Bacon, brilliance and breakfast

IssueOctober 2005
Comment by The Mole

Many people know how the actor Kevin Bacon has, on account of having been in such a range of films, given birth to the Bacon Number. This measures the degree of separation of different actors, in terms of who has appeared in a film with someone who's appeared in a film with someone who's ... etc. The reference point for these measurements is how many links it takes to connect an actor with Kevin Bacon.

What is less well-known is the Erdo"s number. The late Paul Erdo"s - unfortunately he died a few years back - was both an eccentric and brilliant mathematician. (No comments please on the inevitability of that juxtaposition in the case of mathematicians.) He co-authored so many mathematical papers that most mathematicians are able to give themselves an Erdo"s Number - based on their having co-written a paper with someone who co-wrote a paper... etc.

The unexpected point gleaned from the recent radio programme was that Bacon Numbers and Erdo"s Numbers link up, via a real-life mathematician who was an advisor on a Hollywood feature film (about a mathematician) and ended up with a small part in it - hence giving him a Bacon Number to add to his Erdo"s number.

Where is this leading? Well, a bit of Mole-ish lateral thinking led to the idea of an X-number for peaceniks. But that leaves two things to be decided before the game could commence. Who would be person X? And what would the nature of the connection have to be at each link in the chain? (Remember that Peace News is a family paper.) The Mole would welcome suggestions as to both of these points.

To set you all thinking about the possibilities, did you realise how few people are needed to make a link between Yasser Arafat and the Queen Mother? (If you attended the PN re-launching-as-a-monthly party back in February, and took part in the Peace Quiz there, this won't be news to you.) If the links are defined in terms of people having either danced with or kissed one another, then these two late greats were only four people apart.

Porridge prejudice

There was an intriguing survey recently, which tried to figure out which of ten common breakfast options was healthiest. A group of nutritionists compared a range of possibilities - they included most of the things that people have for breakfast, such as cornflakes and other cereals, a traditional greasy spoon fry-up, a bowl of porridge, a McDonald's sausage and egg McMuffin, and so on.

What was alarming about the verdict, and in danger of undermining The Mole's well practised prejudices, was that the McBreakfast option didn't come bottom of the list. It was only ninth out of the ten!

So how could it be, that there is a common breakfast option which is even less nutritionally worthwhile than eating at MuckDonald's? Well, it turns out that the way to be even more malnourished is simple - tenth on the list was if you skip breakfast altogether.

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