## The Thin Crust Coincidence

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.

## God & Pizza in Vermont

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Alison Smith)

My friend Jeff Wagg and I both worked at the James Randi Educational Foundation for some time. We were close enough that we often had yelled debates over the phone – and the most popular conversation between us was about a higher power. Unlike many of my friends in the critical thinking world, I am not an atheist – though characterizing my form of belief is rather difficult.

One day, Jeff and I were winding down from one of these debates, and, tired of the argument, Jeff said, “I would believe in God if pizza showed up on my doorstep.” (I should add that he insists he said ‘a pizza’).

Immediately, I began to plan. Jeff lived in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. Pizza places didn’t deliver to him, and the nearest restaurant was something like half an hour away. I, at the time, lived in Texas – so I couldn’t shuttle a pizza over, either.

But we did have a mutual friend in New Hampshire – one that was driving over to visit Jeff soon – and she was the nice sort of person who would do a favor if asked. I called her and asked that, along the way, she stop off and get pizza to take to Jeff. I didn’t tell her the reason, or the source of the issue. I am not sure, even now, if she knew at the time that I wasn’t an atheist. She did agree to get the pizza, and I sat back, like a villain in a comic book, with a bit of maniacal laughter.

On the way to Jeff’s house, our friend stopped off to get the pizza and while there saw a greeting card she liked. She bought it, wrote in it, and added it to the pizza to take to Jeff. He opened it, and was amazed. So am I – even still.

The front of the card was the painting ‘The Creation of Adam’ – where God is reaching out to Adam, and Adam is reaching back. However, in this interpretation, their hands were not empty. God held out a pizza, and Adam held out money. On the inside, our friend wrote, “And God said, ‘Let there be pizza!'”

Jeff is still an atheist, though – because our friend didn’t get him ‘a pizza’, as he claims he said. She got slices.

Go figure.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 185. Take a look and leave your comments below.

As cute, funny, and amazing as this story is, the ‘amazing’ part does not hold up to scrutiny. The author notes that arguments about the existence of God were common between he and Jeff. It’s likely that Jeff had discussions about religion with others as well. Given that the woman who visited Jeff is a mutual friend, the odds are pretty good that the friend was an atheist or at least enjoyed discussions about religion herself. When she saw the card, she knew that Jeff would appreciate that humor, and the fact that she was bringing him pizza made the card funnier, even though she did not know that the pizzahad anything to do with a discussion about God. This is a case in which shared interests and values are responsible for the friendships the three shared, making the odds of something like this happening much greater than they appear. Great story, but not ‘crazy’ odds.

## It’s a small town; you’d never have heard of it…

(Special submission by friend of the blog, Barry Karr, Director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry)

When I was 13, my parents packed up the whole family into a RV and took us on a several week cross-country trek across the United States. We started in Western New York, traveled across the northern section of the US, down into California, and heading back across through the southern states.  (On a historical note, we were there at San Clemente, Calif., the day Nixon flew there after resigning the presidency.)

Anyway, one day, while we were doing the sights in San Francisco, we went into a little pizza restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf to get lunch.  There were seven of us, my parents and five kids.  While behaving like kids,  and eating pizza as fast and furious as kids are famous for, a husband and wife sitting at the table next to ours got up to leave (I am not sure if they were leaving because of us).  They asked my parents if we’d like the half pizza or so that they had not touched.  I don’t recall if my parents (at that point) accepted or not, but they did engage the couple in a bit of a conversation.  The usual things came up like what were we doing, what we were visiting, where were we from etc.  Then the conversation went something like this:

My Father:  “we’re from New York State”

Woman:  “That’s interesting, so are we, but we moved away some years ago.”

Father:   “Really, what part of New York?”

Woman:  “The western part of the state.”

Father:  “So are we, what town?”

Woman:  “Well, it was such a small town, if I said it you’d never have heard of it. We were from a town called Arkport.”

Father:  “That’s where we’re from!”

Much more conversation and catching up on family and mutual friends followed. And, without doubt,  we took the pizza.

[EDITOR: There’s a definite theme with people with precisely common roots running into one another in far-off locations. I particularly like the common assumption that “it’s too small for you to have heard of.” It further increases the oddity of the run-in simply because the number of people who could have any connection to the town in question is severely reduced. And yet we see it a lot. Is there any meaning behind it? Did they learn anything from this endeavor, or make a connection that was of particular value? It doesn’t sound like it. There’s no lesson to be learned. But it just shows us that unlikely events like this clearly happen for no reason all the time. Which means occasionally they’ll happen even when there does appear to be some hidden message. But that’s only to be expected.]

Related:
Stranger from the Same Land