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The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia

From
January 1, 1997

The following news articles describe the UVa CS Department's Oracle of Bacon at Virginia, which was selected by Time Magazine as one of the top-ten best Web sites for 1996.


Brett and Kevin

Spotlight: the Oracle of Bacon at Virginia
Internet Underground, Sept 1996, Issue 10, p. 14.

What do Liberace, Mr. T and Audrey Hepburn have in common?

A taste for fine jewelry or a fondness for Shi Tzus? Perhaps, but more importantly these three celebrities share a Bacon number of two. That number is based on the theory that everyone who has ever appeared in a film is linked to Footloose star Kevin Bacon.

The theory spawned the aptly titled Kevin Bacon Game that has movie fanatics trying to connect all of Hollywood to the Flatliners, star. While the game might not make the next Olympics, it has definitely done more for the actor's career than The Air Up There ever did.

If you haven't visited one of the dozen or so Bacon sites on the Web or crashed a college party recently, here's how the game works: Players try to connect any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon (who made his movie debut in 1978's Animal House), in as few steps as possible. For example, Marlon Brando was in The Missouri Breaks with Jack Nicholson, who co-starred with Bacon in A Few Good Men. That gives Brando the magic Bacon number of two.

Brett Tjaden and Glenn Wasson, both currently working toward their graduate degrees in computer science at the University of Virginia, created a site, The Oracle of Bacon, that once and for all proves that the Tremors star is the center of the entertainment universe.

The Oracle (http://www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/) raids the massive Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/) site to instantly connect any actor with Bacon, the star of The River Wild. When it comes to the Game (alternately known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon), the Oracle is unshakable.

Most actors, living or dead, have a Bacon number of two or three. Tjaden and Wasson originally hypothesized that no one could possibly score a higher number than four, but Tjaden says the highest numbers hover around seven or eight. But unless you're a big fan of truly obscure actors -- Sri Lankan Grace Ariyawimal, for instance, has a Bacon number of seven -- it will take you hours to come up with even a four.

The site is averaging 20,000 visitors a day, with many surfers finding themselves instantly addicted. Office workers and students often crowd around one terminal and frantically type in the names of obscure actors, in hopes of stumping the Oracle. Tjaden says that he never expected all of this attention.

"We originally intended it to be for just the two of us," says Tjaden, 26. "Then we told a couple of friends, who had graduated and left school, about it. Word got out and pretty soon more people were using it. After the site had been up for about a week or two, all of a sudden it was Yahoo's pick of the week and that just brought absolutely everybody. It went big-time very fast."

The pair receives 10-20 e-mails a day about the site and say that the reaction has been "very positive." Not only has the ínet community been visiting the site, but Hollywood has taken notice as well. Attaining his 15 minutes of fame, Tjaden was flown out to Los Angeles in July to appear in a segment for the Discovery Channel's Cyberlife. While he was in California, Tjaden became the envy of Bacon-heads everywhere when he met the star in person. Before the cameras and without his computer, Tjaden played a round of the Bacon game with Bacon.

"I had heard that he thought of the game as making fun of him," Tjaden says. "But he was very nice to me and said he was very happy with it and impressed. I complimented him on Footloose and he said, 'Well, thank you, but I've done other movies since then.'"

"To be perfectly honest," Tjaden says, "I haven't seen more than two or three of his movies." After reaching the "highest plateau" of Bacon-dom, Tjaden says that he and Wasson don't enjoy the game as much as they once did.

"Whenever anybody hears about this, the first thing they want to do is challenge me," Tjaden says. "I am still playing the game, but not much for fun anymore with Glenn."

Nonetheless, Tjaden says he doesn't have any regrets.

"When we first started to do this we had no aspirations other than to make it for ourselves," he says. "When other people found it interesting we were perfectly happy if they wanted to use it. When we first started, we joked that if this ever led to meeting Kevin (She's Having A Baby) Bacon that would be the ultimate. We have accomplished all that we can hope to accomplish with this."


With this site, University of Virginia students Brett Tjaden and Glenn Wasson have established themselves as the world's foremost authorities in the Kevin Bacon Game. For those unfamiliar with this new national pastime, the game requires players to connect actors and actresses to Bacon, through a film chain, in as few steps as possible. For Instance, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, has a Bacon number of two. He was in Ricochet with John Lithgow was in Footloose with Bacon. Allegedly 17 actors have attained a Bacon number as high as seven, but good luck naming them. In over an hour, the best the IU staff could do was four with Swede Inger Nilsson of Pippi Longstocking fame. For those who prefer Pumping Iron to Tremors, there's also an Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the game.

The Best Websites of 1996
TIME Magazine's The Best Websites of 1996. Dec. 23, 1996. Vol148 NO. 28.

#10 The Kevin Bacon Game. The theory is that every actor in Hollywood has appeared in a movie with Kevin Bacon--or co-starred with someone who has. Don't rack your brain to find "six degrees of Bacon"--just type in an actor's name and instantly derive the "Bacon number."


Yahoo Internet Life
Yahoo Internet Life Daily Double Scoop. December 2, 1996.
Yahoo's Not-so-Random Picks of 1996, January 1997, page 11.
by John Motavalli

What Would Kevin Bacon Say?

IF IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY, those enterprising kids who first created the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" should be patting themselves on the back now that corporate America has copied their idea to promote entertainment products. Or maybe they should be calling their lawyers.

The premise of the original game is that actor Kevin Bacon can be connected to any other actor who has appeared in a movie during the last 15 years by linking the two principals through no more than six other actors. This offbeat game has spawned a host of Web sites, including The Oracle of Bacon, which actually does the work for you with its own search engine.

Now, the folks at Sony's Columbia TriStar Interactive have come up with "Five Degrees of Separation'' featuring Wayne Knight. Knight is the versatile actor who plays Newman, the annoying mailman on the hit television comedy series, "Seinfeld."

"Through extensive genealogical research, experts have discovered that Knight has appeared in film or television shows with every other star in the (Sony Pictures Entertainment) Television universe, through no more than five degrees of separation,'' Columbia TriStar says.

The Shockwave-equipped site allows Newman fans (or enemies) to select stars of Columbia-produced television shows, such as "The Nanny'' or "Party of Five.'' I tried Fran Drescher from "The Nanny,'' and sure enough, she had worked with Christopher Guest in This is Spinal Tap, who had been in A Few Good Men with Demi Moore, who had worked with Michael Douglas (in Disclosure), who worked with the Waynester in Basic Instinct.

I'll give Sony credit for marketing creativity. I also think Wayne Knight is a pretty funny guy, but I'm starting to wonder if there are any original ideas left in Hollywood.


Bacon: The Other White Meat
WIRED Magazine, issue 4.07, July 1996.

If you've ever played the Kevin Bacon game, you know that something very frightening is happening. The challenge: link any actor to our footloose friend within five steps. For example, try Debra Winger. She was in Terms of Endearment with Jack Nicholson, who was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon. Easy, see?

The more you play this game, the more you realize just how eerie it is. But now, some good people at the University of Virginia have taken this parlor game to an entirely different level by creating The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia (www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/). By running a massive database through their mainframe, they have proved the Law of Bacon. According to their calculations, no actor has a BF (Bacon Factor) higher than 5. And the law doesn't just apply to contemporary actors: I had successful hits with Humphrey Bogart, Bela Lugosi, and Greta Garbo.

Inform philosophers and film theorists immediately! Organize task forces! The Oracle has spoken ­ this can't be good news for civilization.


Is Kevin Bacon the Center of the Universe?
Movieline. November 1996, page 54.
by Martha Frankel

Bacon If you play The Kevin Bacon Game on the Internet, you know that he is. Here, the actor who's connected to all other film people by four or fewer degrees of separation, talks about playing a sadist-pedophile in Sleepers, explains how proud he is of his wife's love scenes with John Travolta in Phenomenon, and no kidding, sings.

A confession: when people ask if I'm online, I nod and say, "Of course," but the truth is that all I've ever done online is read the news. And I'm not too sure if I'm doing that right. So when I heard about The Kevin Bacon Game online, I didn't get annoyed that it took me a week just to find it. I didn't mind that my phone bill was going to be in the hundreds. I didn't mind that there seemed to be three different games but I could only manage to get into one of them, The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia (the "Virginia" is short for the University of Virginia, and this is the last you'll hear of it). I had too much fun playing it to care how hard it was to locate, or how expensive, or anything. The fact is, it's a hoot.

Here's how it works. Once you find the game on the Internet, all you have to do is type in the name of any actor, living or dead. It's got to be someone who's been in at least one American movie -- no fair choosing an actor who made one movie with Sergei Eisenstein and got exiled to Siberia the year after.) Within seconds, the computer will give you the path leading from the name you chose to Kevin Bacon. And get this: the creators claim it will never take more than four jumps to get to Kevin Bacon. Some people, like those who play The Bacon Game on the phone during work hours (the newest threat to Hollywood productivity), claim that the computer takes all the fun out of playing the game. But for me the joke was the same and I didn't have to tax my brain. I played for hours, and even when I didn't play fair, I couldn't stump the computer. Alfred Hitchcock? Not an actor, but let's just see: Alfred Hitchcock was in Show Business at War with Orson Welles. Orson Welles was in A Safe Place with Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon. Thus, even Alfred Hitchcock has a Bacon number of three. The only actor I could stump the computer with was Lassie.


A thousand links to Kevin Bacon
Game calculates actor's connections
By Ann Oldenburg USA TODAY

Kevin Bacon is amused.

Everywhere he goes, people overlook his expansive movie career to ask him about a wildly popular game that bears his name.

It was originated by three frat guys at Albright College in Reading, Pa.

"We would watch movies and drink beer all day," says Craig Fass, one of the three. And one wintry day two years ago, as they sat and watched the 1984 Bacon movie Footloose, they came up with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. They wound up playing until 5am.

The game is now particularly hot on college campuses. There are more than 10 Web sites devoted to it on the Internet. A book (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon from Plume Books, $7.95) is out Tuesday; and a board game is in the works for January.

"Is Kevin Bacon the center of the universe?" asks the new Movieline magazine.

You might think so to play the game.

The idea is that anyone who has been in a movie in the past 15 years can be linked to Kevin Bacon in six steps or fewer - six degrees of separation.

The challenge is to come up with a name and make the links.

For example: O.J. Simpson has a "Bacon number" of 2. He was in Capricorn One with Elliott Gould. Gould was in The Big Picture with Bacon. Simpson is twice removed.

OK, Christopher Reeve. He was in Superman with, Gene Hackman, who was in Mississippi Burning with Willem Dafoe, who was in Platoon with Johnny Depp, who was in Benny & Joon with Oliver Platt, who was in Flatliners with ... Kevin Bacon! Reeve's Bacon number is 5.

If you play the game on the Internet at the Oracle of Bacon at Virginia site, you type in the name of an actor and within seconds, the computer tells you that actor's link to Bacon.

"Anybody can play the game," says Brett Tjaden, 27, and a University of Virginia grad student in computer science, who designed the Oracle site with Glenn Wasson.

As for why Kevin Bacon? "He's just the one," is all Tjaden can say for an explanation.

"I guess the stars were aligned just perfectly that night, and Footloose was on at the right time," says Brian Turtle, another of the three originators, who are also the book's authors. "We've tried it with other actors; it's just as fun."

Bacon, who is filming a movie right now in North Carolina as his new film, Sleepers, opens today, says he has never even been on line. He tells Movieline, "I'm a computer moron."


Degrees of separation
Trivia game finds Bacon at the heart of the acting universe
Chicago Tribune, Monday, July 8, 1996, section 5, pages 1 & 3.
by Dennis O'Brien

Meg Ryan is a 2. And astonishingly, Rudolph Valentino is a 3.

For a growing number of people, it's not about looks for charm anymore. It's all about Bacon.

Kevin Bacon.

The prolific character actor and star of the film Footloose is the linchpin of a game in which all other actors are calculated by the number of movies it takes to link them to him.

Ryan's a 2, for example, because she was in Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks, who was in Apollo 13 with Bacon.

Valentino was in Monsieur Beauclaire with John Davidson, who was in Thunder in the East with Bruce Payne, who was in the 1991 bomb Pyrates with Kevin Bacon. Three connections give Valentino a 3rd degree of Kevin Bacon separation.

What began as a desperate round of movie trivia among three fraternity brothers is now arguably as widespread on the Internet as anti-government newsgroups.

Craig Fass, 22, Brian Turtle, 22, and Mike Ginelli, 23, devised the game while attending Pennsylvania's Albright College in January 1994.

"The snow was so bad, the only things open were the beer distributor and the hospital," says Fass, who graduated in May with a degree in history and is now a cook. "We would just go out and buy a keg of beer and watch television."

Ginelli, who is now in law school, said they had seen Bacon's 1984 movie Footloose on TV on afternoon and later saw a commercial for Bacon's then most-recent release, The Air Up There.

Impressed with the actor's productivity, the trio of movie-buffs speculated that Bacon had been in a movie with just about everyone in Hollywood.

Or that everyone in Hollywood had been in a movie with Kevin Bacon.

"That's when we found our divine inspiration, that Kevin Bacon was the center of the acting Universe.

On a whim, Fass called MTV's ill-fated late-night program, "The Jon Stewart Show," and made the pitch that the guys and the game would make good television.

Jon Stewart agreed. The Kevin Bacon game made its national debut two weeks later when the guys played a round on the air.

(Incidentally, Stewart's Bacon number is 2: he was in Mixed Nuts with Steve Martin, who was in Planes, Trains & Automobiles with Kevin Bacon.)

When Bacon was a guest on the show a year later, the show's producers invited the three back to join him on stage.

"At first I think he thought we were stalkers or freaks," Turtle said. "But he began to have fun with it.

"He even threw out a name."

The name? Larry Storch, known best for his role as Cpl. Randolph Again in F Troop.

The number? Two. Storch was in The Great Race with Jack Lemmon, who was in JFK with Kevin Bacon.

The TV appearances spawned a phenomenon.

People who had heard of the game, but had not seen the show speculated it was related to the "Six Degrees of Separation" theory that all in the world are no more than six interpersonal relationships apart.

So they started calling the game "Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon." They created World Wide Web pages devoted to the Baconiocentric universe.

They were amazed at Bacon's seemingly limitless connections.

Was there no end?

Enter the great minds of science.

Another snowstorm, another college, another mission.

Brett Tjaden and Glenn Wasson, computer science doctoral candidates at the University of Virginia, had a moderate interest in the game and too much free time over winter break.

Their obsession was to prove the theory that Bacon could be connected in four links or less to any actor in American movies made in the past 15 years.

The result was "The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia" website (http://www.cs.virginia.edu/oracle/), which is automatically calculates an actor's Bacon number.

"Four or less turns out to be true for anyone in American Movies," Wasson said. "I find that it's actually difficult to come up with someone as far away as a four."

The Bacon gap with some actors could come closer to closing now Bacon has picked up the directorial megaphone. "Losing Chase," Bacon's first film as director, makes it's debut on Showtime Aug. 18.

Directors are not usually considered fair linkage in the Bacon game (the Oracle also does not count television roles). But because Bacon is the film's director, Ginelli said, the game's inventors will probably count the new links. The guys have hired an attorney and hope to release a computer or board game version of what one Interneter has dubbed "Makin' Bacon," so one would think they would have the final say.

Actually, the actor has the final say. And though the trivia trio's lawyer has called to get Bacon's permission to develop and market the Bacon name game, he can't get through.

The line is tied up while Bacon's off filming Picture Perfect and making new connections. "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston, for example, will now be a 1.


Cyberlife
The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia was featured on the Discovery Channel during the December 24, 1996 edition of Cyberlife. Interviews with Brett Tjaden and Kevin Bacon were shown.


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