How To Accidentally Win Your March Madness Bracket Pool

So, March Madness starts today, or something, and you may have been asked to fill out a bracket or be part of an office pool thanks to some zealous coworkers or friends who are alumni of the same university as you. You may not be all that into the idea, but there’s a chance to win a lot of money with little effort, or maybe you just want to run away with the pool victory to get your friends to stop talking about their alma mater like they’re still in college.

And isn’t that how it always is? The person who knows the least about the competitors, who has studied the least amount of Bracketology and whose brain has not yet been fried by sports punditry, ends up winning the thing? There are a number of strategies for filling out a bracket with the hope of accidentially winning—here are a few personal favorites. Good luck. (Note: None will probably work. None. But whatever, it’s just a game or whatever.) 

The 50/50: This one takes way too much effort. Just flip a coin for every matchup. There’s a chance you’ll at least get a handful right. Or who knows? You could run away with the whole thing. Someone had to land on Norfolk State last year somehow. 

The Pantone: Another common strategy for the casual bracketeer is to go by whichever team’s color scheme you prefer. For example, take the East Region opening matchup between the 7-seed Illinois Fighting Illini and the 10-seed Colorado Buffaloes. The Illinois colors are blue and orange, which are occasionally painful to look at together in a sea of fans. CU’s black and gold are a frequent collegiate pairing, but less of an eyesore. 

The Do Everything Nate Silver Says: Not always as effective for sports as it is for politics, but hey, if that’s your thing. 

The Hollywood Squares: This requires a little background knowledge of schools or some fervent Wikipedia-ing, but there’s always the route of picking the schools that have alumni whose body of work you enjoy. Love The Black Keys? The Akron Zips are your team. Love the blown-glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly? Go with his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. Sports Illustrated did a list of these, but not only is the ranking completely flawed because come on in whose universe is Zach Galifianakis cooler than Gene Kelly, Steve James, Christopher Meloni or Kristen Wiig, and Gary Busey cooler than Kurt Vonnegut, and as an alumna of the #1 ranked school on said list (M-I-Z), they missed a pretty golden opportunity for gratuitous Jon Hamm. 

The Wishful Thinking: Just pick what you want to happen because who cares it’s sports? You want your alma mater to take it all? Write it down. Thousands of other people are doing the same thing. You might be right. We’ll all forget about it in like a month.

The Tarantino: If you casually follow college basketball but maybe didn’t pay attention this year, this is an unrealistic but someone satisfying strategy. Your team got screwed in a key matchup in the past and has the opportunity this year to set things right? Play out your ultimate revenge fantasy. Want to take a longtime rival down in the final or see a mortal enemy’s team get their hearts broken? Put it on the bracket, feel a hint of catharsis. 

The Press Autofill, Ignore It and Do Things Outside: Always a solid strategy. 

NYC’s Best Bars For Watching March Madness

For sports fans, March is arguably the best month on the calendar. Besides baseball’s spring training and NBA and NHL teams’ push for the playoffs, the college basketball season culminates with a massive 68-team tournament beginning March 19th. It’s pretty much all the excitement of a full season compressed into three weeks, providing a sobering reminder that all those games you sat through the previous four months were virtually meaningless.

Seasoned fans know that getting the full March Madness experience involves two key elements: betting on the games and drinking. The two are closely related. The NCAA tournament comprises dozens of games, the outcomes of which can turn in a few tenths of a second. If you have money on the line, watching your team’s fortunes change that quickly will require something stiff to calm you down. And as the tournament progresses, inevitably you will find yourself knocked out of the running in your office pool when Norfolk State improbably upsets Kansas. That makes it even more crucial to find the right bar in which to lament your lost entry fee, cheer on your alma mater, and endure the rest of the marathon-like event with fellow fans.

There’s no shortage of venues showing the games, but many involve navigating through crowds of drunken alums and lists of watered-down beers that smell like an old pair of Chuck Taylors. Fortunately some hoops-friendly bars have plenty to offer even for those who don’t care to stay glued to the flat screens – like inventive pub fare, unusual cocktails, and a soundtrack that goes beyond Jock Jams Volume IV. Here are enough to sustain you to the Final Four. 

For Overall Atmosphere

Snap adds some sporting flair to an otherwise forgettable stretch of West 14th Street. With wallpaper depicting bare-knuckle boxers and mustachioed baseball players, the vibe harks back to a time long before the NCAA tournament’s birth. For those who prefer modern touches (or who are just too lazy to look up at the TV screens), Snap’s bar has a 20-foot-long score ticker built into it.

A welcome oasis in the Upper East Side’s bar scene, Bounce Sporting Club offers a lounge atmosphere, while managing to remain all about the basketball. Among other creative concoctions on the extensive cocktail list is the Hot Streak, a riff on a margarita featuring tequila infused with jalapeno.

Billing itself as an “upscale sports restaurant and lounge,” The Royal is a recent addition to Union Square. The idea is to dial up the sophistication beyond what you’d expect in other sports bars or even other kinds of bars in the neighborhood: Along with its 45 TVs, it brings a DJ, bottle service and even a surprisingly wide selection of gluten-free menu items.

For Food and Drinks

Mulholland’s has four other kinds of wings, but there’s no sense in trekking over to the Williamburg spot if you’re not going to try the Scorching Death variety. If you have even greater disdain for your arteries than your mouth and throat, the menu also has chili cheese nachos served on waffle fries and fried pickles. Then cool off with one of 22 tap beers on the patio, which thankfully has a TV.

In the shadow of City Hall stands Manhattan Proper, where you can dine on white truffle lobster ravioli while doing your best to suffer University of Florida fans. Fans of the classics can stick to the Proper Wings and Proper Burger. Just make sure to wash them down with a seasonal cocktail like the Revolver, which somehow seamlessly matches Bulleit rye and Kahlua.

With 40 flat screens, The Ainsworth is the best bet to catch the games in Chelsea. The sports theme makes the bar something of an anomaly in the neighborhood, but with six different kinds of sliders (including lobster and barbecue pulled pork), the menu will stand up well when the Elite 8 rolls around and you can’t take one more buffalo wing.

For Activities Other Than Watching Basketball

Unfortunately there are short periods during the tournament when no games are going on or—gasp—the ones that are being played just aren’t that exciting. If you’re worried about down time, put your name on the list for The Whiskey Brooklyn’s shuffleboard table, which promises stiffer competition than most 1-vs-16 seed matchups. Skee-Ball and video cornhole are also available while you wait for your turn.

Angry Wade’s stays just on the right side of being a traditional ballcap-and-greek letter-filled sports bar. While the Cobble Hill staple features four TVs behind the bar—which runs nearly the entire length of the room—many patrons come to play pool or darts, munch on free popcorn, or hold forth on the provocative, ever-changing artwork on the walls.

If you’re able to round up a critical mass of fellow alumni, Firefly has a party room with a private bar to keep you away from fans of those hateful other 67 teams. The bar also has a DJ spinning three nights a week.

[Check out the BlackBook New York Guide; Discover the latest parties & openings with the weekly BlackBook Happenings email.]

Everything Old Is New and Then Newer Again: Zubaz Edition

It’s not really even worth starting this post by asking you if you remember Zubaz, the stretchy, neon, zebra-striped pants that typified a generation of tacky athletic-inspired fashionwear. If you’re reading this, you either remember Zubaz, because you lived through them and are probably sick of this nostalgia cycle, or you think you remember Zubaz, but really you just missed the cut but you’ve just been reading too many nostalgia-obsessed listicles around the Internet and certain things have been planted into your brain. 

The NYT (ON IT!) wrote about the regenerated interest of the brand in a trend piece this week, which isn’t really a full-blown comeback for Zubaz, seeing as the brand resurrected itself in 2008 after more than a decade out of the pants-designing game. But, as Dan Stock and Bob Truax, the brains behind the pants, are continuing their efforts to repopularize the brand, they got a boost this week from the neon Adidas AdiZero zebra-striped basketball shorts that were unveiled for the NCAA Tournament. March Madness, indeed.

The instant connection was made between Adidas’ shorts (which bear a different, non-copyright-infringing pattern), but the company founders reacted positively to the association with the brand they created, for better or for worse. And as Chris Robbins writes, "Zubaz are enjoying something of a rebirth. Zubaz refuse to die." Perhaps, then, Zubaz are a metaphor for our cyclical return to everything from the years between 1990 and 1999, our "Maaaan, remember this?" means of relevancy and branding, but really the comeback isn’t a comeback at all but a brief blip on our screens and maybe some really gaudy sweatpants purchased by people who can name all three Gronkowski brothers? What do the Zubaz say about the Zeitgeist? These are the questions. 

Also, this video has nothing to do with Zubaz, but still seemed fitting. 

Bracks on Bracks on Bracks: Pop Culture Bracket Alternatives to March Madness

March means erratic weather, boozy St. Patrick’s Day festivities, and above all things, people filling out brackets because of college basketball or something. Out of it, a trend seems to have emerged of pop culture-loving websites making pop culture-focused brackets. Here are three alternatives for those who don’t feel like weighing in on sports right now. 

Grantland’s "Smacketology" Bracket

After last month’s "Souper Bowl," in which Clam Chowder knocked out Lobster Bisque for soupy supremacy (soupremacy?), the folks from the Lair of Simmons are back with another bracket in time for the NCAA Tournament. This time, it’s about The Wire because of course it is. 

In "Smacketology," a vote to determine the greatest character of the Greatest TV Drama of the 21st Century So Far, Team Grantland puts Omar Little and Stringer Bell, the Duke and North Carolina of this equation, in No. 1-seed spots. Our prediction? Smacketology goes to President Obama’s favorite Wire character—Omar, the badass gay stick-up artist played by Michael K. Williams, who last month, singlehandedly brought marriage equality to the state of Maryland. Voting in Smacketology goes through the end of the week. 

Vulture’s Drama Derby 

Man, the past quarter-century was really great for TV dramas. Vulture thinks so too, hence their "Drama Derby," a vote to determine the best television drama of the past 25 years. Contenders are as varied as the premium cable mainstays (The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood) to sci-fi-con favorites (Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), from AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) to network giants (Mad Men, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, LOST). Notable omissions: 24, ER, Homicide, Big Love, Weeds. Biggest (welcome, we guess) surprise: My So-Called Life! Although it got crushed by The Wire in round one. Let the debate-baiting begin.  

Sound of the City’s Search for the Quintessential New York Musician

The Village Voice’s Sound of the City blog is getting ambitious with their culture bracket, trying to determine which musician of the past half-century-plus (since the Voice‘s inception in 1955) best embodies, well, the sound of the city. One-seeds are varied but clear top-of-the-list picks: Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, the Ramones, John Coltrane. Filling the bracket out are everyone from Laura Nyro to Wu-Tang to Biggie to Laurie Anderson to the Fugs to Lisa Lisa. There will probably be some really terrible defenses in the comments section, but also some amazing ones. None of them are wrong. 

Image by Bobby Finger

March Madness Bars in NYC

imageWant to watch the big games this weekend? Pick a team, find your bar, and go hoot and holler. UConn fan? Head over to the Red Sky Bar & Lounge in Murray Hill. Doing the 8-clap with the Bruins? Head on over to the Village Pourhouse in the Village. Don’t really care about who’s playing — you just want to drinks some beer and shout at the TV? Then Bounce Deuce in the East Village is the spot for you. For a conveniently mapped list of New York bars paying special attention to game-watching, click here.