Posted by: joha5 | July 12, 2010

Who is Paul the Octopus?: The Real Story Behind the World’s Most Famous Cephalopod

The World Cup has come and the World Cup has gone.  There are many story lines that dominated the news coverage of the World Cup – poor refereeing, the Spanish victory, the first South African World Cup – but there has been one headline that has not only dominated the headlines but it has captured the public consciousness and sense of imagination.  Paul the Octopus. 

Paul the Octopus: The World's Most Famous Cephalopod

For those of you who don’t know, Paul the Octopus – other official appellations include ‘Paul Oktopus’ and ‘Paul der Krake’ – is an English born octopus from Weymouth, Dorset who currently resides at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany (how Paul the Octopus is so upwardly mobile that he decided to pack up and emigrate is beyond me but this is just something I have come to accept).  Paul correctly predicted the winner in every one of Germany’s World Cup games this year.  Additionally, maybe for a challenge or maybe just to show off, he even managed to predict the outcome of yesterday’s final match between Spain and the Netherlands.  How might an octopus pick the winner of a sport he might not even be conscious of?  Simple.  He sits on a box (if only my big life decisions could be decided in the same way). 

He went an astounding 8 for 8 throughout the past month.  What are the chances of him doing this?  Well, the odds are actually quite astounding.  Assuming Paul’s predictions were no better than fair coin flips, the probability of 8 successful predictions out of 8 attempts is p = 0.0039 (~0.39%).  However, the first three matches were in the group stage where the outcome could have been a win, loss, or tie, resulting in a 1/3 probability of getting the result correct.  As a result, the true probability of Paul’s feat is [(.3^3)*(.5^5)] or .12%.  Of course there were many public predictions about World Cup results using quirky methods that were wrong and hence did not get international attention…but Paul, Paul was different.

But who is Paul?  Hatched in January 2008, Paul was thrust into the limelight at 6 months old by his keeper, Oliver Walenciak, and forced to make predictions on international soccer matches.  Walenciak probably had no idea what to expect but he soon saw potential in Paul and his predictive powers.  In June 2008 he correctly predicted his very first match when he choose a German victory over Poland.  The next match he was not so fortunate.  He was incorrect on the result of the Germany vs. Croatia matchup.  Walenciak was surely devastated that his oracle-in-training had only a 50% success rate after two attempts.  Still, Walenciak stood fast by Paul and gave him another attempt, and then another, and then another.  Three successive predictions correct!  And then there was one last bump in the road.  Paul picked Germany to win Euro 2008 but would actually witness Spain defeat Germany 1-0 on June 29th, 2008 – only a few days shy of his 7 month birthday. 

Walenciak was pleased with Paul and knew that he had something special but he also knew that he had a lot of work to do with Paul.  Two years went by.  Paul grew older, he grew wiser, his beak hardened, his tentacles became more muscular, his eyes became a golden milky yellow with long black slit-like pupils.  Walenciak knew that Paul was ready.

Cephalopaul

Paul’s time arrived last month.  June 13th to be exact.  Paul was nervous.  Paul was anxious but Walenciak was cautiously optimistic.  He dropped two boxes into Paul’s tank – one with a German flag and the other with an Australian flag.  It took Paul over one hour to make his decision.  He hovered towards the top of the tank contemplating, thinking, waiting to make his move.  But when he made his move, it was swift and it was with purpose.

Germany.   

Walenciak turned on the game and watched Germany clinically dissect the Australian team in a 4-0 victory that was as dominant as it was ruthless.  Walenciak knew that Paul’s time was now or never.  Paul’s next decision’s would no longer take him an hour.  It would take him minutes.  His next predictions all involved Germany games and he predicted their victories and their losses.  Germany.  Serbia.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Spain.  Germany.  7 for 7! 

Walenciak knew that Paul der Krake had one more attempt in him.  Tired, weakened, and just wanting to go home, Walenciak could see that Paul was reluctant to put his perfect record on the line.  He looked into Paul’s giant orbish eyes, smiled, and touched his hand on the glass of the tank.  Moved by this display of affection, Paul extended his rippled tentacle, exposed his suction cups, and latched onto the other side of the glass.  Walenciak knew it was time.  He dropped in the two boxes in front of the world’s media.  One for Spain and one for the Netherlands.  Walenciak could see the fear in Paul’s body language but with one final motion Paul descended upon the box.  Camera lights flashed.  The media oooh-ed, the world aaah-ed. 

Paul the Octopus making some very serious decisions...

Spain.

He was correct!  8 for 8!  One for each tentacle!  He was lauded almost as much as the Spanish team was.  He is now a global celebrity, phenomenon, and icon.  The question is now…is Paul ready for this kind of exposure?  Everybody now wants a piece of him – literally and figuratively.  Italy has already tried to claim that Paul was caught in Italian waters.  Spanish businessmen are trying to buy him for €30,000 ($38,000), Dutch priests have tried to dismiss him, and the Germans?  Well, all the Germans want to do is eat him (over a nice bottle of red wine, some tartar sauce, and a spritz of lemon juice). 

Yet in Spain, Paul is an icon. The Spanish prime minister has already spoken of his desire to protect ‘Pulpo Paul’ and the mock-up of a new version of Spain’s flag could be dangerously close to becoming real.

So what becomes of Paul now? Well, he’ll probably continue to live out the remainder of his days at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, no longer forced to pick his food out of flag-covered boxes while surrounded by an obscene number of media types. He will swim at his leisure and continue to be oblivious to the existence of sports. He will retire (and not surprisingly already has) a winner and a global sensation – what every other octopus (and even a few pundits) wishes they could be. 

Viva Paul!!

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Responses

  1. Who is Paul the Octopus?: The Real Story Behind the World's Most ……

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