Spotlight:  The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia


       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 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 Glen 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/~bct7m/bacon.html) 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's averaging 20,000 visitors a day, with many surfersf inding 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 receive 10-20 e-mails a day about the site and say that the reaction has been "very positive." Not only has the 'net 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."


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