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Penn and Teller (3) vs. Pele; Alan Turing advances

Sorry, but did Turing ever have a chance of losing to David Blaine?? Forget about it. This contest is supposed to be Turing complete, no?

Best argument in favor of the showman was from Jonathan:

OK. Here’s a Blaine seminar. He delivers the entire lecture locked inside a trunk with 40 minutes of air. He doesn’t get paid (or live) unless he solves the Entscheidungsproblem for a particular program (selected by the seminar participants) running on a Turing machine clacking away in the corner. If he turns this offer down, invite Turing. He can lecture on whatever he wants to.

But I don’t think even Blaine can solve the Entscheidungsproblem, so we’ll have to go with Enigma-man.

Today’s match features the third-ranked magician—sure, Penn and Teller are two people, but since we’re looking for a speaker, they count as one—this does make me think we should’ve had a Mute Person category, including Teller, Helen Keller, Silent Bob, Harpo Marx, Calvin Coolidge, and Robin Williams With Laryngitis, but that’s another story—against an unranked GOAT, in this case the greatest soccer player of all time.

Penn and Teller have been on TV and do live shows a lot—indeed, I saw them perform, ummm, 30 years ago it was?—and this is practically an invitation for Phil to invoke the “I can see them whenever I want” rule—but then again you can find old World Cup highlights on Youtube and watch Pele whenever you want too. So you gotta come up with a better argument than that!

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. Manuel says:

    OK, so Pele is more or less forced to do the seminar. Part of the audience is very rude to him, they were supposed to have Penn & Teller, so they give him no chance. His friends find a way to smuggle him out of the seminar room before the finish. But he refuses to go, comes back to the floor and enthrals the audience with some brilliant exposition about, dunno, Chilean copper exports or whatever. Finally a winner, he walks out of the seminar room unnoticed among those in the audience that were on his side from the beginning…

  2. Brent Hutto says:

    You could have an extremely engaging seminar by simply inviting Penn Jillette to do dramatic readings from a selection of Gelman’s most opinionated and/or dismissive takedowns over the years. In fact, when I read Andrew’s writings I find I often have an mental of image of them being spoken in Penn’s trademarked manner.

    I have no particular opinion as to which of A.G.’s many fine collaborators could be impersonated by Teller…

  3. Jeff says:

    Penn’s onstage persona doesn’t translate well to other topics, in my opinion. I’m a P&T fan but find Penn’s podcast unlistenable, and the issue is not disagreement with his opinions.

    However, if Teller and Penn reversed roles, I’d sign up. I don’t mean Penn would have to just sit there and STFU–I’d expect him to find ways to participate without speaking, as Teller does. He’s a smart guy, and I think it might be entertaining to see him outside his comfort zone.

    If not that, then Pele.

  4. The question is whether we want a seminar focused on Bullshit! like most seminars, or on a universal truth and beauty: The Beautiful Game. I gotta go with Pele, but given it’s an academic seminar I’m pretty sure we’re going to get the Bullshit!

  5. plusplus says:

    I would really like to hear Pele’s considered thoughts on who really is GOAT — him or Messi. I know, he is on the record about it already, but has been already refuted massively [sic] by video evidence, so what better than confronting a hostile seminar audience and justify his title?

  6. “Pelé” sounds like “Penn and Teller” said really fast but with an “ay” at the end and no “n,” “t,” or “r.” That strikes me as concise, heroic, and athletic. So I vote for Pelé and his onomatopoeia.

    • Jeff says:

      I agree with this essential logic, “essential” sounding like what “Diana Senechal” maybe sounds like said really fast but without a “di” or an “an” at the beginning, in the head of someone who has no actual knowledge of how it’s pronounced.

      • That’s the funniest repartee I’ve received in a while. In honor of it, Pelé might consider changing his name to Jelé, but this should not be a condition of seminarship, lest it get mistaken for wobblier things.

        • Jeff says:

          Absurdly, I feel honored.

        • This last joke flopped, I realized later, because of grammatical ambiguity and lack of setup. The idea was, “lest the ship [i.e., of “seminarship”] get mistaken for wobblier things” (e.g., Jello, jelly, gelee, or the like). But even when stated more clearly, it doesn’t quite work, so I offer instead that Jelé, if mispronounced correctly, could sound like “je l’ai,” which leads right into “Je l’ai trouvé!” (French for “Eureka”), which would set the proper tone for the seminar. And even if you’re not on board with changing Pelé to Jelé, you can flip the P of Pelé both horizontally and vertically (something Pelé himself might do on the field), and end up with what looks sort of like a cursive J. In any case, a Pelé seminar would turn up many discoveries.

        • Tom says:

          Pelé thrilled us all in the day when tackles were an order of magnitude more scything than they are today, and managed to stay on his feet, unlike the wobblier footballers of today. No Jelé there.

  7. Bobbie says:

    1. Helen Keller (which, oddly, rhymes with “Penn & Teller”) wasn’t totally mute. She could speak but was barely comprehensible to most people. Yes, like so many of contestants are likely to be (for other reasons).

    Teller, of course, is not mute; he just needs a good reason to speak. Any Big Bang Theory fans?

    2. That the letters in “Pele” are a subset of those in “Penn Teller” would make for a nice clue for a cryptic crossword. Something about a Football* star plus X (whatever could be done with nntelr) magically becoming a duo. Or something like that.

    3. That said, here’s why my vote is for P&T:
    Penn & Teller not only create interesting, often politically-relevant, magic. They are also visible skeptics who critique the over-claiming of magicians/mystics/paranormal advocates and they use empirical arguments/demonstrations when they speak to debunk pseudoscience. For those of us who care about such things as the “replication crisis,” creating better science, the acceptance of science, etc., is there a better analogy than to magic?

  8. J Storrs Hall says:

    We don’t really know that Pele was the best soccer player of all time. There may well come along another who is greater. We do know, however, that Penn and Teller are still the greatest magicians in 2257, at the Dawn of the Third Age of Mankind. (And performing on interstellar space stations)

  9. Dzhaughn says:

    I saw this non-fiction film about a geek who–Jillette dramatically insisted–had “painted a Vermeer.” Meaning he did a interesting forgery that fooled one guy. Too stupid to be forgiven. Sorry Teller. He seems to refute nominative determinism, doesn’t he?

    And having brought up the Dutch: a better speaker than Pele would be Johan Cruyff. (Also thought of Fred Biletnikoff yesterday, over a pre-game aperitif.)

    So, Chauncey Gardener then? Even if I prefer WCW.

  10. Jonathan (another one) says:

    P&T hold a warm place in my heart and bank account because their Broadway gig from 2015 is the only commercial theatrical investment I have made to return any of my money (and it made a tidy profit in a limited run.) It’s only a sample size of 4 at the moment, however, so I have no statistical claims to make.

    But since I’ve already made money off P&T, I’ll go with Pele and offer to operate the souvenir booth.

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