A simple question to ask about kayak races is whether having lots of paddlers helps or slows the boat down? The kayak with two paddlers has twice as many "engines" to power it but it also has twice as much weight to drag through the water. Which is the dominant factor?
If you look at the pattern of rowers in a racing four or eight rowing boat then you expect to find them positioned in a symmetrical fashion, alternately right-left, right-left as you go from one end of the boat to the other. However, the regularity of the rower's positions hides a significant asymmetry that affects the way the boat will move through the water.
If you manage a large organisation, then people will come and go. There are always decisions to make about promoting people, promising newcomers versus experienced middle managers, all of whom are aspiring to move up the corporate ladder. But is it better to promote the least competent rather than the most competent? Some new research suggests that it may be.
In many sports a particular tactical conundrum arises. The team captain has to choose the best order in which to use a group of players or set-plays in the face of unknown counter choices by the opposition. Do you want to field the strongest players first to raise morale or play them last to produce a late run for victory? John D. Barrow shows that randomness holds the answer.