Unofficial TOB Contest: What the Entries Say About the TOB

The entries for this year’s TOB Contest have been tabulated. Based on these entries, the dynamics of Tournament of Books 2012 are very different from those of Tournament of Books 2011.

TOB 2011 saw three books tied among entrants as most likely to see Round two (Freedom, Room, and Super Sad True Love Story) whereas there is a single, and overwhelming, favorite in the first round this year: The Sense of an Ending (90% predict first round success). The Tiger’s Wife (86%) and Swamplandia! (83%) are the next two most common picks to advance out of the first round in 2012. Interestingly, each of last year’s top three first round picks found their way to the Championship on at least one entry. Not so for Swamplandia!, whose early enthusiasm wanes quickly. No book in 2011 or 2012 sees its support drop so precipitously. Swamplandia! loses at least half its support each round, culminating in zero votes to be Champion.

In TOB 2011, none of the five closest first round matchups were more lopsided than 66% vs. 33% (and only Next vs. So Much For That was even that lopsided). This year by contrast, the least lopsided match (State of Wonder vs. The Sisters Brothers) has a 66% vs. 33% split among voters. Despite all the discussion (including by me) of how hard it will be to predict outcomes, everyone seems to be coalescing around first round winners.

These lopsided results are also reflected in the fact that not a single entrant believes Green Girl will make it past the second round. No book had such a poor showing among contest entries in 2011. Two more 2012 contenders (The Stranger’s Child and The Cat’s Table) join Green Girl in managing what no 2011 contender did: All are absent from the Zombie Round (and, as a necessary consequence, also receive no votes as either Finalists or Champion).

2012 is also odd in that everyone who picked first round underdog State of Wonder (33%) also penciled in State of Wonder as a second round winner. No books from 2011 held onto every one of their boosters through the first two rounds. (The Stranger’s Child also managed to keep all its first round voters in the second round in 2012, but then its voters disappeared entirely.)

Last year, Room was an overwhelming pick for Zombie status with over 40% of contest entrants tapping Donaghue’s novel to rise from the grave. (A Visit From the Goon Squad was next with about 20% picking it as a Zombie.) The closest any novel in the 2012 TOB comes to inspiring that sort of faith in an afterlife is State of Wonder. 25% of entrants think Patchett’s Amazon adventure (featuring cannibals!) will develop a taste for brains. (The Marriage Plot will be stumbling close behind, if the 24% of entrants who picked it as a Zombie are correct.)

Entrants correctly predicted the eventual champ in 2011 with a 37% plurality foreseeing ultimate success by A Visit From the Goon Squad. The next closest pick for Champ was Skippy Dies (16%). In fact, A Visit From the Goon Squad was the most frequent pick to advance out of each round from the Zombie Round forward (71%, 53%, 37%).

There is no such frontrunner this year.

The Tiger’s Wife and The Art of Fielding are the equally popular picks to win (28% each). They split the lead-up rounds with Obreht’s novel being tagged as most likely to make the semifinals (66% vs. 62%) while Harbach’s book has been voted the most likely to make the Finals (48% vs. 38%).

If entrants are as prescient this year as last, we will see a final bout between The Art of Fielding and The Tiger’s Wife with the winner TBD. Lock your harnesses and prepare for a fun ride.

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10 Responses to Unofficial TOB Contest: What the Entries Say About the TOB

  1. I’ve now read only half the books in the field, but have to say I’m not surprised the Harbach and Obreht books are so strongly favored. They stand out.

    • Kerry says:

      Because I intend to borrow rather than buy them, I haven’t gotten to either of them yet. The Sense of an Ending is much better than any of the others I have read. I have my doubts it will be sufficiently “exciting” to make it all the way to the Championship, though. My prediction to win is The Tiger’s Wife.

  2. Kerry says:

    For the record, I will share the predictions I made (but did not publicize) last week. My predicted winners are (with my preferred winner in parentheses).

    First Round Winners:
    The Sense of an Ending
    Salvage the Bones
    1Q84 (The Last Brother)
    The Tiger’s Wife
    The Sisters Brothers
    Swamplandia! (The Cat’s Table)
    The Marriage Plot
    The Art of Fielding (Open City)

    Second Round Winners:
    Salvage the Bones (The Sense of an Ending, so far)
    The Tiger’s Wife
    Swamplandia! (The Cat’s Table)
    The Art of Fielding (Open City)

    Third Round Winners and Zombies:
    The Tiger’s Wife
    The Art of Fielding (Salvage the Bones)
    The Sense of an Ending
    The Sisters Brothers (Open City)

    Finalists:
    The Tiger’s Wife
    The Sense of an Ending

    Champion:
    The Tiger’s Wife (The Sense of an Ending)

  3. Amy says:

    Having read both Tiger’s Wife and Sense of an Ending, I’d much rather see the latter win. Obreht has some talent, but the book itself was all over the place, and ultimately not quite successful.

    • Kerry says:

      I hope to read The Tiger’s Wife before the final rounds, but reviews have me convinced my feelings would be very similar to yours and the end result identical.

  4. Brad says:

    Little surprise as to the consistency of the picks this year. The brackets are appropriately lopsided in their rankings (I feel), making it much easier for a single upset or strong contender to sweep further along. Your data is most interesting to me and, to be honest, I’m just as excited for the unveiling of picks as I am the reasons behind them. Oh, the delicious meta-game.

    • Kerry says:

      All the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. The sample size is limited and, last year, entrants in the aggregate only managed to correctly pick 60% of the matches. Of course, the juggernaut that was The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is responsible for many of the failed predictions. (Very few thought Lemon would make it beyond the second round. Meanwhile, Super Sad True Love Story was predicted to breeze into the Zombie Round, but, much to my delight, it disappeared in Round One never to return.)

      I’ve been predicting good things for The Tiger’s Wife, but now I am starting to think there is some danger it is this year’s Super Sad. The Marriage Plot is another popular contender that could easily take an early exit.

  5. Jennifer D. says:

    I am such a stats-geek – thanks for sharing the details, Kerry!

    @Amy – I am so on board with you re: The Tiger’s Wife. I can totally see Obreht’s potential and look forward to her future books, but TTW was mostly a hot mess for me and a lot of the other books in the ToB out-heft her debut. (I am mostly on the wrong side of opinions for this book, since it has been loved by so many and garnered award attention…I am glad to have some company, Amy! Haha!!)

  6. Mike Ramberg says:

    I can’t believe you did stats. Seriously. You did stats?

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