Tag Archive: Disneyland

(Submitted by reader Andrew Law)

To start with, I live in New Zealand which is important to know for this story.

When I was 11 years old my family and our good friends who lived a couple of houses down the street, took a once in a lifetime trip to Disneyland in LA. We took a week off school to do this.

We were all having a ball in Disneyland as to be expected, when it was time to have some lunch outside of the park; so we jumped on the mono-rail.

After sitting down I looked up and sitting on the seat opposite was the teacher from the class next to mine back in NZ, and who also happened to be the teacher of the friend that was with me! As you can imagine he asked my friend why he wasn’t in school.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 215.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary.

It seems that we all have an amazing travel story like this one. On the one hand, it is possible that all of the parties were prompted to consider visiting Disneyland by the same advertisements or because someone else in their town visited and that may increase the probability of such an occurrence by a great deal. The distance between New Zealand and Los Angeles increases the shock of such an event as well. On the other hand, the odds are still pretty astronomical that they would visit the same immensely crowded place at the same time and enter the monorail in the same place at the same time. I am always amazed by these stories and I often wonder how many times I passed by someone I know while far from home and just didn’t see them.  As with other travel stories like this, I can only say that it would be unusual if we did not experience many low-probability events in our lifetime.

On a less serious note, is anyone else wondering why the teacher wasn’t in school?

Barbara Drescher is a cognitive psychologist and statistician. Visit her blog ICBSEverywhere.  As a lecturer at California State University, Northridge,  Barbara primarily taught courses in quantitative/experimental research methods and topics in cognitive psychology. She currently serves as educational programs consultant for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Ross Blocher of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!)

My extended family was enjoying its annual trip to Disneyland in late November of 2008. While we typically go to celebrate my mom’s birthday, this particular Saturday happened to fall on my niece Shirley’s third birthday. She was the delightful recipient of many gifts and happy birthday wishes. You could be forgiven for thinking that Shirley is something of an older-fashioned name; she was named after my grandmother.

We’d made dinner reservations at the Big Thunder Mountain BBQ. As we arrived there we heard a guitar-playing cowboy on the stage announce, “Come on up here, Shirley. Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to Shirley!”

Everyone in our party started looking at each other. “Who told him? How do they know it’s Shirley’s birthday?” As my brother-in-law walked Shirley toward the stage, we saw that another little girl was being escorted up in front of the crowd. Before my brother-in-law could say anything, another man yelled out from the crowd, “Our daughter is Shirley, too, and it’s HER birthday!”

Now we felt like we had to prove that OUR Shirley was really named Shirley and was also having her birthday, because the coincidence was simply too amazing! Here we had three girls, aged three, four, and five, each with a traditional name that is apparently all the rage, sharing the same birthday!

All three Shirleys were serenaded by the crowd. It took a long time for my family to stop laughing.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 184. Take a look and leave your comments below. Please note that in the original version Ross sent us, the month and year were not included. Ross updated the story with more details after Barbara’s analysis and our recording.

When we are in the midst of these experiences, they seem astonishing, but there are a great many factors to consider when calculating the odds of such a thing. Although I cannot estimate those odds without some basic information such as the year in which this occurred, I think the list of factors will make it clear that the odds are greater than they appear.

  • How unusual was the name “Shirley” at the time? Although I concede that it sounds old fashioned, the popularity of baby names is an interesting animal with somewhat cyclical patterns. Sometimes a name is popular simply because it is widely assumed that it will be unpopular and people tend to seek uncommon names for their children. ‘Shirley’ is considered uncommon according to several databases that I consulted, including Babypedia, but it peaked at #2 in 1935. Naming children after great grandparents is a common practice; my own youngest’s middle name is Patrick, after my grandmother (Patricia).
  • How many girls born in the last decade or two had great grandmothers born during the name’s heyday?
  • How many people visited Disneyland that day?
  • How many young visitors to Disneyland that day were celebrating a birthday?
  • How many of the visitors were within earshot of the stage on which this occurred? Keep in mind that it was a popular park restaurant at dinnertime.

I imagine the park performers who do such things have many stories like this one. Still, it’s fun and memorable when it happens to you because, although the odds are not shockingly low, it is uncommon.