From the president to your Nana, filling out an NCAA tournament bracket has become a uniquely American rite of passage that is undertaken by an estimated 40 million people who fill out 70 million brackets every March – more than the number of individuals who voted in the last presidential election.

How did we become a nation of amateur prognosticators, keen on figuring out the next great bracket buster?

“Even if you've never watched a second of college basketball, you've heard of many of the institutions involved. With so many corners of the country represented, strong or at least tangential connections abound," said Ben Standig, a college basketball writer for “Some pass on buying a lottery ticket for ethical reasons or because they view the investment as a nonsensical pipe dream. However, beating 50 people you know for cash is tangible and desirable."

The concept of the bracket challenge, much like the tournament itself, is a fairly recent development. While no one knows who first got the idea of creating a bracket for entertainment and friendly competition, many sources trace its origin to 1977, when a Staten Island, N.Y. bar, Jody's Club Forest, began organizing an annual pool.

Since then, bracket challenges have sprouted everywhere, from your office to the Oval Office. Within minutes of the tournament field being announced, websites far and wide publish brackets and offer challenges ranging from bragging rights to $1 billion – the latter being easier said than done given the odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

“Few events bond employees like the picking of the brackets," Standig said. “Then there is the crapshoot nature of the bracket picking. The seeding provides something of answer key. That alone offsets any major advantage the hoops junkie has over the masses."

The sheer number of people participating in tournament pools have led to a rise in all sorts of bracket-related madness, from the best thing about Portland to the top tax code to the best pop-culture second banana.

There's also been an upswing of challenges and pools that tweak the standard formula, some based on sheer luck and others on rewarding those who don't rely on the ferocity of the team's mascots to make their selections.

“I think a lot of it is a supplement to your bracket," said James Quintong, an editor at and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Hall of Fame. “The bracket is an easy way in for so many casual fans, but people can get creative with stuff over time."

Quintong said he has participated in a survivor pool tournament, where players simply pick a couple of teams they think will win on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament. If you win, you advance, but you can't pick the same team again.

“For this year, it's about how long do you save Kentucky? You want to pick them in the championship game or Final Four," he said.

In addition, Quintong suggested a player draft, keeping track of rebounds, assists and points. The natural inclination is to pick players from teams who will go far in the tournament, so you can make it tougher by playing restrictions on your selections.

“We would force ourselves to not take all the best players from the top teams," he said. “You have someone from the play-in games, someone from the lower seeds, middle seeds and the top seeds. You get to know some players that way and if you picked a few Cinderellas in your bracket, you can focus on players from those teams and get more points."