DEN v USA NOR v GER X CHN v SUI
19:00 M5 GER v CHN SUI v GBR RUS v CAN DEN v SWE
Thursday 14-Feb 14:00 M6 SUI v RUS CAN v DEN NOR v SWE GBR v USA
Friday 15-Feb 09:00 M7 X SWE v CHN USA v GER CAN v NOR
19:00 M8 GBR v DEN RUS v USA CHN v NOR SUI v GER
Saturday 16-Feb 14:00 M9 SWE v GER DEN v SUI CAN v GBR RUS v CHN
Sunday 17-Feb 09:00 M10 USA v CAN GBR v NOR SWE v RUS X
19:00 M11 NOR v SUI CHN v CAN GER v DEN USA v SWE
Monday 18-Feb 14:00 M12 CHN v GBR GER v RUS SUI v USA NOR v DEN
Tuesday 19-Feb 09:00 M NOR v GBR – Tie-breaker
Wednesday 20-Feb 19:00 M SWE v GBR – Semi-final CAN v CHN – Semi-final
Friday 22-Feb 12:30 M CHN v SWE – Bronze Medal Game
17:30 M CAN v GBR – Gold Medal Game

Curling, Year 3 — Winning my first game as skip

The scoreboard from my first winning game as a skip on Monday, Feb. 26, 2019, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The scoreboard from my first winning game as a skip on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The winter season of my third year of curling is winding down. We’re heading into the playoffs today, and I’m happy that I helped get our team on its best possible footing by winning my first game as a skip (or captain, if you prefer).

We’re heading into the playoffs with a 3-4 record, which is one reason why the other teammates were willing to let me hold the broom on Feb. 25. Heading into the last regular-season game at 2-4, we weren’t super effective during our prior game and let a close match turn into a rout.

I have to admit that I contributed to the loss — I strongly questioned some of the shot calling during a key point in the game. I did my best to shake it off and voice my support for the skip’s calls after that, but it was tough and I worried that I wasn’t doing my part to support the team effort.

After that tough end, all of us were off and the rest of the game didn’t end well. Afterward, Robert said I could skip the last game, in part, because it didn’t matter too much. I readily accepted because I was ready to try my hand again at skipping.

Heading into the last game, my all-time record as a skip could only be charitably described as abysmal. IIRC, I was 0 and 3. Two of those losses were relatively close — they came down to the last shot and my team just was on the losing end of those. My third loss was a blowout and I readily took the advice from my acting third/vice Thom to quit the game after it was clearly out of hand.

Although I’ve played around 60 games in my three years curling, I only skipped those four times. I’ve been happy to focus on contributing to the team in other ways, while leaving the skipping to others.

While I was excited to give being skip another shot, I quickly realized what our team strengths were. I agreed to be skip, but I announced that we would be keeping the same playing order — with me as lead, Andrew second, Carl third and Robert playing fourth. Traditionally, skips throw the last stones because those last two shots are generally considered the most important during each end of the game (and there’s a lot of pressure on the skip to make those shots).

As the sport of curling has evolved over the past 20 years, it’s become more common for skips to play out of order, e.g. not throwing fourth. A handful of the top teams in the world play with their skips in different positions.

I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the top teams when I set the playing order for Feb. 25. I was thinking about how our team played all season. Andrew and I had thrown first or second (aka, the front end), while Karl and Robert had thrown third or fourth (aka, the back end).

Each playing position has different roles to play as an end unfolds. While we obviously weren’t playing at our best during the season, I felt that we were in the positions that suited our strengths. Andrew and I could throw draws that would shape into guards in front of the house or settle down in the house. Karl and Robert often threw hits that we might need for takeouts or raises later in the end.

I opted to stay as lead while skipping because I wanted to help quickly get a read on the ice for the rest of the team (and Andrew is using a different delivery method that makes it difficult to get a time that works for the others on the team). I also was reluctant to throw third or fourth because I readily need more work on takeouts (I’ve been playing front end for most of my three years).

The order was set, but as game night neared, I began worrying more about the strategy — the other big component of being a skip. Throughout the season, I had been helping with reading the ice and occasionally offering some possible shot calls to the skip, but I hadn’t called an entire game, continuously thought about the ice or how my teammates were making shots.

I had been watching a decent amount of curling on TV this year. It’s been helpful to guess what shots the teams will take, see what shots they took and if it was effective. However, those are elite teams — they’ll be able to take shots that would be extremely difficult for less-experienced teams on less-than-perfect ice.

I went back through curling books on my Kindle for some curling strategy pointers heading into the game. There’s a lot of useful info in the books, but my eyes started to gloss over when the books started delving into shot strategy for specific setups (it’s useful, but I would require far more time than a couple days to really absorb such focused discussions).

Also, as Monday neared, it dawned on me that this game wouldn’t be as insignificant as we thought. Sure, we had a 2-4 record heading into the game, but most of the teams in the league were bunched together. Only one team had a 5-1 record — the rest had done a good job of beating up on each other. We were ranked seventh out of nine, but we could improve our postseason placement with a win.

I also saw the team we were playing — it was one that we nearly beat last season, but they won on a superb angle-raise to the button by Stefan. We had a chance of beating this team, but they weren’t going to be pushovers.

The basic strategies set forth in the curling books helped me formulate a straightforward plan that I thought we could follow to help score points when we had the hammer (the last-shot advantage) and to minimize giving up a big end when the opposing team had hammer.

When we gathered for the Monday game, I made sure we got together for a quick team meeting so that we would all be on the same page. The strategy would be pretty simple (it’s also fairly common, so I don’t feel I’m spilling secrets listing them here):

  • Try to get a read on the ice as quickly as possible. Use my lead stones to determine how the ice was acting.
  • Control the front of the house and stay above the tee line. It’s not the end of the world if a guard slips into the house, especially if it stays above the tee.
  • Let the ice work for us, especially for takeouts. Instead of throwing heat when it’s not necessary, ease up a bit and let the ice and the sweepers help the stone out.
  • Focus on draws, instead of takeouts.
  • Communicate. Make sure everyone is on the same page before each stone is delivered.
  • I also resolved to be very positive and encouraging with my teammates. While winning is nice, curling is a sport that is supposed to be fun.
  • How we deliver the first stones depended on if we had the hammer or not. I decided that we would start off with an aggressive style of play.

While that was our game plan, the outcome depended on execution. Things weren’t perfect, but we got off to a fast start.

We took advantage of starting with the hammer and put a decent number of rocks in the house. I did my best to split the house to set up multiple points and used guards to our advantage. In the first end, there was a port in front of the house that someone could use to put a rock into the house. We tried to block it, but our stone went a little deep to the tee line. The opposition team wasn’t able to get into the house and we took three to start.

In the second, we didn’t have the hammer, so we worked to force the opposing team to just one point. I got more aggressive when we were able to get several rocks in the house and ended up stealing two.

The opposition team held onto the hammer for the third end, which turned out to be fairly similar to the second.  At the end, we had three in scoring position and the opposition had to take out one for a single point.

We had the hammer for the fourth end, which was probably the messiest end. After setting up a couple guards on the left side of the sheet, a stone went a little deep behind the button. I didn’t want to take it out right away, instead trying to stay in front of it. That started a series of draws to the button. We found the right line and did a decent job of freezing or coming close.

The opposing team tried to clean things up, but there were still a couple of rocks near the lid. The opposing team’s last shot was solid, but we could get out of trouble with another draw near the button. It was a little heavy, but it was close. We gave up one (after measuring to see who had the second shot).

Execution wasn’t perfect early in the game. I got a little frustrated (and loud) when the sweepers didn’t stop sweeping when I called “off.” Thankfully, it didn’t affect the outcome of the game and they got better on listening to the call. Communication was important — I wanted the sweepers to give me more clues about the speed of the rock and the sweepers wanted me to communicate more about if the shot was on line.

Making sure everyone was on the same page helped secure the win. In the fifth end, we had the hammer. I was happy to keep on drawing to the button, but the other teammates (particularly the third) wanted to do takeouts on two opposition rocks near the center of the house. It was a sound strategy — taking out opposition stones reduces their chances of stealing more than one point (although we would want to score with hammer).

Although I was worried that takeouts aren’t a strong suit for our team, my teammates were confident they could make the shots — especially because it was on ice that we were familiar with. I reminded them to throw with just a little less weight and use the ice and we were able to get several takeouts.

Once a skip makes a call, the rest of the team is supposed to go along. During what would turn out to be our last shot of the game, I could see that we weren’t settled on what the plan was so I held up my arms to stop everything. After hearing that Carl was confident he could make the takeout, I was convinced and set up for the takeout. We took out one of opposition stones (and we were sitting shot, IIRC). It left one of theirs near the button but it would be difficult for them to score more than one (and they needed three to tie and force a tiebreaker).

At that point, the opposition had two or three stones remaining, but they had seen enough and conceded. We were in the fifth end, but the scoreboard reflected the score through four ends.

After the game was won, I reflected that it was my first win skipping. It was something that didn’t cross my mind when we were playing the game. Afterward, I was happy for the accomplishment.

It may be a short-lived feeling, especially because we will need to win our last two games to finish with a winning record on the season. We’re heading into the playoffs tonight and our first opponent is a familiar one — the same team we faced  on Feb. 25. It will be interesting to see how this game unfolds.

2019 Continental Cup builds to an exciting finale

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On the closest sheet, Team North America (skipped by Brad Gushue) sweeps a stone into the house against Team World, lead by Bruce Mouat, during the 2019 Continental Cup on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today is the final day of the 2019 Continental Cup at the Orleans Arena. Judging by the first three days of competition between Team North America and Team World, the final day could be electric.

The final two sessions are at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT. Coverage streams online at ESPN3 and broadcast in Canada on TSN.

The World team has definitely had the better of the North Americans in the first three days. Team World has a commanding five-point lead in the race to 30.5 (17.5 to 12.5). Team North America had been further behind, but swept the final round of scramble play for a crucial six points.

Setting the points aside, the competition has had numerous highlights over the first nine rounds of games. There have been blowouts, close battles, barely missed shots at the absolute worst time and clutch shots to seal the win. Last night’s double by John Shuster of Team North America is a great example of a key shot.

I’ve said that curling is fun to watch, but it’s even more fun to play. The atmosphere at the Orleans Arena almost makes me want to change my position (although I may have different thoughts when I step into the hack for my Monday night league).

The level of competition has been outstanding. It’s thrilling to watch these world-class athletes perform and consistently make shots that would be daunting for the average club curler.

The fans are definitely a key contributor to the fun atmosphere at the Orleans. As a volunteer, I’ve been able to interact with many fans and they’re virtually all positive and upbeat about curling. When the fans are in the stands, the setting becomes dynamic.

The audience doesn’t cheer through the whole game. This is another area where curling is like golf — it can be a quiet as a mouse when a team is setting up a shot, However, the crowd definitely shows its appreciation for great shots and good wins.

At the end of Saturday night’s games, the applause was thunderous after Team North America swept the session. It was awesome to see thousands of cheering curling fans — it’s something that’s not too common at events in the United States (although more common in Canada).

Today, it comes down to the final two rounds of competition — the skins game. Continental Cup supporters like to compare this event to golf’s Ryder Cup and this is one area where the comparison is apt.

There’s a lot of points on the table — five per game. Each end (like a baseball inning) for the first six ends is worth 0.5 points. The last two ends are worth a whole point.

It’s not easy to win a skin. The team with the hammer scoring advantage has to score at least two points to claim their prize. The non-hammer team can steal the skin by scoring one point. If neither team reaches their objective, the skin carries over and the pot grows slightly larger.

WIth a total of 30 points on the table today, either team has a shot to win the Continental Cup. Last year, Team World had been behind, but finished with a strong skins performance — resulting in the first-ever tie at 30-30.

Team North America won the tiebreaker as North America’s Brad Gushue edged out World’s Thomas Ulsrud in a playoff to see which team could get a single stone to the center of the house.

We’ll see today whether the 2019 competition will be as close as last year. Will Team North America complete its comeback or will Team World hold them off and win its first cup in six years? I’m excited to find out.

Getting my first pair of shoes at the Continental Cup

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A pair of curling shoes purchased from Brooms Up Curling Supplies at the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A lot of people new to the sport of curling often ask if it’s expensive to participate in. Thankfully, the answer is no for the individual curler.

In a lot of ways, getting into curling is like going to the bowling alley. In bowling, you pay for a lane or a certain number of games. In curling, you pay for ice time.

The sport of bowling calls for bowling balls and shoes, but the alley often makes those available for casual participants.

It’s similar in curling — you need a broom to sweep and a special slider for the bottom of your shoe, but most clubs have some available for newer players to borrow.

(Also, the curling stones are owned by the club, just as a bowling alley owns the pins).

As I’ve gotten more involved in curling, I’ve slowly started acquiring personal equipment. Many curlers recommend getting shoes first because that would have the biggest impact on your game.

Unfortunately, shoes are a little pricey, so my first purchase was a curling broom (which was about 45 percent of the cost of shoes). I felt it was a good upgrade compared with the heavier house brooms. I certainly feel more effective with my own broom.

I’m now in a position to buy shoes, but there aren’t a lot of physical curling stores in much of the United States.

Thankfully, one of the American vendors, Brooms Up Curling Supplies, has a mobile showroom that travels to different curling events — including the 2019 Continental Cup.

While many supplies are available for purchase online, I enjoy being able to browse gear in person and try it on for size. The Brooms Up trailer is good for this, as the owner Gary carries a lot of the major manufacturers gear (but not all).

With the Brooms Up trailer parked between the Orleans Arena and the casino, a lot of curling fans drop by after  draws. I was able to drop by Friday and buy my first pair of curling shoes.

As you can tell from the photo at the top of this post, they’re not the most glamorous but I’m hoping they will do the trick. The left shoe includes a built-in slider (currently covered by a rubber gripper) that will help me glide across the ice. With the gripper on the left shoe and a rubber sole on the right, I should be able to walk on the ice with confidence.

My next challenge will be actually using these shoes. Even a small change to my delivery can have a big impact on the game and these new shoes are a big shift.

Also, I’ve never previously moved around on the slider after delivering a stone. Instructors and anyone with common sense caution standing up on a slip-on slider and I’ve certainly fallen a couple times when I forget.

I imagine it will take me a while to used to shuffling around on a slider. I’ll certainly exercise caution, but I’m excited about this next step in my curling experience.

Getting the joke at the Continental Cup

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Mixed doubles during Draw 5 of the 2019 Continental Cup in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

Watching curling in person can be a unique experience, especially at this weekend’s Continental Cup in Las Vegas. Watching with several thousand enthusiastic fans who are knowledgeable about the game really takes it up the next level.

Watching curling in person offers fans a chance to watching multiple games at the same time (versus TV focusing on one game with highlights from the rest). That increases the likelihood of watching an interesting play develop.

At the same time, it can be a little daunting for a newer fan. The first international competition I attended was the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championships, also in Vegas. There were four sheets in play (as opposed to three here this weekend). It was easy to focus on a specific sheet and be a little late noticing something interesting happening elsewhere on the ice.

I had an easier time watching with the three sheets in play this weekend, but I still missed one or two key plays.

If you can’t make it to Vegas for the final two days of the competition, watching a curling competition on a screen does have its advantages especially if the broadcasting team clicks with the audience. Certainly the TSN crew airing the Continental Cup gets a lot of kudos. Fans in the U.S. can watching online on ESPN3 (or on Curling Canada’s YouTube channel about two days after each individual event airs).

Some fans in the audience get the best of both worlds — watching in person and listening in on the TSN broadcast team of Vic Rauter and former Olympians Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard. Fans who purchased tickets to every event received a headset that allowed them to listen to the TSN feed.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Fans who bought tickets to the entire event received ear buds that allowed them to listen to the network broadcast in the arena.

Apparently, a lot of people bought this package. At some points during the competition, most of the audience erupted in what appeared to be spontaneous laughter. It wasn’t necessarily in response to something happening on the ice (although some of the athletes like to joke around and fans indulge them with laughs).

I quickly wondered if there was some joke that I was missing. That was literally the case — it appears everyone tuning into the TSN broadcast was able to hear some quip and reacted appropriately. (Sample joke after the camera spotted a couple dressed as characters from “The Flintstones” — There’s Fred and Wilma. And Pebbles is on the ice. That’s relatively funny and super corny if you’re a curling fan)..

I was a little sad that I missed the joke, but it definitely shows how many diehard curling fans are in the audience.