Boy man, weird dream last night.

Faced with a blank NCAA tournament bracket, we penciled Panem State into the Final Four on the strength of sharpshooting Katniss Everdeen and pasty-faced point guard Peeta Mellark.

OK, so maybe all this “Hunger Games” hype is seeping into March Madness. Then again, even with author Suzanne Collins’ characters leaping from page to cage, our chances of winning the office pool aren’t likely to improve.

Such pools, of course, are technically illegal (in nearly every place except Las Vegas and Atlantic City) and practically ubiquitous.

Is there a break room anywhere in the country where co-workers have refrained from rehashing upsets, lamenting losers and comparing brackets at some point over the past week?

Betting pools involving the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament have grown into something of a rite of spring, a three-week window of delightful distraction.

“It’s a connector,” said Gregg Frame, a Portland lawyer who played basketball at Waterville High School and Dartmouth College. “It gives people something to talk about.”

Sixteen years ago, as a break from his studies at the University of Maine School of Law, Frame started a pool that included 14 students. He called it the Upset Special because it rewarded risky picks by allocating points through a basic formula: seed times round.

“It’s really simple,” Frame said. “Say you pick the 12 seed in the first round and they win. You get 12 points. You pick them in the second round and they win, you get 24 points.”

By contrast, picking a No. 1 seed, such as Kentucky, to win it all yields only 21 potential points (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21).

Frame’s pool proved popular. As did his acerbic updates, skewering less-than-stellar picks of buddies (particularly those who failed to back their alma maters), praising successful soothsayers and incorporating pop-culture references.

The 16th annual Upset Special pool includes 289 prognosticators. We’re not saying it includes a police chief, an FBI agent and a Supreme Court justice from a state that rhymes with Spain, but we wouldn’t be shocked if it did.

Frame (a founding member of the firm Taylor, McCormack & Frame) uses pool updates to scratch his creative writing itch, to poke fun at friends (and himself) and to sprinkle in observations.

He celebrated Duke’s early exit by bidding a grateful adieu to all the TV shots of Carol “Mickie” Krzyzewski — wife of Blue Devils Coach K — scowling in consternation.

He lamented the obligatory celebrity interviews with Ashley Judd in her white Kentucky T-shirt.

He lampooned last year’s pool winner for picking a Final Four that was wiped out before today’s third-round games. He castigated “one of the more left-leaning of our bracketologists” for copying President Obama’s (remarkably prescient) bracket, which included Baylor reaching the Sweet Sixteen.

If there’s a pattern to pool winners, Frame hasn’t found it.

Hoop junkies have won. Others have ridden the coattails of Cinderella teams like Virginia Commonwealth or Butler. One year, Frame’s wife won with the sage strategy of, when in doubt, choose the school by the attractiveness of its location.

“I don’t want to say it’s a networking thing, because it isn’t,” Frame said. “But it’s a fun exercise and I think everyone likes to look at their brackets.”

Certainly, Matthew Dean does. A professor of statistics at the University of Southern Maine, Dean earned his Ph.D. in operations and information management at the University of Connecticut, where he once offered extra credit to students who, through use of simulation models, could beat his bracket picks.

A few of them did. Dean has yet to similarly challenge his USM students, in part because he doesn’t sense the same level of hoops passion that exists in Storrs, Conn., where the other Huskies won the men’s and women’s national titles in 2004, while he was on campus.

Would his simulation model — which takes into account such factors as winning percentage, strength of schedule and quality of conference — work for the Upset Special pool?

Dean sounded intrigued. He mentioned the Sharpe Ratio, a formula developed by Nobel laureate William Sharpe to measure risk-adjusted investment performance, as a possible tool.

No need to go further. Frame said he’d send a blank bracket our way next year. Dean’s number is safely tucked away. Forget we mentioned that geeky stuff.

After all, “It doesn’t always work out,” Dean said of his simulation strategy. “My mother-in-law has beaten me a couple of times, and she picks it sometimes on the color of their uniforms.”

Perhaps we were better off with our gut. If there’s a team with a Mockingjay mascot next year, don’t be surprised if it catches fire come tournament time.

In any case, when it comes time to fill out your next bracket, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]