Tag Archive: England

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Jim Fitzsimons)

Ok, here’s an excellent coincidence! This past Monday (Feb. 9) while at my day job, an old book of (mostly) urban legends came to my mind. The book was called ‘Strangely Enough’. I had blogged about it five years ago. I looked up the blog and reread it and in it I mentioned a favorite story in the book about the Devil’s Footprints which appeared overnight in England in 1855. It was claimed that the prints went in an unwaveringly straight line across several miles, over houses and haystacks, across rivers and lakes; all in one night.

Later that same Monday (Feb. 9), while at my night job, I was listening to the February 3rd episode of Skepticality. During the contributors’ segment at the beginning of the show, Tim Farley talked about those same Devil’s Footprints as part of his Skepticism, Past and Future.

Cool, no? Well, it gets even more coincidental!

Tim mentioned the date of the event. People woke up and discovered the uncanny prints in 1855 on the morning of February 9th.

That means I had thought of the book, looked up my blog piece on it, read about the Devil’s Footprints, and then, later, heard Tim talk about them all on the 160th anniversary of the event!

How crazy are those odds?

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 262.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog ICBS Everywhere, and Insight at Skeptics Society.

I can actually do a little bit of calculation with this.

At first glance it might seem that some of the odds in this case can be calculated. After all, we know how many days of the year there are. If the likelihood of the events occurring on a given day was the same as the likelihood that it would occur on any other day, then the odds of thinking about the Devil’s Footprints on its anniversary are approximately 1 in 365, or .0027. And the odds of hearing about it on that same day (given it’s the same year) are .0027 x .0027, or .000007.

However, there is a lot here that is nonrandom. For example, Tim Farley talked about the Devil’s Footprints as part of his Skeptical History segment precisely because the anniversary was that week. The probability that any given person would listen to the episode on February 9th is quite high–not easily calculated, but definitely much higher than 1 in 365. Furthermore, the probability that the Devil’s Footprints would come to mind is not the same for all days. Memories are activated by cues and cues come in all manner of form. Integral to the story of the Devil’s Footprints is snow and even if it is not snowing, cold weather may easily trigger a thought or two about the incident, especially to someone who has studied it. The date itself may have triggered the memory without the author’s awareness.

For these reasons, what appears to be a crazy coincidence probably isn’t all that crazy.

So far, yet so close…

(Submitted by reader Sandra J. Smith)

Back in 1964, some friends and I decided to take a holiday from England to Southern Spain in a 1949 Morris Oxford.  It was quite a journey, taking us nearly four days, to travel the almost non-existant road in Spain.  After two days non-stop driving, we came across a wayside hotel in the middle of nowhere, somewhere north of Madrid.  We decided that enough was enough and that we were going to chill-out. So we booked rooms and asked if we could get something to eat as it was 4pm and we were starving.  The waiter was fabulous, spoke excellent English and we had a wonderful meal followed by numerous Spanish liquers recommended by our waiter.

I started chatting to the waiter about his excellent command of English.  He informed me that he had spent time working in England and that he had worked for several years at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate.

What a surprise!  My brother-in-law (an Italian) had worked at the same hotel!  Not expecting a positive reply, I asked him if he had known my brother in law.  He gasped.  “He was my best friend in England!” They used to play football together whilst off-duty.

Unfortunately they had lost touch some eight years earlier. Needless to say I was delighted to provide him with a current address so they could once again make contact.

So what are the chances of driving nearly 1000 miles to an isolated hotel in the wilds of Spain and meeting a long-lost friend of your brother-in law?

[EDITOR: What a wonderful reconnection, and a heck of a surprise. This IS a common theme for our site in one way or another, though, with people managing to find others connected to their home town, families, or friends while traveling far from home. While it’s a big planet with a huge number of people, the number we run into regularly continually and constantly raises the odds of an encounter such as this one. Can you imagine how many people you merely walk past and never communicate with who may have just as shocking a connection but will never get the opportunity to tell it? In that sense, I’d argue it’s the mere fact that they even GOT the opportunity to learn the connection at all that’s the real surprise here. – Jarrett]

Friendly Faces on Foreign Foundation

(Submitted by reader Bruce Albright)

In 1985, probably late March, I was just finishing up a trip that started in Denver (my home), went to  England, then China, 5 weeks in China, 2 weeks in Tibet, then back to Hong Kong for two days before I flew home. I used to travel a lot in my 20s, when I had very little money but a whole lot of time. I was staying in a widely known (by relatively poor young traveler types) and inexpensive hotel near the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, in the ‘Chunking Mansions’ building. I happened to be walking down a street near my hotel when I heard someone call out my name.

I turned and there was a person I recognized, but at first I couldn’t place him. I thought maybe he was someone who stayed in a hotel in Chengdu, or maybe in Guilin. It turns out that he was from Denver – he had worked with a very good friend of mine for years, so I would call him a good acquaintance as opposed to a friend. He had spent the last two years in Japan teaching English.

Periodically (once a year?) he had to leave Japan, stay out for a week or two and renew his visa. The year before he spent his ‘vacation’ in the Philippines. This year, he was in Hong Kong. He had just got there the day before, I was leaving early the next morning, and we ran into each other on a crowded sidewalk in Hong Kong. So, I ask you, what are the odds?

[EDITOR: This fits the emerging pattern we’re picking up (not that we’re surprised) of people running into friends and acquaintances exceptionally far from home. See Two out of Thirty Million as an example, which we even featured on Skepticality. The frequency at which this occurs begins, at a certain point, to reduce its impact a bit and begins to reveal the reality of the situation: these things are guaranteed to happen. With the sheer number of people on this planet, the volume of travel that occurs, the (relatively) limited number of destinations, and the massive number of people one bumps into on a daily basis, a world in which this never occurred would, in fact, be far more indicative of something being manipulated from the outside. Without that, we can expect to hear these stories regularly. And we do. And we’ll keep posting them for as long as they’re interesting. – Jarrett]