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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

For many, it's the most wonderful time of the year: March Madness. Last night the brackets for the NCAA men's basketball tournament were released - the women's lineup comes later today - and the sound of squabbling over the merits of the chosen rage on the radio.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Drexel got left out of the field. That's a basketball crime that was committed there. The committee should be ashamed of itself for that. That's just disgusting.

CONAN: Writer and MORNING EDITION commentator John Feinstein getting in his two cents earlier today. The brackets of the tournaments have spawned a sub-science: bracketology. And now enlightened bracketologists have come to understand that the method used to reduce 64 contestants to a single winner applies to a lot more than just basketball. Who's the best 18th century poet? Brackets can help decide. What's the best Oscar outfit ever, the best ad slogan, the best animation character. Plug in your nominees, let's see. Homer Simpson loses to Bart in the first round. You've got to be kidding. And the argument begins.

We'll talk to a proponent of the system, Mark Reiter, who edited the brackets in the new book entitled "The Enlightened Bracketologist," and we want to hear from you. What topic would you like to see duke it out in bracketology: movies, books, department stores? Who's going to be the final four of Christmas shopping: the Internet or Target at midnight? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Later in the program we'll talk with classicist Victor Davis Hanson about "300," the new movie adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel. And we've also created an abbreviated bracket for best movie made from a comic book. You can argue with that on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation, all one word.

But first, to the source. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now from Portland, Oregon, to help us deconstruct the NCAA basketball bracket. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: Now brackets are fundamental to any large single elimination tournament, tennis, for example, but nobody really argues whether Andy Roddy or Randy Roddick ought to be a three seat or a six. When did the NCAA Tournament obsession get started, really?

GOLDMAN: That's a really good question. It happened over a number of years. You know, basketball historians really link it to maybe from the 1950s to the 1960s is when the NCAA started to grow in ascendancy. And then back then, as - back in 1952, it was only 22 teams. It went to 32 teams in 1975, and over the next decade after that there were five more increases to bring it to 64, and now actually we have 65.

But it was a long, slow climb and it kind of crossed paths like two ships passing in the night with the NIT tournament, the National Invitational Tournament, which was prominent really until, you know, the 1950s, some say up until the '60s and '70s.

CONAN: Yeah, now known as the losers' tournament.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And the interesting part of that is, you know, there are a lot of different ways to construct those brackets. There are conference champions that get automatic bids. There's incredible amounts of arguments over who ought to get these extra slots, the so-called at-large slots in the tournament.

GOLDMAN: Right, and there was much more arguing this year. Interestingly, the person from the NCAA said last night that there were 104 teams this year with more than 20 victories, and that was - the previous high was 78. So that gives you a sense of what they had to deal with. And, you know, it strikes me as humorous, Neal. Everyone always argues, come football season, about the BCS, the Bowl Championship Series, and all the arguing and the unfairness that goes on. And they always lob the NCAA Basketball Tournament as being fair and everyone gets a shot. Well, if you hear people, you know, last night and this morning, the complaining and, as John Feinstein said, the basketball crimes being committed...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: ...there's a lot of whining that goes on in basketball, too, even though, you know, they still pick 65 teams.

CONAN: Interestingly also, the NCAA says in terms of football we've got to protect the Bowl system, these were so crucial to the development of our sport. Somehow they didn't feel the same way about the NIT, now did they?

GOLDMAN: No, they certainly didn't. And the NIT has certainly been losing its luster. You know, you mentioned what it's called now. I mean some of the people jab at the NIT, call it the Not Invited Tournament...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GOLDMAN: ...Nobody's Important Tournament. They say the champion of there is basically the 66th best team in college basketball. And fans, you know, are known to get pretty brutal in some places. And if there's a team late in the season that is playing for an NCAA berth and they're going to lose, the fans start chanting N-I-T, N-I-T.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So before we let you go, Tom Goldman, to get back to your serious work there, who's in your Final Four bracket this year?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Neal, I have not chosen anything I can say. As you said, I'm based in Portland, Oregon, and everyone here is very excited about the Oregon Ducks who won the PAC-10 Conference Championship over UCLA and a bunch of other teams. Of course, when we get our hopes up high, you know, they usually lose in the first round. But we're hoping for greater things. I have no other predictions other than that.

CONAN: Tom Goldman, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate your time.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

CONAN: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who joined us from Portland, Oregon.

One of the best things about the NCAA basketball tournament, besides a month of delicious dips and fist-shaking upsets, is that it provides finality. No matter what, one team proves demonstrably better than the rest. There's a way to settle all kinds of disputes with this kind of closure, and we've got the man to explain it. Mark Reiter is co-editor of "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything," along with Richard Sandomir, and he joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. MARK REITER (Co-editor, "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything"): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And when did you realize that the template of the NCAA basketball tournament was applicable to things like, oh, let's say Frank Sinatra songs?

Mr. REITER: Well, it started with my partner, Richard Sandomir. He used the word bracketology in a column in the New York Times. And I called him up and said, God, I never heard that word before, which meant I was sort of out of the loop.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REITER: But I said you could really apply this to anything. And pretty soon he kind of grabbed the idea with me and we were doing brackets on napkins of Elvis Costello songs and Frank Sinatra songs. The next thing I know, I was doing it in front of a book editor and we had a book deal.

CONAN: And it's one of those ideas that, the instant you see it, you get it. And you kick yourself: Why didn't I think of that?

Mr. REITER: I've heard that.

CONAN: And the other part that you've done I think awfully well is you've imported a bunch of ringers to address each of these very, you know, esoteric brackets.

Mr. REITER: Well, we couldn't do it all ourselves. We tried at the start, and we've each done about four or five ourselves. But you needed experts because there's so much information packed in here, and it's got to be fun and have, you know, a taste of expertise. So, you know, we would - if we wanted to see a bracket on cooking tools, we commandeered the White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses, and he did his. You know, cookbooks beats pots and pans in the finals there.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REITER: We wanted to see a bracket on game show catch phrases, so who better than the all-time "Jeopardy" champion, Ken Jennings, to do that? We got Kurt Anderson to - you know, the co-founded of Spy magazine - to do one on conspiracy theories. And then on and on it went.

CONAN: Some of these categories are just wonderful. Newspaper headlines. The winner: Dewey Defeats Truman. Then you get male vices. Abuse of irony I think is a disputable winner. You get a lot of arguments in terms of that. There's an argument on every page here.

Mr. REITER: That's what we like about it. We think it's healthy debate. That's the key to it. You don't want - you know, people pick up the book, the first thing they do is they smile, then they laugh, and then they immediately start arguing: Why did you pick that? I mean with my Elvis Costello songs bracket, even my kids don't agree with the winner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's bring in one of these ringers. Stefan Fatsis is an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED commentator and also the author of the book "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players." And he joins us now from his house here in Washington, D.C. Stefan, nice to talk to you.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hi, Neal. Good to talk to you.

CONAN: And you picked a - Scrabble words was your assignment, and when you first started out - of course, Scrabble words, no doubt you could find 64 of them.

FATSIS: Oh, easily - 128 or 178,000, which is how many are acceptable in tournament Scrabble. So whittling it down was the first challenge, and I think that's the challenge that every bracketologist faced that Mark and Rich contacted.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And I'm just looking at your bracket now, and you're heavily indebted to Cervantes and his creation, "Don Quixote."

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: I am. Well, because quixotic and a derivative form of the word play very, very important roles in the history of competitive Scrabble. I've got quixotic facing off against quixotry in the round of eight. And quixotic was one of my favorite words because when I was researching "Word Freak," I came across the archives of Alfred Butts, the inventor of Scrabble, who would routinely tell the story about how his wife Nina was a much better Scrabble player than he was. She once played quixotic for 284 points.

And then low and behold, just a few months ago, actually, a player up in Massachusetts by the name of Michael Cresta scored 365 points on one turn by playing the word quixotry, Q-U-I-X-O-T-R-Y, and quixotry advances to the final four in my bracket.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. There's also a - there's a bunch of them here that most of us would not recognize as words, like moxbib(ph), and burr we would recognize as a sound, but that and zzzz(ph), you're not quite sure are actually words. Those of you who study these things professionally would understand that. But I have to say there's a category - there's a word you use - Jew - and the argument was whether it was a word or not.

FATSIS: Correct, yeah, whether it should be…

CONAN: Applicable.

FATSIS: ...acceptable...

CONAN: Acceptable word, yeah.

FATSIS: ...applicable, allowable in Scrabble. And the back story there - and this is one of the most interesting episodes in the history of this very rich game - is that back in 1994, there was a woman who came across the word Jew as an acceptable word in "The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary." She was outraged by this, and she contacted Hasbro, the maker of the game, and the company agreed with her and decided that all offensive terms should be expurgated from "The Official Scrabble Dictionary."

The players went bananas, because Scrabble players believe that words are words. We don't decide what's an acceptable word in our language. Lexicographers do. And the compromise that was reached was now if you go into a bookstore and buy "The Official Scrabble Dictionary," it is expurgated. There are no, quote/unquote, "offensive terms" in there. But when we play in competitive Scrabble, there's a separate book that has no meanings in it, no definitions in it, and it's just a list of all the acceptable terms. And most of these words are found and are derived from collegiate dictionaries.

CONAN: And there's another playoff between qwyrth(ph), a word that has no vowels whatsoever and sounds like it's in Welsh, and argh, which, of course - isn't that a foreign word? Isn't that pirate?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: Pirate has been accepted into English - many pirate terms. No, that's why I paired them. I mean, the beautiful thing about the bracketology and about the enlightened bracketologist is that we have the ability to sort of rig things a little bit. There are no seedings here. We're able to organize the words however we sort of chose to do so. Qwyrth is just a fabulous term, because it is, as you rightly point out, derived from Welsh, and I paired it up against another word with a whole lot of consonants in it.

CONAN: We're talking about "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything," the foolproof system for determining what we really love or hate and why. More after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

If you're addicted to the closure that you get from the NCAA Tournament brackets, don't throw away those empty brackets when March is over. You can use them again and again and finally solve the mystery of best female mystery novelist, among many other things. If you'd like to make your own bracket, best lunch maybe, you can go to our Web site: npr.org/talk, and see how to make your decisions. And you can read about the NCAA Tournament underdogs at npr.org.

Our guests are Mark Reiter, author of "The Enlightened Bracketologist," and Stefan Fatsis, author of "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players." Of course, you're welcome to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's get a caller on the line. This is Bill. Bill's with us from Columbus, Ohio.

BILL (Caller): Yes, sir.

CONAN: Hi.

BILL: Hey, I just - I used to spend a lot of time doing a science called operations research, and I wanted to mention that there is a method that's been around for at least 20 years. It was developed by a gentleman called Saaty, S-A-A-T-Y. And in it he used what are called pairwise comparisons. In other words, if you've got a large number of things you want to decide the best, the heaviest, the lightest or whatever, you compare them one next to each other through a series of these comparisons one-on-one. and by the end of his method, you have developed what you can - an order, in other words, from the heaviest to the lightest or whatever the criteria is that you choose. And I think that this bracketology appears to be an interesting extension of that capability.

CONAN: Mark Reiter, did you suspect that bracketology evolved from such intellectual company?

Mr. REITER: No, I did not. and I appreciate that information, but I will acknowledge the fact that he's spot on in terms of what the trick is here. You know, bracketology is our way of turning opinion into a sport and having fun with it, and so, you know, nobody wants to deal with a big, messy pile of choices. So if you organize them into pairs and make them go one-on-one against each other and play that out until you have a winner, you know, you're basically creating a mental tournament for yourself. So I see that.

CONAN: Hmm, Bill, thanks for the call. Appreciate it.

BILL: You're welcome. Thanks for the program.

CONAN: Sure. Let's turn now to - this is Dana, and Dana's with us from Toledo, Ohio.

DANA: Yes, I'm wondering if I could do a worst duo.

CONAN: Is that acceptable, Mark Reiter?

Mr. REITER: Anything is combinable if you ask me.

CONAN: And since you're the editor here.

Mr. REITER: That's absolutely true. I mean, you could take a concept like Beatle songs. That would be an obvious bracket to do. For our book, we would fine tune it to something like along the lines of Best Beatle songs That Weren't Number One, because it's a little more interesting. But you could also do worst Beatle songs, I think.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. All right, Dana, you've been given carte blanche.

DANA: Well, I'm thinking in the category of Geography, knowledge of, worst.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANA: Any school in the nation that ranks the lowest in their state versus the NCAA, because the last time I checked, Buffalo was not in the West and New Orleans was not in the Midwest.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. They have some peculiar places for some of the first-round games in some of their regional tournaments, and if Tom Goldman were still with us, he'd be able to explain why it is that that happens, but we'll just accept it for the weirdness that it is.

DANA: Yes, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Dana.

DANA: All right.

CONAN: There's some also, Mark Reiter, some interesting ways that you - your ringers have arranged some of this. Peter Marks arranges, for example, Great American Plays. And this is going to be controversial even in of itself, but he sets up an Arthur Miller regional, an August Wilson regional, a Sam Shepard regional, an Edward Albee regional, Eugene O'Neill regional, David Mamet regional, Clifford Odets regional and Tennessee Williams regional, and they all compete for the final championship, which is - well, I don't want to give it away, but it's "The Glass Menagerie." And again, people can argue with that. But, you know, he leaves an awful lot of people out. Again, the argument starts immediately.

Mr. REITER: Immediately. The idea of regionalizing is it gives you another chance, just editorially, to be clever with people.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REITER: I know my partner, Sandomir, did a bracket on bald guys, and he divided it into fringe and shaved-head regionals, just so that you could end up having Homer Simpson and Gandhi meet in the finals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You know, Stefan Fatsis, you don't have quite the opportunity to have Homer Simpson and Gandhi meet in your final, do you?

FATSIS: No, I did not. And, you know, I actually didn't even contemplate doing regionals, and I could have easily done that, too. And I've already heard from Scrabble players who have seen my bracket, you know, my very narrow bracket, and have had comments on it. And that is the beauty of this. I mean even in, you know, this is a solitary act, putting this thing together, you know, in the quiet of my attic office, but it was the most fun I could imagine having. As soon as Richard Sandomir, whom I know from my work as a - from my job as a sports writer…

CONAN: Yeah.

FATSIS: …when Rich contacted me, it took me one second to e-mail him back and say in.

Mr. REITER: If I…

FATSIS: And that's the beauty of this.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, go ahead.

Mr. REITER: If I may add something, Neal, about Stefan - he was one of our earliest bracketologists. And when he sent in his Scrabble bracket, which was note perfect - didn't need a, you know, a stitch of editing - Rich and I looked at each other and knew we had a homerun here.

CONAN: By the way, we've stolen that regional playoff concept for our Best Movie Made from a Comic Book, which you can see at our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation, so you can see that the - the Gotham, for example, final, and the Metropolis final. And these are all fascinating ways to do it.

Let's get another caller on the line, though. This is Isaac, Isaac with us from Pocatello, Idaho.

ISAAC (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

ISAAC: Thanks for taking my call, y'all. I just had a comment about how close bracketology is to not just pairwise comparisons, but for the concerted candidacy method of deciding elections, where all the candidates in say a democratic election kind of go head-to-head in a round robin and (unintelligible).

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ISAAC: A mathematician named Kenneth Arrow a couple of decades back came up with this idea of the impossibility theorems, which basically said that any democratic election - or any election with more than two candidates - would produce certain situations where the results of the election were indeterminate.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ISAAC: And I was just wondering if your guests could speak about the degree of determinacy that bracketology can give us in deciding these, like, top ten lists and stuff. I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: All right, Isaac. Thanks very much. I think he's talking about the single transferable vote. But anyway, what do you think, Mark Reiter?

Mr. REITER: I think there's a difference between bracketology and traditional top ten lists. What you are seeing, really, is the process. And on our pages here, you can just scan it really fast. And what happens is the ultimate winner becomes a lot more interesting when you see who he's defeated to get there.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REITER: That's the thrilling part of this thing. I'd also like to add, we do have a bracketeer from Pocatello, Idaho, in the book who did our Endangered Species bracket - Chris Jenkins.

CONAN: Hmm, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Pete is with us from Boulder, Colorado.

PETE (Caller): Good day, mates. Hey, years ago I came up with sort of an inverse bracketology. I was at a party with some friends, and we were all guitarists, and we were talking about our favorite bands. And we created this pyramid. We actually sat down, drew on a piece of paper a pyramid, and we all agreed Beatles, best rock and roll group ever.

But then it's like, OK, who's - what two and three? Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rolling Stones? And it's a fascinating way where you get down - you can do it with movies as well, with books. It's - this is fascinating to me because now I'm mad because I didn't come up with a book idea for it.

CONAN: Yeah, didn't go straight to the patent office.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And a pyramid is just another way to look at a bracket, isn't it, Mark Reiter?

Mr. REITER: If you turn our book on its side, it's basically the bracket is a pyramid with a peak at the top and a lot of entries at the bottom.

PETE: I'm serious, to try that, try - and it's great party fun to say, OK, best rock and roll band or best movie. Imagine you're stranded on an island, you get one movie every six months, and then you get two the next six months, and then three, and what do you come up with?

CONAN: Hmm.

PETE: And it's tons of fun, lively debate and argument.

CONAN: Stefan Fatsis, let me ask you a question about this. Did you start from the beginning, where you had the equivalent of the, you know, the cratons(ph) and the George Washington Universities, the Scrabble words there playing off against each other? Or did you start from the end, knowing which word you thought was the ultimate crossword puzzle word?

FATSIS: I actually didn't pick my winner until after I had assembled, you know, a good four to six finalists. Like I knew in my mind which words were going to be the most significant. And significant I defined for this narrow little bracket as words that were interesting, words that have some sort of compelling history, words that had played a significant roll in great games, and words that were just unbelievable plays in Scrabble games - sort of famous words. And I describe them as the shots heard round the world, because even in a game like Scrabble, top players know the greatest plays of all time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

FATSIS: And so I assembled those. But then in the end, I kind of ended up going towards something that wasn't the one shot, that wasn't the Reggie Jackson, three-homer game. It was something much more fundamental. It was more like the, you know, a sacrifice bunt.

CONAN: It took you a while to chew over that one, I bet.

FATSIS: It did, and that was the great thing with this. And that's the genius of what Mark and Rich decided to do with this book. You're not just coming up with a list, as the caller alluded to a little while ago. You're forced to have this internal argument - in this case, 16 times for the first round and then eight times for the second, and so on. You're required to really stretch your brain much more in coming up with arguments for why one word or one song or one whatever is better than another.

CONAN: Hmm. Anyway, Peter, thanks very much for the call.

PETER (Caller): Likewise.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get - this is going to be Randy - excuse me, Donald. Donald's with us from Boerne, Texas.

DONALD (Caller): Yes, sir. Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

DONALD: Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good.

DONALD: After probably a few too many happy hours of trying to be the biggest blowhard at the table in a similar discussion, is it possible this might actually minimize a more articulate discussion about the relative pair offs?

CONAN: Mark Reiter?

Mr. REITER: I didn't really understand the question. I'm sorry.

DONALD: Well, it seems as if these are all personalized and opinionated statements. And so it doesn't really - with this many nodes to circumvent, it doesn't seem as if it's going to be that reasonable a way to discuss more subjective topics.

Mr. REITER: Well, there's some things that are arguable. There are some things that are kind of almost universally agreed on, I would think. I did a bracket on where were you when moments early on here. And we have, you know, a final four of the first time you heard The Beatles, the day JFK was shot, the man on the moon, and the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks wins.

DONALD: I was trying to play devil's advocate. I think I failed.

Mr. REITER: I think a lot of people wouldn't argue with that.

DONALD: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Donald, thanks for the call. Here's an e-mail from N.J. This is actually from our blog.

About 15 years ago I studied civil procedure and constitutional law under Dan Conkle, a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, who used bracketology. This method was invaluable for clarifying every judicial decision. It was no surprise to my class when Mr. Conkle won the teaching award.

So clearly, you're aiming much too low here, Mark Reiter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITER: That may be the case.

CONAN: We're talking with Mark Reiter, who along with Richard Sandomir , is co-editor of the new book, "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything." Also with us, Stefan Fatsis, an All Things Considered contributor and sportswriter in his day job for the Wall Street Journal.

If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get Lloyd on the line. Lloyd is with us from Surprise, Arizona, which has got to be in somebody's bracket for good town names. Go ahead.

LLOYD (Caller): Ok. Where does the movie "Casablanca" ride among the all-time great movies?

CONAN: Is there such a category? I mean, I know you have a category of Samuel L. Jackson movies, but all-time greatest movies?

LLOYD: Yeah. All-time greatest movies, where does "Casablanca?" There've been several surveys, and on a couple of them it ranks number one, and then it may rank number one occasionally.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, Mark Reiter, does…

Mr. REITER: Well, there was an American Film Institute study, and people's default responses basically for greatest films are, you know, "Godfather," "Godfather Part II," "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," "Gone with the Wind," or the "Wizard of Oz." We tried to avoid - and I don't mean to, you know, cast dispersions here - we tried to just fine tune the idea so that it were a little more unexpected. So we had Robert Wohl doing classic black-and-white film comedies rather than just greatest film of all-time, which can be found in a lot of lists.

CONAN: Lloyd, thanks very much for the call.

LLOYD: Sure. OK.

CONAN: Bye-bye. The categories are almost endless: TV one-liners by Michael Davis, from, you know, eat my shorts, come on down, stifle yourself - where's that from - say goodnight, Gracie. That lost to stifle yourself? Edith, "All in the Family?" How could that possibly be? These categories go on and on. And goodnight and good luck lost to Lucy, you've got some 'splaining to do, which is, you know, comparing and contrasting two very different forms of television, Mark Reiter.

Mr. REITER: Well, he should have done - Michael Davis should have done regionals in hindsight, I think. But he is certainly an expert - you know, an editor, writer of TV Guide for 20 years - and he lives and breathes this stuff.

In finding the experts, you know, you've got to go far and wide. I just want to point out, though, we had - this woman, Maureen Ogle, did one of my favorite brackets, which was on American beers because she had written a history of American brewing called "Ambitious Brew."

And what's interesting about Maureen, I think, unlike any other bracketologist here is when she was doing the beers, figuring out what the best one, she didn't really rely on taste memory like our wine experts did. She actually did it as a real life tournament, drinking beer against beer in each round - so much so that when she got to the final four, she actually had to take two days off to rest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Did she have none of the above as an entrant?

Mr. REITER: No, she did not, but I really applaud her commitment on this.

CONAN: This is an e-mail from Daniel in Michigan. I saw a fabulous op art piece about 20 years ago I wish I could locate today. It reduced the history of the world to a series of NCAA tile brackets. It had each match up between countries determined by the historical result of the conflicts. So, for example, Spain lost to England in the 1588 round. We all remember the Armada. The final result, the last match was set between Vietnam and Afghanistan, with a loser's bracket for third place between the USSR and the United States of America.

I'm not sure you went quite that far with your brackets.

Mr. REITER: You know, I think I saw that, too. I think I recall that, yes.

CONAN: Is there going to be a second "Enlightened Bracketologist?" Can you come up with even more categories, do you think?

Mr. REITER: That should not be a problem. We've got a thousand ideas, but I think we're going to fine tune it a little more for next year. And I will say that the cover of the jacket this year is yellow, but next year on Valentine's Day it's going to be pink.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. REITER: I think we're going to call it the Female Bracketologist.

CONAN: So male indiscretions, this is what - you thought - there's a couple that fall into the female wheelhouse, if you will, to continue our sports analogy.

Mr. REITER: Well, yes, we've got Spanky Van Acken(ph) - which is a pseudonym -doing women's undies. Stephanie Dolgoff from Self Magazine did a brilliant bracket on women's magazine sex cliches from Oh to Ooh-ings - that sort of thing. But we think women were a little underrepresented in this edition, so next time we're going to have a pink book. We'll have brackets on perfumes, on, you know, blind date faux pas, on best "Charlie's Angels" casts. There's more ideas than time.

CONAN: Wedding gifts has already been used. It's in this year's edition. Marcy Bloom goes through them all from artwork to wine glasses to dice and vacuum. The winner? Cash. Thanks very much for being with us, Mark Reiter.

Mr. REITER: Neal, my pleasure.

CONAN: Mark Reiter, coeditor of "The Enlightened Bracketologist." Stefan Fatsis, good to speak with you as well.

FATSIS: Likewise, Neal. Thanks.

CONAN: Stefan Fatsis, one of his contributors, and one of ours on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

When we come back from a break, "300." It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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