The Biggest Dance
New book puts life's decisions into playoff brackets
Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 3:15PM; Updated: Tuesday February 27, 2007 3:15PM
Every so often, somebody comes out with an idea so intuitive that you kick yourself for not thinking of it first. You know, like going on vacation with Rulon Gardner, or putting the NHL on Versus, or throwing money around a Las Vegas strip club but asking the strippers not to touch the money. OK, bad examples. But the second I opened my advance copy of The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, I knew that editors Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir were onto something big. I'm talking Barry-Bonds'-head big.
The premise of the book is simple: anything in life can -- and should -- be effectively sorted into brackets just like NCAA basketball. Need to pick your favorite red wine, or a name for your baby? Throw all the choices into brackets, and you'll have your answer soon. Reiter and Sandomir explain that decisions are a lot easier when you're trying to choose one of two options rather than one of 16, or 32, or 64. Pairing off all your choices turns them into a series of smaller, easier decisions instead of one big, difficult one. Of course, some decisions can still be tough even when you have only two options -- or so Roger Clemens tells me.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Hermitage J.L. Chave is the best red wine, and you should name your newborn son Benjamin. I know this because the meat of the book is its dozens of brackets that crown champions in all sorts of categories. Each set of brackets is compiled and explained by an expert in the field. With so many different topics boiled down through bracketology, the book's experts have already made most of life's big (and small) decisions for you. Which investment strategy should you choose? What's the best way to live a long life? Which Samuel L. Jackson film should you rent? Invite all the choices to the Big Dance, and before you know it you're buying Japanese equities, walking for 30-60 minutes every day, and adding Jackie Brown to your NetFlix queue.
Not all the brackets in the book are winners, however. Few of us care that Gill Sans is declared the best typeface. And do we really need a bracket to figure out that Johnny Carson is the best talk-show host of all time? But unlike March Madness, if you disagree with the experts you can just make your own bracket and decide things for yourself. In fact, they encourage it. The book, which comes out Tuesday, includes a blank bracket that you can fill in with whatever important decision you need to make, and they're launching a Web site where anyone can post their own brackets on any subject.
A recommendation from the editors? Regionalize. Splitting up the participants into two or four categories does a much better job of setting up impressive Final Four matchups than trying to seed the entries. The dude who wrote the book's Hairstyle bracket should have taken that advice, because he has the "Hillary" winning a rather lackluster final against cornrows. And you thought last year's Stanley Cup finals had a disappointing matchup.
A recommendation from me? Follow beer expert Maureen Ogle's advice. I've never heard of half the entries in her American Beers bracket, but I'm impressed that she determined the winner not from previous experience but by staging a real tournament. Over the course of a few days Ogle drank each matchup to decide which beer would advance to the next round. Rumors that David Wells proposed to her immediately following the tournament are uncomfirmed. Ironically, drinking 32 beers is exactly how the NCAA's selection committee fills out their brackets, too.
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