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Does CERN love CMS ? December 30, 2007

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, physics, science.

When I came back from Geneva three weeks ago I carried with me three decks of CERN playing cards I intended to offer as small presents to friends of my son Filippo, for Christmas. It was a good idea: the cards were appreciated by the recipients of the present. One of them is Sebastiano, who came to join us with his family – Ivan and Barbara – in our house in Padola: we are spending our days together, hiking on the snow during the day and playing in the evenings.

The cards are very nice: each of them is decorated with a picture of an experiment, a part of a detector, or some scientific information about particle physics or the big bang. A few discuss a scientific discovery made at the CERN laboratory, and some more describe shortly the standard model of particle physics or the subatomic particles. All in all, a very good idea by CERN, through which the world of research in particle physics can reach unsuspecting customers.

Today, however, as we played with the CERN deck a game of scopone scientifico – a game in which some cards have a special value – I could not help noticing a rather odd fact. You could imagine either that experiments, projects, theory facts would be dispersed on the cards without a logical arrangement or correspondence between the value of the card (in most games such as Poker), or that the correspondence were totally random: after all, how could one rank in importance the big bang, the fermions, or the LHC cavities ?

Instead, I was on for a striking discovery. There was indeed some scheme, and I could have learned it by reading on the box: clubs are about the formation of the universe, diamonds about the history of CERN, hearts and spades about the LHC projects and associated experiments. That is fine of course, but then I got suspicious and looked at the details – details are always obscene.

I could thus discover that the aces of hearts and spades were assigned respectively to “The ALICE detector for LHC” and “The ATLAS detector for LHC”. What was, then, the rank of the card titled “the CMS detector for LHC” ? A mere 6 of spades!!

Of course, one could claim it was mere chance that CMS was relegated to a disposable lowly card, while aces were assigned to the two jewels of detectors, ALICE and ATLAS. However, I think one could at least just as well read in it a higher attention of CERN for the two A experiments.

So: does CERN really love CMS as much as it loves ATLAS ?



1. Kea - December 30, 2007

LOL! That’s great! Of course, Alice and Atlas have the advantage of being actual PEOPLE. CMS could have chosen a nicer name….

2. Michael Schmitt - December 30, 2007

I like your statement “details are always obscene” – is this a more cynical version of “the devil is in the details”? Sounds like a good candidate for one of your “say[ings] of the week” ! 😉

3. carlbrannen - December 31, 2007

I liked the details quote too. I wonder if it is less profound when left in Italian. To me, it makes me think of camera images that are blurred and miss details needed to have a work assigned as pornography. And of the fact that history is always most beautiful when one considers only the overview, the “lessons”, and not the precise details which are often in contradiction.

Of course the same is true of the foundations of physics, LOL.

4. Michael Schmitt - December 31, 2007

Carl, maybe you’re right about the foundations of physics. So if we are not careful, then revealing too much of the process of doing physics may add too much detail to the “images” of high energy physics, and people may regard all of this as pornography… 😉

Of course, I see blogs like Tommaso’s as revealing what goes on behind the curtains of establishment science – a healthy thing, not disgusting or reprehensible. 🙂

5. thenewg - December 31, 2007

The only hope I can offer is that the details are not always as obscene if you can overcome them… 😉

6. Tony Smith - January 2, 2008

Tommaso, you said that CERN playing cards are designed with:

“… clubs are about the formation of the universe, diamonds about the history of CERN, hearts and spades about the LHC projects and associated experiments …”.

Consider the ususal ranking of cards:
spades over hearts over diamonds over clubs.

Therefore, the CERN heirarchy is:
1 – LHC projects (spades and hearts)
2 – history of CERN (diamonds)
3 – formation of the universe (clubs)

If CERN had made a purely CERN-centric deck, with clubs also
CERN-centric (more history, etc), that would have IMO been OK,
but to put “formation of the universe” in such a subordinate position says a lot about egocentricity of the CERN card-designers.

Tony Smith

7. Fred - January 3, 2008

Tony, somehow you reminded me of one of my favorite short stories, ‘The Blue Hotel’ by Stephen Crane. An excerpt:

“The cowboy was a board-whacker. Each time that he held superior cards he whanged them, one by one, with exceeding force, down upon the improvised table, and took the tricks with a glowing air of prowess and pride that sent thrills of indignation into the hearts of his opponents. A game with a board-whacker in it is sure to become intense. The countenances of the Easterner and the Swede were miserable whenever the cowboy thundered down his aces and kings, while Johnnie, his eyes gleaming with joy, chuckled and chuckled.”

8. Sarah - January 10, 2008

@Tony: The ranking of cards I know from the German card game Skat is: Clubs over Spades over Hearts over Diamonds – so maybe
1) the card designers aren’t that egocentric
2) CMS is loved, too because it got the higher ranked spades

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