Many people are familiar with the phrase “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”, which is a reference to a game in which people have to “find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and prolific actor Kevin Bacon, linked by films they have appeared in together”. The game can be taken to a next level however, which is how the phrase “Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number” originated. In order to have a verified number, you must have co-written a scientific paper with someone who eventually connects to mathematician Paul Erdoös; appeared in a film with someone who eventually connects to Kevin Bacon; and performed musically with someone who eventually connects to Black Sabbath. It’s a hefty goal and requires individuals who are multitalented. Notable holders of the title include Natalie Portman and Brian May, but one Fairfax native has embarked on a journey to attain one for himself.
Benny Blue is a 20-year-old William & Mary College student originally from Chantilly studying computer science. He has a passion for acquiring creative skills and the game Undertale.
“I have autism and ADHD, and very poor fine motor skills as a result. Computers have given me a creative outlet I wouldn’t have otherwise, and creating things digitally brings me great joy. My ultimate goal is to be resourceful and skilled enough to be able to make whatever I want. I also really enjoy video games involving metanarratives.”
In January of 2020, Blue came across an article on Erdos-Bacon Sabbath numbers, and made a Facebook post, declaring it his “ultimate goal in life”, although he had no real intention of following through. But in September, he was surprised to learn that he already had a Bacon number through a connection with his aunt. Together, they’d created videos of play-throughs of Undertale. That got Benny thinking.
“I then realized I also technically had a Sabbath number — but only on a technicality. In January of 2020, I took a 400 mile Greyhound bus trip to Chicago on my own to attend and volunteer at Undertale: LIVE, an orchestral performance of music from Undertale.”
Because the creator of the game can be linked back to Black Sabbath vocalist Ian Gillian, performing at Undertale: LIVE would count as a link.
“However, I didn’t musically contribute to the show — I just worked the merchandise table. But I had a plan.” Eventually, he was able to create music for the game’s live event, giving him a Sabbath number of five.
To Benny, it’s about more than simply a number.
“It was unspeakably fulfilling to know that [Undertale creator Toby Fox] saw what I had worked so hard to create — this person I idolize, who created something so important to me.”
Next up: Erdos. “Luckily, I already have resources laid out for me — it turns out that all the computer science professors at William & Mary have Erdos numbers. And it also has extensive undergraduate research opportunities, with lots of precedents for student co-authors.”
For those inspired to attain their own Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number, Benny has advice: “work with what you already have”.
“My number one piece of advice is to work with what you already have. I’m obsessed with the video game Undertale, and deeply invested in its community, so I achieved it through that community. The whole point is that these links are highly ubiquitous. Erdos holds the record for most published papers in history. “Six Degrees with Kevin Bacon” came about because he bragged in an interview that he’d worked with everyone in Hollywood. Black Sabbath has an obscene number of members. These aren’t random points — they’re epicenters. The point is the act of creating with others.”