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Harry Houdini (1) vs. Yakov Smirnoff; Meryl Streep advances

Best argument yesterday came from Jonathan:

This one’s close.

Meryl Streep and Alice Waters both have 5 letters in the first name and 6 in the last name. Tie.

Both are adept at authentic accents. Tie.

Meryl has played a international celebrity cook; Alice has never played an actress. Advantage Streep.

Waters has taught many chefs; Meryl has taught no actors. Advantage Waters.

Streep went to Vassar and Yale. Waters went to Berkeley. I’m an East Coast guy, but YMMV.

Waters has the French Legion of Honor. Streep is the French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Both have won more awards than either of them can count.

So I use Sophie’s Axiom of Choice: When comparing a finite set of pairs of New Jersey Celebrities, choose the one who got into the New Jersey Hall of Fame earlier. That’s Streep, by 6 years.

And today we have the final first-round match! Who do you want to see: the top-seeded magician of all time, or an unseeded person whose name ends in f? Can a speaker escape from his own seminar? In Soviet Russia, seminar speaker watch you.

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. Houdini is a win-win-win situation. (A) If his seminar is great, we’ll get to enjoy watching him escape. (B) If it’s terrible, he’ll teach us how to escape–a great skill for future occasions as well. (C) If it’s in between, we will get to escape the in-betweenness together, which would in itself be great, therefore (A).

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Forget escapism. Houdini, renowned tormentor of psychics, has spent every minute since his death on an elaborate apparatus to refute Bem’s ESP advocacy. He will describe it in the seminar, and it’s Bem who won’t be able to escape. While there will be the use of strobe lights and herbal smoke, he promises that no p-values will be abused in the performance. Psychological Science describes the performance as “a punch to the gut.”

  3. Ethan Bolker says:

    My cultural ignorance led me to wikipedia for Smirnoff (I’d thought maybe vodka). There I found he was
    “perpetually confused and delighted by life in the United States”. Anyone who could find delight in the current confusion would provide a good break from life in the United States.

    • zbicyclist says:

      Smirnoff, the iconic Russian distiller, went to consult with Kolmogorov, the great Russian mathematician, on a test of linearity.

      After all, Smirnoff was at least as eminent in the liquor business as Guinness, where the t-test originated, so why shouldn’t Smirnoff have his own test?

      As both were esteemed in their fields, they started with toasting each other.

      But by the time they finished several rounds of toasts, neither was sober enough to draw a straight line, which is why the Kolmogorov-Smirnoff test is a test of how well two curves match.

      Or so I’ve been told.

  4. jrc says:

    Houdini can’t be trusted on the big stage. He disappears in the big moment.

  5. Yuling says:

    I want to learn more about missing data analysis from the seminar so I like Harry Houdini. But Yakov Smirnoff is indeed better for this topic — both Vodka and the Soviet are treatments that guarantee everyone to be Missing Completely at Random, and as statistican we definitely prefer Missing Completely at Random.

  6. J Storrs Hall says:

    “The greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin.”

    … and you would preserve the possibility of an all-Martian final.

  7. Susan says:

    Happy Birthday, Andy!!!!!

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