It's a small world. And at the middle of it all is Kevin Bacon. Or is he?
The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a movie trivia game that can be played when you're bored (for example, during the sixth hour of The English Patient). The game goes like this: someone names an actor/actress, say, "Michael Swaim." Then the other person/people try to come up with a list of actors/actresses, starting with Swaim and ending with Kevin Bacon, in which successive stars were in a movie together. For example:
Michael Swaim was in Kill Me Now with Katy Stoll
Katy Stoll was in Two Million Stupid Women with Sarah Hall
Sarah Hall was in The Scenesters with John Landis
and John Landis was in Animal House with Kevin Bacon.
But, as an added twist, someone else might be able to come up with a shorter "path" to Kevin Bacon; for example:
Michael Swaim was in How to Eat Bacon with Paul McKinney
Paul McKinney was in The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest with Stephen Blackehart
and Stephen Blackehart was in Super with Kevin Bacon.
There's enough testosterone here to power a Hobbit village for three months.
Points can be awarded for finding the shortest path, allowing contestants to determine who the loser is. The loser then shaves their body of all hair and has to perform the full score to Carmina Burana. (Consequences vary by location-check your local listing for details.)
Legend has it that the game was created by college students Craig Fass, Christian Gardner, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli. (By legend, we of course mean Wikipedia.) They made appearances on John Stewart's show and then on Howard Stern's show and eventually went on to write a book. The meme struck a viral chord with America, which was then sullied by Visa in a commercial.
Fass, Gardner, Turtle, and Ginelli came up with the idea while watching Footloose, which led to the epiphany that Kevin Bacon has been in a shit-load of movies. This resulted in their conjecture that Bacon was the center of the movie universe. But let's examine this claim using math. Because with math, you can do anything.
Given an actor or actress, we define their Bacon number to be the shortest path from them to Bacon, measured by the number of movies used. For example, Michael Swaim has a Bacon number of 3, as shown with the three movies in the previous section. (And while we could find a longer path, there is no shorter path.) You can use the Oracle at Bacon to find someone's Bacon number. Go on, try it. We know you want to. And we want you to!
If you type in "Michael Swaim" and click on Find Link, you'll be given one of the paths from Swaim to Bacon. You don't have to use Swaim, of couse: you can use real actors if you want. You can even replace Kevin Bacon with someone else. You can find a path from Michael Swaim to Ron Jeremy (of length 3).
But now for the math. If you go to this link, you can find out how "good" a center an actor/actress is. For Kevin Bacon, here's what you find:
Pay attention, bitches--there will be a quiz!
That's a lot of numbers. But if you look at the top left table, here's the poop: the first row says there is one person with a Bacon number of zero. (That would be the Bacon man himself.) The next few rows say there are 2480 actors with a Bacon number of 1, and then 254428 with a Bacon number of 2, and 817491 with a Bacon number of 3, and so on, ending with 3 actors with a Bacon number of 9. If you add these up, you'll get the total of 1291823 actors/actresses that can be linked to Kevin Bacon. If you take the average of all of those actors' Bacon numbers, you get 2.981. So, on average, an actor/actress will have a Bacon number of 3.
And now the question becomes, is there an actor or actress that might give us a lower average? If you look at Michael Swaim, you find that the average Swaim number is 4.082, which is considerably higher than Kevin's. On the other hand, the average Ron Jeremy number is 2.906, so Ron is closer to the center of Hollywood than Kevin Bacon. Why didn't Fass, Gardner, Turtle, and Ginelli use Ron Jeremy? Probably because they weren't watching porn. But the current center of Hollywood (mathematically speaking) is Dennis Hopper. The average Dennis Hopper number is 2.802. Not too shabby, but if we could choose, we'd go with Samuel L. Jackson.
Should you tire of this game, here are some variations.
Six degrees of Kevin's Bacon
In this food-oriented version, you try to link a given food to bacon using food pairs. For example, starting with "sandwich", we have
soup and sandwich
soup and crackers
cheese and crackers
ham and cheese
ham and eggs
bacon and eggs
Sexy degrees of Kevin Bacon
Same idea as the original, but link using only movies where both actors are making sweet, sweet love. For example, starting with Mila Kunis, we have…
Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in Black Swan,
Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached,
Ashton Kutcher and Rachel Blanchard in Spread,
Rachel Blanchard and Kevin Bacon in Where the Truth Lies.
Six degrees of Ron Jeremy
Just as Bacon has starred with many actresses in many movies, Ron Jeremy has porked his share of actresses. Try connecting porn stars to Jeremy using porn. For example, starting with Jane Stonewood, we get…
Jane Stonewood was in Damsels in Bondage 10 with Ashley Renee,
Ashley Renee was in Fine Art of Hair Pulling with Nikki Dial,
Nikki Dial was in Way They Wuz with Ron Jeremy
In the geekiest variation (which actually predates the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon), you can try to connect mathematicians to the illustrious Paul Erdos, using coauthored articles. For example, if we start with Danica McKellar…
Danica McKellar coauthored Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2 with Lincoln Chayes and Brandy Winn;
Lincoln Chayes coauthored The inverse problem in classical statistical mechanics with Elliott Lieb and Jennifer Chayes;
Elliott Lieb coauthored Some positive definite functions on sets and their application to the Ising model with Daniel Kleitman, Ole Heilmann, and Seymour Sherman;
Daniel Kleitman coauthored On coloring graphs to maximize the proportion of multicolored k-edges with Paul Erdos.