Around the globe, productivity is said to take a steep hit every four years when the World Cup rolls around. Entire countries shut down -- often in the middle of a weekday. After the 2010 World Cup, one study estimated the decline in economic output in the UK alone to be about $7.3 billion.
Now there’s a new way to waste your time during the World Cup. Targeting literati around the globe, Penguin U.K. has assembled 16 teams composed of its greatest writers, representing 16 countries, to compete in the "Penguin Cup."
This being a literary exercise, a lot of imagination will be required to actually “see” the action of the field, especially since most of the writers are dead. The Greek defense is, arguably, the most formidable in the tournament, lining up with Euripides, Hippocrates, Herodotus and Euclid. But the United States team has a powerful midfield, composed of David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“Potential weak links” in the squad, the Penguin organizers quip, “include JD Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who have undeniable talent but can occasionally go missing.” (The expression “go missing” is a soccer term for a player who is so ineffective on the field, he seems to be invisible.)
Another soccer expression has it that a goalkeeper who recklessly comes off the goal line to catch the ball is “chasing butterflies.” That might explain why the lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov is in goal for the Russian team.
The Penguin organizers noted that Nabokov “famously kept goal for his Trinity College team,” and that “his Russian compatriots saw goalkeeping as a ‘gallant art,’ with the men between the sticks seen as ‘aloof, solitary, impassive ... and always surrounded with a halo of singular glamour.’”
The actual matches haven’t started yet, though the commentary on Twitter already has (at the hashtag #PenguinCupNews), with one keen observer noting that the German team (much like the real-life German squad, which includes players of Polish and Turkish descent), has a couple of naturalized ringers: the Czech writer Franz Kafka and the Austrian Sigmund Freud.
Another tweet quipped that “rumors of Mark Twain being dropped” from the U.S. squad “have been greatly exaggerated.”