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Dorothy Parker (2) vs. Simone Biles; Liebling advances

I was surprised to see so little action in the comments yesterday. Sure, Liebling’s an obscure figure—I guess at this point he’d be called a “cult writer,” and I just happen to be part of the cult, fan as I am of mid-twentieth-century magazine writing—but I’d’ve thought Bourdain would’ve aroused more interest. Anyway, the best comment was from Ethan, playing it straight and going for Liebling on the strength of his diversity of interests. Even though coming from the Eaters category, he can talk about lots of other topics; in that way, he’s similar to Steve Martin who broke out entirely from the Magicians category where he was situated. On the other side, the best comment in favor of Bourdain was from Sean, who endorsed the celebrity chef but said he went to one of Bourdain’s real-life talks but “left a little disappointed to hear what in large part amounted a collection of some of the best one-liners of No Reservations.”

For today we have the #2 ranked wit, the star of the Algonquin Round Table—no alcohol jokes in the comments, please—vs. the undisputed GOAT of gymnastics. Two completely different talents, and unfortunately only one can advance to the next round. Who should it be?

Again, the full bracket is here, and here are the rules:

We’re trying to pick the ultimate seminar speaker. I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!


  1. Yay for Liebling! Just a few minutes ago I was trying to put together a comment in his support (having been away part of the weekend), when I remembered the words of Elijah in Moby-Dick, “Well, well, what’s signed, is signed; and what’s to be, will be; and then again, perhaps it won’t be, after all.” I refreshed the page, and lo and behold! Liebling had won. About these next two, I do not have a preference yet; let’s see what transpires both inside and outside the mind.

  2. Martha (Smith) says:

    Biles, Biles, Biles! Graceful athletic talent like that is far more interesting than Parker’s snark.
    And, if Biles gets matched up with Thorpe — Wow! Who knows what could happen (but it sure would be good to see).

  3. Jeff says:

    Acknowledging that it’s fun to go contrarian on these (sorry, Ms. Burnett), based on the quality of the seminar I don’t see how Dorothy Parker shouldn’t walk away with this one. Simone Biles is an accomplished athlete but not in an interesting way, like Thorpe or Zaharias. Parker, on the other hand, started the Algonquin Freaking Round Table. Come on.

  4. Dzhaughn says:

    The seminar room is not a safe place to perform gymnastics. Neither is a gym. Don’t know how safe it is to drink there, but it would be more interesting to watch in this case.

  5. zbicyclist says:

    To go with her gold medals, a Biles victory here would make her the shortest winner of a match in Andrew’s ultimate seminar contest at 4 ft 8 in (142 cm).

    Let other speakers attempt to tower over the competition. To misparaphrase Michelle Obama, if they go high, we go lower.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      In other words, the ultimate of the entrants! (Even shorter than Bernadette of Big Bang Theory)
      Up with short people!

    • Yuling says:

      A quick search shows 4 ft 8 in is 23% quantile in the population even for modern-day US female. So in expectation, Parker is not likely to the shortest in the seminar.

      • zbicyclist says:

        That seemed too low to me — I don’t personally know any adult women that short.

        From this table (US Census, admittedly from 10 years ago),
        the percentage under 4’10” seems to be less than 2%, and is footnoted as too low a base to be reliable.

        • Yuling says:

          OK I made an embarrassing mistake. I found an online “Height Percentile Calculator” and it returned 0.23– I thought it meant 23% but indeed it was 0.23%. So Parker is probably the shortest among the seminar attendance as I do not recall Columbia has any lecture hall that could hold more than 1000 persons.
          That said, I believe that online percentile calculator is based on a normal approximation, rather than a more realistic log-normal, so it must underestimate the left tail quantile.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        I wonder if Yuling’s figure is for US females of all ages, not just adult females. Zbycyclist’s figure of <2% under 4'10" seems more plausible. In fact, I recall noting at one point that my height (5' 2") is about 1 sd below the mean for adult U.S. women — so that would mean that about 16% of adult U.S women are below 5' 2", very inconsistent with Yuling's figure of 4'8" being the 23rd percentile.

  6. Manuel says:

    After suffering so many bad gymnastics (mathematical, logical, statistical, you name it) at seminars, to have some performed by a true champion would be a welcome change. Plus, I like to go with the wind, and I cannot see how Dorothy Parker will advance with alcohol jokes banned from the comments (it’s like a handicap or something?).

    • Martha (Smith) says:


      And since Parker was well known for her drinking, she might not even be able to stand on her own two feet at a seminar — whereas Biles could not only stand on her own two feet, but stand on her own two hands (For the smart-alecs in the crowd: I mean with her feet in the air, not bending down and putting her hands under her feet.)

  7. Dzhaughn says:

    Things I Have Learned From the Contest So Far:
    (Cf. “Resume” by Dorothy Parker)

    Thorpe’s 1/8th hashtag
    Babe’s just a champ
    Oscar is all Gray
    Hotdogs cause cramp
    Serena’s a whiner
    Erdos sylvan
    Jeff’s gone ballistic
    I might as well win.

    (Bibliographic footnotes are left as an exercise for the reader.)

  8. Bobbie says:

    One of my favorites from DP.

  9. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Biles for the seminar. Parker for drinks after.

    Slightly Off-topic: what is it people saw in Alexander Woollcott? The rest of them were all fascinating.

  10. J Storrs Hall says:

    I’m sure that Biles would run the gamut of seminar topics from Athletics to Bodybuilding.

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