Slate Feedback: Rigging The Price is Right, Bob Costas On Youth Football, and JFK Conspiracy Theories

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Nov. 16 2013 7:15 AM

 “Insanely Comprehensive

Our Price is Right cheat sheet inspires almost indescribable awe.

Bob Barker: Contestant's Row
Bob Barker speaks to the studio audience during his last taping of The Price is Right in 2007.

Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images

When Slate staff writer, mathematician, and avid fan of The Price is Right Ben Blatt used game theory to reveal the inner workings of the venerable retail-themed game show, his findings inspired a mixture of curiosity and fascination (“Winning The Price Is Right: Slate’s complete guide to better bidding through game theory—you don’t even need to know the prices,” Nov. 12). In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish, Blatt demurred at the suggestion that he’d sucked the fun out of The Price is Right saying, “I'm trying to make it, hopefully, as fun to watch as possible.” Blatt’s cheat sheets—which cover Contestant’s Row, the Big Wheel, Now or Then, Squeeze Play, and the Showcase—are “insanely comprehensive,” according to MSN Now. Tech site Boing Boing republished the Now or Then cheat sheet, noting Blatt’s calculations lead to success “100% of the time.” ESPN’s Tony Reali (aka “Stat Boy,” who mans @AroundTheHorn ) tweeted, “Do you like The Price is Right? Would you like to win on it 100% of the time? @BenBlatt did all the work for you.” The Wall Street Journal’s Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo), formerly of Slate, endorsed Blatt’s piece as “Slate’s complete guide to better bidding through game theory.” For other readers, Blatt’s mathematical contortions instilled an almost indescribable sense of awe. As Slate reader Abbe Smith put it, “I don’t know why, but this fascinates me.” Abbe, you’re not alone.

NBC’s Bob Costas made headlines this week during a guest appearance on Hang Up and Listen, Slate’s sports podcast (Hang Up and Listen: The Live with Bob Costas Edition,” Nov. 12). Mainstream and social media sites lit up after Costas advised against kids playing football, citing the sport’s “extreme dangers.” As reported by UPI, Costas’ comment came in response to an audience member’s question about youth participation in a sport that has been much-maligned in recent years for its link to brain injuries. “Let me put it this way,” Sam Gardner of Fox Sports quoted Costas as saying, “If it were my son, all right, and he was 13 years old and had reasonable athletic ability, I would encourage him to play baseball, or to play basketball or to play soccer or something other than football.” As USA Today put it, “The NBC broadcaster would encourage his son to play basically anything else.” Costas’ remarks inspired @msnbc to tweet a link to a poll asking readers which of the “extreme dangers” in football they thought are the scariest for young athletes (72 percent of 1,647 votes tallied cited brain damage from concussions). “Head injury tops the list” of Slate reader Laura Looch’s arguments against youth football, too. Yet a slim minority (169 votes in the MSNBC poll) believe the dangers of football are overstated, a sentiment echoed by @AndrewPaulhus who took to Twitter to call Costas “a real life version of Toby from The Office.”

Fred Kaplan used to believe JFK’s assassination was the work of a conspiracy. But the scales fell from his eyes when he traced the footnotes back to the original source—the Warren Commission report—to discover the extent to which conspiracy theorists had twisted evidence unscrupulously to fit their narrative (“Killing Conspiracy: Why the best conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination don’t stand up to scrutiny,” Nov. 14). “The majority of Americans believe a conspiracy surrounds John F. Kennedy's assassination,” writes Newser’s Arden Dier. “Fred Kaplan used to, too—before he debunked the theories.” Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza notes that 59 percent of the country still thinks multiple gunmen played a role in Kennedy’s shooting. “Fred Kaplan was an adherent,” he writes, “until he set out to verify the factual claims made by conspiracy theorists.” While some Slate readers—not surprisingly—pushed back against Kaplan’s claims, others confessed to a kind of conspiracy fatigue sapping of their will to engage in a back-and-forth over the 50-year-old debate. Slate reader and sideline-sitter, njorl, writes, “I’ve consigned the Kennedy assassination to the unknowable file. My capacity to learn about it will never exceed others' capacity to deceive me about it.” More enthusiasm sparked on Twitter, where Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) pointed to Kaplan’s piece as, “The one article you must read re JFK Assassination 50th Ann.”

John Kruzel is a Slate contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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