Google recently added a new feature to its search options by allowing anyone to see a celebrity’s ‘Bacon number’. All you need to do to reveal the ‘Bacon number’ of any actor, actress, or anyone associated with the movie industry, is include the phrase “Bacon number” alongside the name of the famous person you’re interested in.
But wait. While this is fine for those who know instinctively what a ‘Bacon number’ is, what about the rest of the population who haven’t a clue about this decades-old game or the intriguing theory it originates from? And what if you don’t trust Google to provide the correct answer to this most serious of queries? Thankfully these mysteries can be solved by journeying a little further along the series of tubes that make up the InterWebs.
Six Degrees Of Separation
The idea of ‘Six Degrees Of Separation’ goes back to the early part of the last century, with a Hungarian author by the name of Frigyes Karinthy writing a short story that still resonates today. It put forward a theory that the world was figuratively shrinking, and that any two individuals could be connected to each other by no more than five people.
In the decades that followed this theory was continually put to the test, with different results occurring each and every time. Some suggested only two intermediaries were needed, while others suggested it was closer to seven. The actual term ‘Six Degrees Of Separation’ is mostly attributed to John Guare, who wrote a play of that name in 1990.
The documentary embedded above looks at the science behind the ‘Six Degrees’ theory (AKA the Small-World Problem), and includes multiple references to one Mr. Kevin Bacon. But how did a well-known but far-from-extraordinary actor get involved with this serious social theory that has intrigued mathematicians and statisticians for many years?
Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon
In 1993 John Guare’s play was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and Will Smith. But not, it should be noted, Kevin Bacon. In 1994 Bacon commented that he had worked with everyone in Hollywood, either directly or by association.
Three students turned this throwaway comment into a game whereby you throw a name out there and the player has to connect them to Kevin Bacon via the fewest number of other parties. They appeared on The Jon Stewart Show and The Howard Stern Show to explain the rules, and the game forever entered into popular culture.
Play Six Degrees Online
Now that we know the origins of ‘Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon’, it’s time to play the game online. We already know how to play it using Google Search, but there is also a website that uses the IMDb database of Hollywood actors and their bodies of work to determine an individual’s ‘Bacon number’.
The Oracle Of Bacon allows you to chart the connections between any two actors or actresses. The default is, of course, Kevin Bacon, but there are a number of options to increase or decrease the ‘Bacon number’. This program is also available as an app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
You could of course eschew The Oracle Of Bacon and use IMDb yourself to chart the connections between the Hollywood elite. But I urge against it as it’s more trouble than it’s worth when there are tools available to do the legwork for you. And if you’d rather stick to the original aim of the game then the Web should only be used to confirm the string of connections made in your head under pressure from your friends anyway.
Kevin Bacon Embraces Six Degrees
As Bacon himself explains in the TED talk embedded above, he was initially upset by ‘Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon’, believing it to be mocking of him and his journeyman film career. But he eventually embraced the phenomenon, deciding to use the game to foster a philanthropic venture in the form of a charitable organization named SixDegrees.org.
SixDegrees.org exists to allow individuals to support their favorite charities by either donating to or creating a social fundraiser. This is Kevin Bacon realizing the power the ‘Six Degrees’ game – which has taken his name in vain – has in the big scheme of things. At the time of writing almost $4 million has been raised through this initiative.
The ‘Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon’ game my be an old one known to most people, but with Google finally getting on board, an explanation of its origins was definitely overdue. Hopefully this article will have educated those who were previously ignorant, while providing the rest of us with a little extra knowledge. As always we’re keen to hear your thoughts on the subject at hand, so please feel free to contribute in the comments section below.
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