Is nuclear war inevitable in these shaky times? Want to bet?
Death pools — a ghoulish twist on college basketball tournament pools — are nothing new to the Internet. Participants typically throw a few dollars into a pot and guess when various newsmakers will die for cash prizes and bragging rights.
Now, Luke Heidelberger is taking this morbid game to an all new level with the Indo-Pakistani Death Pool.
Just guess the exact time the first bomb detonates and you win. It's that easy. You don't even have to guess who strikes first. Just make sure to also guess how many millions of innocent people die — that's how a tiebreaker is decided.
Are you sick yet? Heidelberger hopes so.
To be sure, Heidelberger's stab at dark humor is intended to get people talking about how close we're coming to nuclear war in South Asia.
"My little death pool isn't encouraging the Indians and Pakistanis to nuke each other. I'm just trying to emphasize how absurd this whole thing is in my own small way," he says.
"If the leaders of those two countries are going to be so stupid and so arrogant as to gamble with the lives of millions of their citizens in a deadly game of nuclear brinksmanship, why shouldn't we gamble too and at least have some fun with it? At least my game might get people talking."
Heidelberger, a 28-year-old computer programmer from Indianapolis, says he's not affiliated with any political group. This is just his own personal statement and in keeping with his own personal favorite statement on war, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
"I'd like to think that Stanley Kubrick would join the pool if he were still around," said Heidelberger. Still, his girlfriend isn't so sure. "She's a little afraid of a backlash."
War: The Sport of Kings
Ghoul pools existed way before the Internet. European nobles were known to bet on everything — including the outcome of wars, sometimes referred to as the "sport of kings."
Compared to the bigger games on the Internet, the Indo-Pakistani Death Pool is small potatoes. The prize is only $120, and Heidelberger put up most of the money himself.
"You don't have to pay to enter," Heidelberger says. "You can contribute as much as you like — or nothing — and you still make a profit on the war."
As of June 25, 303 people had entered the pool. The latest contestant, according to the Web site, was Andy Huchings of Buffalo, N.Y. He predicts the first nuclear bomb will fall on Nov. 19, causing one megadeath.
"Megadeath" is Cold War-speak that means 1 million in casualties. Many entrants are guessing that the first strike will yield 30 megadeaths.
‘Death Pool’ Dave’s Banner Year
The serious death pool players aren't really interested in Heidelberger's site. The prizes are small, and many players say it's more fun to pick on celebrities.
"Famous people are going to die no matter what. This is our little way to thumb our nose at the Grim Reaper," says "Death Pool" Dave, one of the high-profile gamblers on the Internet's death pool circuit, who's appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows.
The Detroit health-care researcher says he won't give his full name. "I'm sure my company doesn't want people to know that one of their researchers plays the death pools," he says.
Popular picks in the death pool world include aging celebrities like Katharine Hepburn, former President Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali and Bob Hope.