For as long as there's been a Hollywood, locals have tried to predict box office hits and misses. It's a tricky pastime: this week, for example, everyone knew Jude Law's awful Repo Men would flop (it duly made just $6m), but the underperformance of The Bounty Hunter, starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, came as a surprise: it was supposed to take $30-40m, but wound up with a paltry $20m.
Soon we'll be able to cash in on this parlour game. The Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald is launching a Futures market in the revenues of major movies. From next month, you or I will therefore be able to speculate, with real money, on whether studio releases will succeed or fail when they hit America's cinemas.
The market will operate as follows: Cantor will predict how much, in millions of dollars, a film will make during its first month at the box office. If you think it'll do worse, you "sell" a contract on that figure. If you think it'll do better than their prediction, you "buy". The more correct your hunch, the more cash you get back; the more incorrect, the more money you lose.
In theory, this system has endless possibilities. It will, for example, allow film-makers to take out insurance against random events that might cause movies to flop (being released on a sunny weekend, for example). But it also has limitations. For instance, there's little to stop studio employees with advance sales information from dabbling in a bit of insider trading.
I've been trying to speak to Cantor about all this for weeks, but they won't return calls. Perhaps they're right to be cautious: America's killjoy lawmakers have a weirdly schizophrenic attitude towards gambling (the people of LA have to drive to either Vegas, or the local Indian reservation, to place a bet), and like many complex financial instruments, this "Futures market" sounds awfully like a medium for betting, by another name.
In the process of buying a new bed, I've just learned that American shoppers must choose between two main types. One is called the "King," and measures 76 inches wide by 80 inches long. The other is the "California King," which is just 72 inches wide, but a staggering 84 inches long.
These names suggest that average Californians are significantly taller and thinner than their lard-arsed neighbours from other states of America. Britain, meanwhile, gets sneered at by the bed industry: our domestic "King" is a mere 60 inches wide and 78 inches long. Are we really a nation of short, under-nourished people?