Tag Archive: high school

(Submitted by Skepticality listener  Chris Benson.)

I have two similar-ish stories:

1. In the fall of 1979 my family moved from Muscatine, Iowa to Kingman, AZ. It was the week before Halloween of my senior year and I was leaving behind a graduating class of 379.

On my first or second day at my new High School, I was walking down the hall and found myself looking at an acquaintance from my old High School class! We were both surprised, to say the least.

2. In the early ’80s I was at Arizona State and a friend of mine from our dorm needed a ride to the University of Arizona for an ROTC function. I had a friend from Kingman whom I knew was at U of A, but we had not spoken for a couple of years, and I had no other information, but figured I could go try to hunt him down.

I dropped my dorm-mate off at his ROTC thing and went to the Student Union to see if I could look my other friend up in a school directory. The fellow at the service desk in the Union said he couldn’t help me because they didn’t have a directory.

I knew driving down that it was a wild goose chase, but I was really disappointed.

Then I turned around trying to think of something else to try, and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t standing there. He was on his way to dinner at the Union’s cafeteria, and we spent a lovely evening together.

The population of that school was around 30,000 at the time, so I figure the odds were something close to that.

Below are the extended notes provided by contributing editor Mark Gouch for use in Skepticality Episode 258. Mark is a wastewater treatment system operator and engineer living in Smithtown, NY (Long Island). He started to become interested in coincidences after recognizing the series of events that conspired to get him employment on Long Island many years ago. Two of Mark’s recommended books include “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” by American physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow, and “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives” by Shankar Vedantam.

Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

1. This is probably impossible to estimate numerical odds. So many factors affect everything that happens. For example way back in 1979, what were the economics of Iowa and Arizona? In general there has been a movement of people in the US to the sun belt. If some specific economic or other conditions made making the move desirable, that would make the chances of meeting someone who made a similar move greater.

2. I’m glad that this story happened over 25 years ago. I did not notice at first that Chris said it was in the ’80s. I was about to criticize him for not doing a web search, or look for a friend on the face thing, or do an on-line criminal records search or something, to try to find his friend. But since it was a long time ago, he will be spared that criticism. If he should run into a similar situation in this decade, we know he will avail himself of the various internet tools to increase odds of success again.

We are sure that it must have been surprising to find his friend. Trying to estimate the odds of doing so is probably not really possible. But I think that as usual, there are some factors that make the odds much better than we might intuitively think at first. And it is worth thinking about them.

Let’s think about a few possible items. There may be a lot of odds reducers that he did not mention. For example, I suspect his friend lived in a campus dormitory and he happened, on purpose, or by chance, to go to the student union at dinner time.

I suspect that since it was a friend he was looking for, they may have gone to high school together. This means that his friend most likely lived in a dorm at the campus. If so, then it would actually have been a great plan to try to find a campus dormitory-living student by going to the student union cafeteria at dinnertime. Or breakfast time or lunch time.

Now if the population of the school was around 30,000 at the time, and half of the students lived in a dorm, then your odds of finding the person would roughly double. That would be about 1 in 15,000 chance, which is pretty long odds.


(Submitted by reader Timothy Vizthum)

After high school, I worked at a camp during one summer. While there I met my first girlfriend, though we only dated for a few months. Three years later, I volunteered for a NGO in Israel that worked with Palestinian refugees. Although the NGO usually has 30 or so volunteers, this was 2002 and with the uptick in violence, there were only 3 other volunteers, a Swede, a Swiss woman, and another American. Over the course of the 5 months that we were there I found out that the American woman was not only from the same town as my first girlfriend, but had even graduated from the same high school in the same year.

After coming back home and starting college at UC Santa Barbara, I was in church talking with this friend, who turns out was also from the same town and graduated from the high school, in the same year.

A few years past that I attended my brother’s wedding. As my wife and myself began talking to this other couple, we found out that, she had attending the same high school and graduated the same year. There were only thirty people at this wedding.

The town were my former girlfriend had attended has about 900 students in grades 8-12. The community it is in is a hour or so outside Fresno on the way to Yosemite. What are the odds of meeting up randomly with this many people from the same high school?

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 219.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

The author is talking about the odds of meeting people at any time, which is impossible to quantify since the number of people we encounter depends on our activities, where we live, and a number of other factors.

I would note that most of us would be very surprised by the number of common facts the people we encounter share with each other and ourselves if a full inventory could be had. How many people does the author meet each week or month? And, more importantly, how many people does the author talk to and what do they talk about? There are probably much more interesting coincidences that were never discovered.

(Submitted by guest contributor Ben Radford)

Though my skepticism didn’t really come until full bloom until I was in college, I was more or less skeptical of many things by high school, including psychics. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and though I hadn’t yet picked up my first skeptical publication I loved books about curiosities, trivia, and little-known facts (or, as I’d later realize, sometimes “facts”).

When I was a junior in high school I took an art class, partly because it was an easy A and partly because I wanted to try my hand at clay and modeling. Students didn’t have individual desks but instead were seated two to a side on stools around large square metal-covered worktables. There was one kid (I forget his name, but we always called him “Drac” because he was blond and had a vaguely vampiric visage) who sat at my table. We were casual acquaintances, and didn’t know much more about each other than our first names (apparently not even that).

However one day out of the blue, in the middle of class while cutting a piece of metal into the shape of a Picassoesque horse, I said to him, “Hey—I’ll bet I know your mom’s middle name.” He looked at me sideways and gave a quick laugh. “Yeah? What is it?” he challenged. Without missing a beat—and while staring him directly in the eyes—I said simply, “It’s Ann.”

His laugh stopped, his face grew slack, and the blood drained from his face. His eyes grew wide, and then narrowed. “How did you know that?” he demanded. I just gave a brief mysterious smile and went back to working on my horse. “How did you know that?” he asked again. I just ignored him.

I don’t know if he thought I was psychic, or I had investigated his family, or what, but the next week he moved to a different table, avoided me in the halls, and never spoke to me again.

Of course, I didn’t know his mother’s middle name; I had read that the most common women’s middle name was Ann. I played the odds, acted confident and authoritative about my knowledge, and passed myself off as knowing something I didn’t. That experience still serves me 25 years later as I observe psychics doing hot and cold readings, and informs my investigations into the psychology of psychic experiences. It made quite an impression on him, and I wonder if, to this day, he tells the story to others, offering it as his personal experience with real, unexplainable psychic powers.


Ben Radford

Ben Radford

Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.

A Key Question

(Submitted by reader John Meuser)

I grew up on a farm in a rural community in Indiana.

The high school I went to had been consolidated from several small town schools in the area, so almost all students were bused in being picked up from houses which were widespread. Even though our house was only about 15 miles from the school, it took about an hour for the daily commute. Pretty much all students get their driver’s license as soon as possible so that they don’t have to go through this lengthy process every day.

My younger brother is mentally handicapped so was unable to get his license at the same time all of his friends did, but my parents didn’t want him to miss out, so they allowed him to drive an off-road utility vehicle, best described as a large golf-cart, to school every day. The brand was Cushman, but I have no idea of the model. He probably had a longer commute than if he rode the bus, but my brother loved the independence.

He also had problems with the combination padlocks on the lockers, so the school allowed him to use a padlock which takes a key. This is a very rural area where no one locks their doors, so the only two keys that my brother ever carried were the key to his locker and the key to his Cushman. He was unlocking his locker one morning, and realized that he had accidentally gotten the two keys mixed up, but was surprised to find that both keys were completely interchangeable. His Cushman key could unlock his locker and vice versa. What are the odds that the only two locks in the world that my brother needed to use took the exact same key?

Below would be the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 204. But as you may know from the podcast, the most Barbara could share is that she’s had a similar experience. This one’s just too tricky, and requires too much specialized knowledge, for her to assist.

So that’s where you, our faithful, generous, and brilliant readers/listeners come in. Do you know anything about the elements of this story that could help us solve this question? Are you, perhaps, a Cushman enthusiast? A locksmith? A trivia know-it-all who found a Cushman manual in a library and read it front to back in hopes that one day a Jeopardy answer would hang in the balance? Whatever the case, if you’ve got info, we want it. Please comment below the story and let us know what you think we need to know. There will be fame and fortune in it for you. Also, probably neither of those things.

The Mischief Makers

(Submitted by anonymous reader)

Toward the end of summer vacation after my junior year of high school, I was sitting at home, and thought about one of my friends that I hadn’t seen or talked to since the school year had ended. Scott and I weren’t especially close friends, so while we hung out together in school, we only interacted outside of school a couple times a year, usually during the school year. Something had come up that I thought might interest him (I no longer remember what it was), so I dug up his phone number and gave him a call. His mom answered (this was before any but the most spoiled and rich high school kids had cell phones) and told me that he was out with friends. She said she’d have him call me back when he got home.

About half an hour later, my doorbell rang. I went to the door, and there was Scott! Naturally, my first thought was that he happened to talk to his parents and they told him that I had called, so he stopped by before coming home, but no, he had no idea that I had called. He was stopping by because he and some of his other friends were out doing some mischief around town. When they got to one of the corners on Harris Road, Scott apparently thought of me, since that’s my last name. He and his friends took the sign down and tossed it in their trunk. When they parted ways to go home, Scott came by my house to give me my street sign.

I thought of something that would interest a friend that I almost never interacted with outside of school, and who I hadn’t seen at all in about two months at the same time as he thought of something that would interest me (a personalized street sign). The odds of this happening are probably pretty much incalculable, but they’re definitely pretty crazy!

[EDITOR: This is a perfect example of one of those simple moments that catches us by surprise. Granted, this one included a misdemeanor.]

Distant Check-Ins

(Submitted by reader Brian U)

When I was a kid in high school in the San Fernando Valley, there was a restaurant that was open 24 hours that was a favorite hangout for kids out late. That was 35 years ago and I have since moved away — 3,000 miles away, actually.

Since the advent of social media I have since re-connected with a lot of my old high school buddies, and a couple of times a month one of them will “check-in” at the old place, and it will post to their status and I will see it.

So, it didn’t strike me as odd when I saw such a check-in from the same place one day, until I looked at it more closely and discovered it wasn’t one of my high-school friends, it was one of my neighbors.

It was the first time I ever saw a check-in from him, and it was at at the old haunt, 3000 miles away. Turns out he was on a business trip, got in late and saw the place open and stopped in for some food.

[EDITOR: Seeing worlds collide in social media is always odd, and more so when people you know connect with favorite haunts. But it’s the extenuating circumstances of situations like this that really grab you. Of course the least his neighbor could have done is bring back a burger, or something…]

Ouija know it?

(Submitted by reader Thomas F)

One time in high school I was at a friend’s house on a Sunday and we were sitting around bored when out-of-the-blue, completely unprompted, I said, “Let’s do the Ouija Board.”  We got it out and it seemed unusually responsive so we began asking more than ‘yes or no’ questions like everybody’s birthday, etc. and the board was nailing it.

Side note:  (Now personally, even as a kid, I wondered if people were subtly influencing the Ouija Board with their fingertips so something would happen and they could get the answers they wanted. I didn’t know of the word ‘ideomotor’ yet.)

Anyway, a mutual friend stopped by with his new girlfriend of 2 days and introduced her to everyone.  They saw what we were doing and she (Debbie) suggested we ask it her middle name since there was no way we could know it.  The board very responsively spelled out S-U-E.  Her jaw dropped and she screamed out, “Oh, my God, I don’t believe that, Sue is my middle name!!”  Then she pulled out her driver’s license and verified it.

Still haven’t figured that one out yet.

It takes a licking…

(Submitted by reader Donald Chesebro)

Last Monday was my first day of work at a new job.  I decided to wear an old Timex analog watch that I’ve had since high school, but which I haven’t worn in years (although, like the ads, it indeed keeps on ticking).  When I put it on, I pulled the pin to set the time, but when I looked at the watch face, the time on the watch was 8:11 a.m.  The presumably correct time on my cell phone was 8:11 a.m.  (The day and date did need to be changed, though.)

EDITED 6/25/2012

[EDITOR: An especially simple story, but funny nonetheless. But what are the odds? There are a few factors to account for. Obviously one could argue the watch kept exceptionally good time, but as the date needed to be changed, we can assume it was, indeed, running fast or slow during the years it wasn’t in use. While a typical quartz watch IS capable of being accurate enough to lose/gain only 5-25 seconds per YEAR, it’s quite reasonable for them to be quite a bit further off than that due to a variety of issues. So assuming we have no way to directly predict the exact accuracy, or lack thereof, of this watch’s crystal, we’re left to assume this element’s unpredictable.

So that leaves us with the mere chance of its seemingly-random time lining up perfectly, on the day Donald decided to use the watch, with the actual time. Since there are 1440 minutes in a day, and as analog watches ignore AM/PM cycles, it appears that we’re left with as low as a 1-in-720 chance that the minutes would line up.

Although what’s not accounted for is that the watch may still have been many seconds slow or fast, leaving him to catch the time at the exact right moment, only for them to become out of sync within seconds. So a worst-case scenario, with the watch fast or slow by a full 59 seconds, leaves us with 2 seconds out of 86,400 in a day to line up, or a 1-in-43,200 chance.Still, he’d be unlikely to note the time as 8:11 at a glance if the margin was that tight, so we’re probably at a worst-case window of maybe 15 seconds, or a 1-in-5760 chance of this occurring.

So our end result here is certainly well within reasonable enough odds when you consider the huge number of people who must reset various old watches every day, but still a welcome surprise to Donald when he likely could use the spare moments while prepping for his new job. – Jarrett “Please Correct My Math” Kaufman]