The Annual Freakonomics Kentucky Derby Predictions

Almost a decade of blogging had worn me down, but after some time off, I'm ready to jump back in the saddle. I can't think of a better way than by embarrassing myself with the annual Kentucky Derby predictions!

Think Like a Freak Is Out Today — Win a Signed Copy Here!

Today's the day: Think Like a Freak has just been published. Levitt and I will spend a lot of the next few weeks doing interviews for various TV, radio, print, web, and other media outlets. So how about we spice things up a bit and, at the same time, give you the chance to win a signed copy? (Winners of last week's giveaway contest will be announced later today.)

Here's the deal: in the comments section below, enter a word or short phrase that you'd like us to slip into one of our interviews. If we use your secret phrase, you win a signed copy of Think Like a Freak (or, if you prefer, a Think t-shirt).

The Ravages of Time

My twenty-five year college reunion is right around the corner.  In advance of the event, my classmates were asked to write a short summary of their post college life.  Next to each write-up was the picture from our graduating yearbook twenty-five years ago.  Many of the entries also include current pictures.

Flipping casually through the book, I noticed two things. First, it is amazing how old we all look.  Time really takes its toll, that’s for sure. Second, men were much more likely than women to submit pictures of what they look like now.

There was a third thing that also seemed to be true.  Many of the people who were really attractive twenty-five years ago don’t look so good now.  And even more interesting, there were a surprising number of people who were unattractive in college, but look great (relative to the rest of us geriatrics) now.  If I had been asked to guess, I would have estimated that the correlation between attractiveness twenty-five years ago and today was zero or even negative for women.  For men I would have guessed a small positive correlation.

I was so struck by the pattern that I decided to do a more systematic data analysis.

Levitt on Reddit: "Ask Me Anything" at Noon

I'm not sure how I got talked into it, but I agreed to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit today.

These are the sorts of questions I’m looking forward to:

Q: Would you rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

And here are the kinds of answers I’ll be giving.

A: I would take the one big duck, for sure.  I’ll be an underdog either way (that is true in most fights I’m in).  When you are the underdog, you want luck to play as big a role as possible.  With one big duck, maybe I manage to get in a lucky swing with my 7-iron and end it quickly.  With 100 little horses, even if I get lucky and wipe out a few of them, there are still 97 more to deal with.  Plus, I’ve been bit by a horse, and it is no fun.  I also recently got attacked by fire ants, and that was no fun either.  The thought of horse jaws on those fire ants makes my skin crawl.

To check it out, just go to Reddit IAmA at noon, ET.

Help Wanted: Techno Superstars Looking to Work on Some Freakonomics-Inspired Start-ups in Chicago

I’ve got a lot of smart friends, and they come up with some pretty good ideas.  (I even have an idea myself once in a while!)

Occasionally, these ideas take the form of potential internet businesses.  Although we have incubated some interesting businesses up until now, there is too much talking and not enough doing.

It is time for that to change, and we want to open up  a little Chicago office to pursue these ideas.

We need some superhuman talent to make it a success. 

If you think you have what we are looking for, send a resume to stelios@greatestgood.com, and let’s get the fun started!

What's Wrong With Cash for Grades? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “What's Wrong With Cash for Grades?”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it's effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John ListSusanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here's the Atlantic's take.

Levitt Is Ready for the Senior Tour

Steve Levitt has made no secret of his desire to become a good-enough golfer to someday play the Champions Tour, for players 50 and older. 

After watching his amazing performance last week, I now believe Levitt does stand a chance of landing on a senior professional tour. But not in golf.

I was out in Chicago for a couple of days to work with Levitt. After a long day, we went out for dinner at a place called Seven Ten. It has food, beer, and bowling alleys -- just a couple of them and nothing fancy. Old-school bowling.

After the meal, I tried to get Levitt to bowl a game or two. He wasn't interested. Said he was worried about hurting his golf swing. (Puh-leeze.) He said he'd watch me bowl. I can't think of anything less fun than bowling alone except having someone sit and watch you bowl alone. So I lied and told him that bowling would probably be good for his golf swing -- the heavy ball could loosen up his joints, yada-yada, etc. 

He finally agreed when I suggested the loser pay for dinner.

10,000 hours later: the PGA Tour?

Last spring, I jokingly (okay, maybe half-jokingly) wrote about my quest to make the Champions Tour, the professional golf tour for people over the age of 50.  In that post, I made reference to the ideas of Anders Ericsson, an old friend whom Dubner and I wrote about in our New York Times column back in 2006, and whose ideas later became the centerpiece of a number of popular books.  Anders is the one who thinks that talent is unimportant. Oversimplifying a bit, he argues that with 10,000 hours of the right kind of deliberate practice, more or less anyone can become more or less world-class at anything. I’ve spent 5,000 hours practicing golf, so if I could just find the time for 5,000 more, I should be able to compete with the pros. Or at least that is what the theory says.  My scorecards seem to be telling a different story!

It turns out I’ve got a kindred spirit in this pursuit, only this guy is dead serious.  A few years back, twenty-something Dan McLaughlin decided he wanted to play on the PGA tour.  Never mind that he had only played golf once or twice in his life and had done quite poorly those times.  He knew the 10,000 hour argument, and he thought it would be fun to give it a test.  So he quit his job, found a golf coach, and has devoted his life to golf ever since.  So far he is 2,500 hours into his 10,000 hour quest, which he chronicles at thedanplan.com.

Is It Time to Start a Strange Name Hall of Fame?

We should probably start a Strange Name Hall of Fame at some point to chronicle all the weird, wonderful, terrible names that readers have passed along to us since we first wrote about names in Freakonomics. This one, from Joyce Wilson, would probably make the cut:

I thought of Freakonomics when I was at a St. Louis area grocery store and saw cut-out paper snowflakes taped to the window with the makers' names on them. The name I particularly noticed? Demonica.

Levitt's reply when he saw this e-mail: "Perhaps the little girl’s mother is just a heavy metal fan."

Freakonomics Radio Live on Stage: St. Paul in Pictures

Last week, Freakonomics Radio took to the stage for a live event at the historic Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn. Not only is St. Paul the home of Freakonomics Radio co-producer American Public Media, but Steve Levitt also grew up in the Twin Cities. So the live event had a good deal of "this is your life" stuff in it, including a Quiz Bowl competition between Team Levitt (Steve, his sister Linda Jines, and their father Michael) against the current team from St. Paul Academy, where both Steve and Linda starred on the Quiz Bowl team in their day.

We'll release a podcast next week drawn from the live event, including the Quiz Bowl competition. In the meantime, who do you think won?