Every now and again in the media centre at the snooker there is a full-on statto challenge thrown down.
In days gone by it would have been Phil Yates or Dave Hendon that would sorted this kind of thing out, currently it would usually be Matt Huart, formerly of ProSnookerBlog fame and now on the WPBSA payroll (perhaps for being officially the only person who truly understands the minutiae of the ranking systems and qualification criteria in all their forms).
The hapless hacks in here occasionally come up with a half-decent possible idea for a story, and then Matt kindly puts some flesh on the statistical bones – either confirming this line of enquiry is yielding something interesting, or politely shooting it down in flames as being a total waste of time.
A lot of these conversations are hypotheticals and we had one such discussion yesterday as Ronnie O’Sullivan raced into the quarter-finals for the loss of just three frames. What, I asked Matt, was the fewest number of frames that had been conceded in winning a UK title?
Now generally I have to confess, and many would confirm, stats are not top of my agenda, being naturally more drawn to the occasion, the result, the atmosphere, the agony and the ecstasy sport can generate, and hearing from the lead actors, the players.
But without question there are times when the statistic IS the story, especially when it comes to making history or setting records.
As another example I recently got a peek at the average shot time list for the season up to the UK Championship - and any self-respecting journalist could make a story out of who was top and bottom of that list (wait and see - or just have a guess...).
If there is one thing a statto loves though it is consistency, a basis of comparison that is like for like – and on this front we quickly ran into problems on the whole ‘fewest frames conceded by a UK winner’ question.
In the UK over the years you have had players coming in at a last 16, last 32, and last 128 stage. You have had finals that were best of 31 frames, or best of 19. You have had early-round matches that were best of 17 frames, or best of 11. You have had players winning four matches to lift the trophy, or seven.
Often Matt’s travails start with him working back from a first guess and then seeing if it can be beaten. In this case the starting point was Stephen Maguire in 2004 (19 frames, a 32-player draw, best of 17 frame matches up to best of 19 frame final).
That was then beaten by Doug Mountjoy in 1978 (18 frames, a 16-player draw for him, best of 17 then a best of 29 final).
Steve Davis dropped just 14 frames in 1980 plus one in an earlier qualifier, and Stephen Hendry 12 in 1995. For Davis this was a 16-player draw, best of 17 followed by a best of 31 final. And for Hendry it was a 32-player draw, best of 17 and then a best of 19 final (although he did win a qualifier too earlier pre-venue, technically dropping a further three frames to Jamie Burnett).
But Davis wins the prize for his 1981 effort in a 16-player draw, offering up just 10 frames in beating Willie Thorne 9-2, Bill Werbeniuk 9-5, Jimmy White 9-0 and then Terry Griffiths 16-3.
You could also note that the current 128-player format with best of 11s and a best of 19 final means the same number of frames have to be won as when it was a 32-player draw, best of 17s until a best of 19 final (46 in total).
But the truth of it is that is about half an hour of all of our lives - and now another 20 minutes of mine - that I will never get back.