Book Review: Games and art


Cage and Duchamp utilized chance in their art. Cage was less competitive than Duchamp. He loved casting yarrow sticks and reading the I Ching.

Cover of The Enlightened Bracketologist, hardback version
Cover of The Enlightened Bracketologist, hardback version

Perhaps, however, probability theory leaves chance attenuated. If you can guess what will happen, does that make chance less random? Galileo noticed that when you repeatedly roll dice, certain numbers occur more often than others. A seven in craps rolls much more often than a two or a twelve.

And probability theory will help you win poker pots. If you’re holding two pair and then draw one card, your chance of making a full house is one in eleven.

And the art and theory of chance applies equally to, say, team sports — which brings us to The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything (Bloomsbury: New York) edited by Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir, now out in paperback.

The book is beautifully designed: lots of white space. The type is readable and daring: black and red mathematically arranged in an expanding fan. Only one artist is mentioned: the late Mr Andy Warhol. Bracketology is pop philosophy. Its first ostensible topic, however, is the annual NCAA basketball tournament.

NCAA basketball players. Image from
NCAA basketball players. Image from

How many men have died from boredom during March Madness? Every March the NCAA holds a tournament to determine the best basketball “program” in the United States. 64 teams are arrayed in 32 brackets. The winner of the match between 64th seed and the 1st seed plays the winner of the 63rd seed v. the 2nd seed. Each stage of the tournament is a new “bracket.” The teams efficiently move to a Sweet Sixteen, then a Final Four, and then finally a Champion.

I can usually name the champion for the first 20 minutes after I read it in the paper. But, oh yes, I do religiously read the sports page, though I give nary a s**t for American college basketball. The bracketology process is inherently interesting. I run my eye over the progress of the brackets every March —  as I anxiously await baseball’s opening day.

Sandomir and Reiter adapt bracketology to the tournament of ideas. For instance, everyone would prefer dying tomorrow to dying today, later rather than sooner — right? What are the current “longevity strategies”? Should we practice yoga or meditate? Consume Lipitor or fish oil?  Isoflavonoids? Vitamin B-12? No drinking ? No smoking? The list is as boring as 64 American colleges.

But what, according to David Lefell of the Yale Medical School, is the best longevity strategy? Walk 30 to 60 minutes a day.

You could walk to the nearest Barnes and Noble and buy this book and you might even live longer as a result.

[We couldn’t find the paperback version online yet. Here’s a link to the hardback on Amazon, but better to take Michael’s advice: get some exercise and walk to your nearest Barnes and Noble. –l&r]


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