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THREE THOUSAND DAYS OF TABLE TENNIS

By Will Shortz | Dec. 15, 2020, 6 p.m. (ET)

If all goes well, this Sunday, Dec. 20, will be my 3,000th consecutive day of playing table tennis — every day since Oct. 3, 2012.

The streak started almost by accident, without my really trying. I had several mini-streaks during 2011, one lasting 72 days. That was the year I opened the Westchester Table Tennis Center, my home club, so it was easy for me to play every day when I was around. When I traveled, I always managed to find a local club. I like to visit other clubs and meet different players.

Around March 2012 I realized I’d played table tennis every day of the year so far, and I began to wonder if I could go the entire year without missing.

Things went swimmingly until Oct. 3. I was in Kraljevica, Croatia, for the World Puzzle Championship, which I help oversee. Of course, I’d lined up clubs for every day I was there. But on Oct. 3 I got a late start after a day of sightseeing, the club was hard to find, and then they closed early. I arrived just as they’d turned off the lights and locked the door.

Well, that was that. My streak was over after 282 days.

In 2013 I decided to try again, this time filming myself playing every day. And this was a success. I played at 38 different clubs during the year. Besides Westchester I played in Alaska, Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, various places around the Northeast, China, and Japan. A four-minute video incorporating some of my footage can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2O07f7Rusk&t=10s.

When 2014 arrived, I wasn’t going to just quit. I wanted to see how far this could go. Well, it has kept going. After more than eight years, my streak is still alive.

I’ve had two near misses. In May 2019 I had a speaking engagement in Kauai, Hawaii. There is no table tennis club on the island. However, a hotel about a mile from where I stayed had an outdoor table. After my morning speech I walked to this hotel and hung out all afternoon by the pool, hoping I could find someone to play with. I felt like a weirdo. “Hi, would you like to play ping-pong with me? Here, I have a paddle you can use. … No, seriously, I want to play ping-pong.” Finally, a woman selling shave ice agreed to play, and I got my day in.

The next day was a nail-biter. My return flight to New York was due to leave Kauai at noon, and a car service was scheduled to pick me up at 9:30. I had to play before I left, as I wouldn’t get home until after midnight, missing the day.

So in the morning I got up early, showered, packed my bag, went to the table, and hung out, waiting for somebody — anybody — to ask to play. Nobody even walked by. The place was deserted. Meanwhile, time marched on. By 9:00 I was getting frantic.

Then my cell phone rang. The car service lady had arrived and asked if I would be willing to leave early. “Yes,” I said. “But first, would you play ping-pong with me?”

Naturally, she said no to such a ridiculous question. But I explained my streak. She parked her limo. She came in and played ping-pong with me -- the first time she’d ever held a paddle in her life. She was a natural, though. She kept the ball on the table. After 10 minutes we left for the airport. I gave her a nice tip. My streak remained intact.

The other near miss was in October last year when I was in Kirchheim, Germany -- again for the World Puzzle Championship. I’d planned ahead and made arrangements to play at VFL Kirchheim Tischtennis. I’d rented a car. The director was looking forward to having me.

Late in the afternoon of my first day in Kirchheim I put the club’s address in my G.P.S. … and discovered that the place was three hours away. It turns out that Germany has more than one Kirchheim, and the table tennis Kirchheim was not the one I was at.

Now I was in a frenzy. I drove to a McDonald’s to use their wi-fi, typing nearby towns plus “tischtennis” into my iPhone, desperately searching for a club I could go to. To complicate matters, I don’t speak German. But worse — much worse — it was a national holiday, and virtually everything was closed. Any nearby clubs that did exist would not be open.

Dejected, I returned to my hotel, fearing that my streak was at an end. To my elation I discovered that the hotel itself had a ping-pong table. And as puzzle enthusiasts tend to include a lot of table tennis players — both activities are brainy — I was set all week.

There are two questions I get asked a lot:

1) How long do you have to play for it to count? My rule is — 10 minutes. I probably average an hour or more of table tennis a day, but 10 minutes is the minimum. Also, it has to be on a regular table with an opponent.

2) Is this the Guinness world record? To that I say — probably, but I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I do this because I love the game. I love the people I meet by playing. And I feel that daily table tennis helps keep me in good health. In the eight-plus years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never been seriously sick (knock on wood).

At one time I was planning a big celebration at my club this coming Sunday to commemorate the 3,000 days. Now, in consideration of the pandemic, that’s off. I don’t want to be the cause of a superspreader event.

I hope, though, there will be more milestones to celebrate in the future. After all, next Monday, barring catastrophe, will be Day 3,001

Will Shortz