November 7 - 14, 1 9 9 6
[Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon]

Bacon, Inc.

Part 5 - The Game

by Ellen Barry

"Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" is a game that taps into two of the great resources of the college experience: exhaustive knowledge of popular culture and endless reserves of free time. It is not taxing. Here are the rules: name any actor or actress who has appeared in an American film, and link him or her in less than six steps to Kevin Bacon.

Take Patrick Swayze. Swayze was in Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey, who was in Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Matthew Broderick, who was in The Road to Wellville with John Cusack, who was in Bullets Over Broadway with Dianne Wiest, who was in Footloose with Kevin Bacon!

The game can most easily be played as a team effort, but several enthusiasts have devised ways of scoring or otherwise making the game competitive. You can win by coming up with a solution the fastest, or using the fewest steps, or by integrating actors who are obscure, dead, or have a criminal record. This last is called the aesthetic, or style, method. Other scoring methods formulate a score using your time and the number of steps required.

The creation of a Six Degrees database, deriving from a database of Hollywood actors, neutralizes the challenge but supplies us with a great deal of interesting data. Brett Tjaden's home page originated the idea of the "Bacon number," which is the minimum number of steps necessary to connect an individual actor with Kevin Bacon. Tjaden has determined the following:

Bacon number# of people
01 (Kevin Bacon)
11138
265870
3106774
420442
51504
6201
715
This level of computerized analysis impresses, but does not win over, the game's three creators -- Craig Fass, Mike Ginelli, and Brian Turtle. "He didn't invent a game," says Fass. "He invented an answer."

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