The love equation 

Little Rock native Christian Rudder's $50 million idea to turn dating into math.

Do you like the taste of beer? Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex? Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?

If you answered yes, complex and no, you're 60 percent more likely than others to sleep with someone on a first date, twice as likely to be a liberal and slightly more than twice as likely to be at least moderately religious, according to findings Little Rock native Christian Rudder published in early February.

Rudder, 35, majored in math at Harvard and uses it daily at OkCupid.com, the free online dating site he and three other Harvard mathematicians founded in 2004 and recently sold to IAC's Match.com for $50 million.

Most days, Rudder works as data miner, parsing through a sample size that would've made Alfred Kinsey's head explode — 776 million answers to relationship questions from seven million users. Give him a couple hours and he could tell you everything from the sexual proclivities of 30-year-old bisexuals living in Boston to how people's willingness to role-play rape fantasies and hygiene correlate state by state.

In practice, perhaps it's less thrilling. "I sit in front of Excel and groan most of the time," Rudder said a few weeks ago (as part of the deal with Match.com, OkCupid's staff and autonomy remain intact). Still, somehow he manages to find narrative in the numbers. Monthly, he posts summaries of his latest analysis on OkTrends, OkCupid's research blog. Last year, for instance, aided by a wealth of charts and graphs, he statistically proved that gay people aren't interested in straights and that, just as women's magazines have been telling us for years, women are indeed most sexual in their 30s. He also produced numbers that suggested that iPhone users have sex more often than owners of other smart phones. "Finally, statistical proof that iPhone users aren't just getting fucked by Apple," he quipped on his post.

Like other, more famous contributors to pop science — Malcolm Gladwell, Mark Kurlansky, the hosts of "Stuff You Should Know," the "Freakonomics" authors — Rudder has a gift for distilling complex subject matter, OkCupid CEO Sam Yagan said recently.

"He's probably the best person in the world at making something that's very geeky and very data-oriented accessible through humor and through a writing style that makes everyone feel like they're smarter than they are because he's giving them access to all this quantitative insight."

But it's the comic streak on Rudder's blog that seems to set him apart from his pop-science peers. It's a sense of humor that's almost transgressive, suggests his college roommate and longtime musical collaborator Justin Rice.

"He'll take some idea and push it to its extreme, where it's really, really funny but also has this darkness to it that makes you concerned on some psychological level, though you're mostly just laughing."

Rudder's early work online reflects that sensibility. As editorial director for TheSpark.com, a website that his partners in OkCupid co-founded in the late '90s, he helped position the site, tonally, somewhere between The Onion and a sneering reaction to reality TV.

One of his early hits, The StinkyFeet Project, documented the progression of an athlete's foot infection he invited. Over the course of nearly a month, he filed daily reports with increasingly viler pictures and insight into life with a festering foot ("Remember how your crotch feels after a day of swimming at the beach? Right. Well, now I got a pair of crotches on the ends of my legs, and they both feel goddamn disgusting").

For a follow-up, he presaged the premise of "The Biggest Loser" and stood it on its head by convincing a relatively skinny man and woman to try to gain 30 pounds in 30 days to win $3,000. Readers were treated to "scientific" weight-gain charts, daily photos and forums where they could suggest tips. The man met the challenge. The woman failed, but by only four pounds. TheSpark awarded them both the money.



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