Inside the weird world of competitive Microsoft Excel spreadsheeting

Over at The Verge, a recently published piece by writer David Pierce goes behind-the-scenes of the Excel Spreadsheet World Championships, recently held at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. This is exactly what it sounds like: a fierce competition, in which players create increasingly elaborate Excel spreadsheets. (Pierce attempted to compete as well, but was the only player foolish enough to make the attempt using a Macbook instead of a Windows or Linux-based machine.)

From the article:

Competitive Excel has been around for years, but only in a hobbyist way. Most of the people in this room full of actuaries, analysts, accountants, and investors play Excel the way I play Scrabble or do the crossword — exercising your brain using tools you understand. But last year's competition became a viral hit on ESPN and YouTube, and this year, the organizers are trying to capitalize. After all, someone points out to me, poker is basically just math, and it's all over TV. Why not spreadsheets? Excel is a tool. It's a game. Now it hopes to become a sport.

Pierce regales his experiences with bizarre Excel puzzles, such as the arcade-like "Potions Master" round:

You're training to be a potions master in Excelburg, but you're terrible at it. You have a number of ingredients, each of which has a certain number of associated points; your goal is to get the most points in each potion before it explodes, which it does based on how much of a white ingredient you've added.

But from there, Pierce also goes into the history of spreadsheets, and even touches on the future — how people have obviously turned them into sport, but also how they will likely the most useful provenance of artificial general intelligence, and how even that may still rob humanity of some essential organizational catharsis. Or something.

It's a longer read, but it's a fascinating journey. And of course, when I shared it at work, a colleague shared the video above, making it clear that he was already way ahead of the competitive spreadsheeting curve.

Spreadsheet Superstars [David Pierce / The Verge]