Your brain is fried after finals, you're hanging with your friends, and Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" is the last thing you want to discuss.

Time to play the Kevin Bacon game!The Kevin Bacon what? The general reader may ask, wondering what the peripheral performer known best for the cheesy teen-angst flick "Footloose" has ever done to deserve the honor of having a game named for him.

That reader may think the eternal co-star is just drifting in Tinseltown celluloid, but little do they know that college students nationwide have adopted him as a Generation-X iconoclast and are expressing their adoration and appreciation of his random status with a brain-teaser that connects him within six degrees of separation to any actor or actress?

Example: Say the name Will Smith. Smith was in (coincidentally) "Six Degrees of Separation" with Donald Sutherland, who was in "Backdraft" with William Baldwin, who was in "Flatliners" with, ta dah, Kevin Bacon.

Although the game has yet to surface widely on area college campuses, ask other college students across the country to demonstrate. Many of them have developed a meaningless surplus of movie knowledge. And they draw on it whether pretentiously posing at a cafe, socializing at a frat party, trying to take their minds off the radioactive sludge piled on their cafeteria tray, or simply seeking a cerebrally stimulating time filler.

But Kevin Bacon?

"He's the center of the Hollywood universe," said Mitch Hollberg, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major at Rice University in Houston. "And this is proof."

The origins of the Kevin Bacon Game - a.k.a. Makin' Bacon or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon - are shrouded in mystery. But it was taken to the masses on MTV's short-lived "Jon Stewart Show" right before Bacon's eyes.

Bacon, who is on location filming "Sleepers" with Brad Pitt, was unavailable for comment, but his press agent, Allen Eichhorn, said from New York that the game is an appropriate homage to his client.

"I think it's hysterically funny, and Kevin gets a real kick out of it," he said. "Kevin keeps making terrific movies and working with terrific people, so the connections will keep coming."

This mind-boggling phenomenon is easy to play for anyone with a passion for the obscure and who has seen a few too many movies.

"It's an application of all the useless knowledge you've accumulated through your life," Hollberg said. "Here's a chance to shine with it."

The game does have its share of redeeming intellectual qualities, countered Rachel Flynn, a sophomore at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

"It plays off how much movie trivia you know," said Flynn, who added that the game sharpens root-finding and problem-solving skills.

Whether the game will add points to your IQ is not an issue for college students so dedicated to Bacon and all he stands for that they have designed entire World Wide Web pages around him. Those Internet sites include Kevin trivia, movie lists and detailed instructions on how to play the game like a pro.

Darrin Glass, a junior at Rice double-majoring in math and economics, is gradually building one such cyber-shrine.

"The game makes me feel like I'm not wasting time when I read entertainment magazines," Glass said.

Others have taken the technology approach even farther.

A computer program with a database of tens and thousands of actors and actresses was designed by University of Wisconsin at Madison graduate Beth Martinson, 26, to instantly find the shortest connection to Bacon.

"I actually kept statistics on who people looked up," said Martinson, who now works as a software developer.

The program, casually known as the Bacon Server, isn't currently functional. But don't fret, Martinson and friends are improving the program that also links anyone to each of the four acting Baldwin brothers.

Bacon, it must be emphasized, hardly seems like a candidate for such a game, because most people are unaware that he's been in so many movies with so many people.

"If someone came up to you and said `Dustin Hoffman" - who was in "Rain Man" with Tom Cruise, who was in "A Few Good Men" with Kevin Bacon - "or James Earl Jones" - who was in "Field of Dreams" with Kevin Costner, who was in "JFK" with Kevin Bacon - "were the center of the Hollywood universe, you'd say `sure, they've been in tons of movies,' " Glass said. "But when they hear `Kevin Bacon,' it seems unbelievable."

The gratification of making a new connection is a rush that Hollberg guarantees will win any naysayer over to the game: "There are the grand moments," he said, "like when you see him as Chip Nelson in `Animal House.' It's like discovering oil."

Jason Finestone, 22, who graduated from Yale University this year, takes pride his being able trace himself to Bacon: Finestone was an extra in "Driving Miss Daisy" with Dan Aykroyd, who was in "The Blues Brothers" with John Belushi, who was in "Animal House" with Kevin Bacon.

The game has become such a fixture at Yale, that Finestone felt obligated to learn the finer points that have made him the Bacon aficionado he is today.

"I had to learn how to play the game before I graduated," he said. "They took out the foreign language requirement and put in Kevin Bacon."