(Submitted by reader Matthew McGrath)

Earlier this evening I had a powerful craving for some pizza.

It was 8pm and rainy on a Thursday evening, so I thought I’d order a pizza from a restaurant down the street. After ordering using their fancy website, I got a call several minutes later from a rather confused employee of the restaurant. She asked me why I decided to place two separate orders: one delivery and one pick-up. I replied that no, in fact I just ordered the one pizza to be delivered and nothing else.

Thinking it was a computer error, she confirmed both orders and realized that the following had occurred: two separate, unrelated people named Matthew McGrath decided to order a pizza. Both chose the same restaurant, and both chose not to call but to use the online order system. Both submitted their orders at exactly the same time and both live within a 5 mile radius of the restaurant in question. Weird.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 196. Take a look and leave your comments below.

This story falls into the category of “difficult to calculate” due to a lack of information, but again, it brings up an interesting human behavior. The fact that someone with his name lives within a 5-mile radius is not very surprising. When I was a child and we lived in an area with a fairly low population density, there were 2 people within that distance with my father’s name; one even shared his middle name and was retired from the U.S. Navy (my father was active duty at the time). The odds of ordering pizza at the same time is another question. The information we would need in order to estimate, even generally, the odds of this include:

  • The location, population, and number of pizza places available in the area which deliver.
  • The year, which we would need in order to determine how common the author’s name.
  • The proportion of pizza orders which were made online at that time. How often the author orders pizza.
  • Some information about pizza delivery trends – do more people order pizza when it’s raining? What are the peak ordering times? The more orders a place receives, the more likely this is to happen.

What I find interesting is how many “same name” stories we encounter. Surely there are interesting coincidences every day, but people are more likely to notice events that involve something as personal as their own name. Most of us have lived with our first names our entire lives. We write it, say it, and hear it more often than any other name in the universe. So even though our names are not unique to us, they sometimes feel as if they are and they are extremely personal.