The ‘Hospital Pass’ Of Chip Design

There’s plenty to learn about what can go wrong with a design team from watching the World Cup.


By Ron Craig
My wife is very understanding. Once every four years I become somehow distracted for 90 minute periods over the course of about a month, unresponsive to the most basic requests and occasionally straining to explain the minutiae of the offside trap, the beauty of the ‘nutmeg,’ the tactics of the three game group stage and why the flag didn’t go up because the left back on the edge of the six-yard box wasn’t actually interfering with play. If you aren’t with me by this point let me explain that I’m talking about the World Cup, the celebration of the beautiful game (football or soccer, depending on your origins), which is played once every four years between countries from around the world.

The World Cup, which is contested at the national rather than club level, is for me more interesting to watch than club games. At the league level, especially in Europe, successful teams amass budgets that allow them to collect the best players. This results in an often-predictable pattern of the largest teams seeing success at the expense of the less well-funded teams, resulting in games which often seem to lack any real sense of excitement. I wonder where I’ve seen that situation before?

Being a spectator is more fun when you have a basic understanding of the game, and football/soccer is no different in that respect from any other sport. Armed with a basic understanding of the patterns of play, you can often feel the highlights coming—which adds to the excitement. Simple statements such as ‘it’s four on two’ (where the members of the attacking team on the break outnumber defenders by four to two) are a hint that it’s not a good time to help empty the dishwasher.

At DAC this year, careful planning allowed me to take in 1.5 World Cup games per day before breakfast. Favorites trembled and underdogs delivered upsets on an almost daily basis, and the World Cup delivered a comparable level of intrigue. With every World Cup we see new directives from FIFA, the world governing body, about what’s acceptable and what’s not during the game. Attempts have been made to stamp out tackles from behind, play-acting and dissent over the last ten years or so, in an effort to make the game flow better and create a more enjoyable experience for the spectator.

When it comes to bad tackles, the player encouraging it is often blamed as much as the player committing it. This is the origin of the term ‘the hospital pass.’ In short, a ‘hospital pass’ is one where you pass the ball to a player who is being rapidly approached by a player from the opposite team. This almost invariably leads to a hard tackle, and often an injury which may take the player receiving the pass out of the game. The player delivering the original pass didn’t necessarily cause the problem directly, but he did create the circumstances for it to happen.

Chip design teams, despite careful planning, do this all the time. Netlists are handed off with hidden problems which regularly make life very difficult for the receiver. Customers I’ve worked with have seen a range of issues kill their chips, from missing synchronizers to incorrect timing exceptions. Unfortunately for chip design teams, you can’t simply outlaw the ‘hard tackle’ that kills your chip, but you can avoid the circumstances that allowed the problem to surface in the first place. Maybe it’s time to make those passes really count.

–Ron Craig is senior marketing manager at Atrenta.


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