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Voltaire (4) vs. Nora Ephron; Veronica Geng advances

Jonathan informs us:

Geng’s first contribution to the New Yorker was a July 12th 1976 parody of Martin Gardner. With Gardner eliminated, the Gardner partisans among us can jump on a new wagon. (Alternatively, Geng could simply be replaced by Gardner, but the structure of this contest is anarchic enough already.) In any case, here is an excerpt from this initial bit of Gengiana:

Hand an ordinary guest a supermarket receipt and ask him to tally the numerals in each vertical column of the tape, starting from the top right-hand column of digits and then working down, and then “carrying” digits, much as one does in ordinary addition. Confoundingly, the probability is 1/2, or fifty percent, that one or more digits in the guest’s total will correspond to one or more of those printed at the bottom of the tape. This trick is ridiculously easy to understand once it is understood, and lays bare the very essence of the scientific method. It relies on what magicians call “chance.” The greater the number of entries on the tape, the smaller the probability of a coincidence — with an absolute certainty of no coincidence, of course, when the tape involves items rung on the ‘Meat’ key.

I almost need not mention that this combines a skewering of Martin Gardner, p values, magicians, and, in the choice of subject, Brian Wansink. It’s almost as if she was planning for this contest in 1976, which also then proves Bem knew what he was he talking about.

Assuming she survives this round, I will scour her work for writings on the ovulation of beautiful daughters.

That’s more than good enough for me!

And next it’s the fourth-ranked Wit vs. an unseeded Creative Eater. Either one would be excellent, I’m sure. What do you think?

Again, here’s the bracket and here are the rules.


  1. I feel like I’ve been away for a while, even though I spent the past couple of days near Columbia, of all places! But I’m happy with some of the results–Sattouf, Geng–and even more delighted with the comments. Too bad about Karloff, though! I would have rooted for him if circumstances had permitted it.

    For the current match, I vote for Voltaire. The reason is that I read Candide in high school, and the ending, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” has come back to mind many times throughout the years. There’s some controversy about what it means, but I would wager that it has something to do with doing the good of which we are capable. I could be wrong, and so I have a grand vision of inviting him as seminar speaker to (a) dispel misconceptions of the statement; (b) expound on its true meanings; and (c) invite us into discussion, since the garden is, after all, ours. No true gardening would be required, and no false gardening allowed.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      1. From

      “The history of the novel’s other world-famous phrase, which serves as the book’s conclusion – il faut cultiver notre jardin – is more peculiar. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it didn’t come into written use in English until the early 1930s – in America through Oliver Wendell Holmes and in Britain thanks to Lytton Strachey. But a long, unrecorded history of its oral use and misuse can be deduced from Strachey’s announced desire to cure the “degenerate descendants of Candide” who have taken the phrase in the sense of “Have an eye to the main chance.” That a philosophical recommendation to horticultural quietism should be twisted into a justification for selfish greed would not necessarily have surprised Voltaire. A century after his death, the centennial commemorations were sponsored and organised by Menier, the famous chocolate manufacturers. Flaubert, always alert to the corruption of art by commerce, remarked in a letter: “How irony never quits the Great Man! The praise and the insults continue just as if he were still alive.””

      2. It would be interesting to have a bracket where Voltaire, Leonard Bernstein, and Lillian Hellman had a chance of going neck to neck: Bernstein wrote the operetta Candide, and the original libretto was by Hellman.

  2. Dalton says:

    Both contestants are dead. This is interesting cause either one could share with us secrets from beyond the grave. I for one believe that after we die, we all become Laplace’s demon and therefore have complete knowledge of all events that have ever or will ever transpire. Just imagine what they could tell us… if they were willing.

    Of the two, only Nora Ephron has proved that she’d be willing to dish. From her wikipedia page: “I would give speeches to 500 people and someone would say, ‘Do you know who Deep Throat is?’ And I would say, ‘It’s Mark Felt.'” To which is added: “No one, apart from my sons, believed me.”

    Just imagine all the mundane truths she could share with us, that no one would believe.

    “Who REALLY killed JFK?” “Lee Harvey Oswald”

    “Is there intelligent life on other planets?” “There isn’t even intelligent life on this planet.”

    “What’s the true effect of power posing?” “Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, mostly just very, very, very small.”

  3. Dzhaughn says:

    I am concened, as Dalton was earlier, about the risk of uniting the Ephron-Streep-Child triumvirate. This could lead to bad things. Julie vs. Julia, courtroom drama. Jules or Julia, cashing in on the franchise. Meatless in Me-attle (self-absorbed vegetarian Puget Sound Instagram romance) and “You’ve Got Kale!” “Milk would…?” monster horror where expiration dates are forged and the power company tampers with the fridge door light switch.

    Actually, these sound better than average these days.

  4. Phil says:

    The number of comments above is very small, but the quality is very high. Maybe someday there will be only one comment and it will be truly awesome.

  5. zbicyclist says:

    So, a gardener and a disher — seems like we should have them both, Voltaire growing and Ephron serving.

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