Tag Archive: Skepticality

Numbers Sometimes Lie

(Submitted by Skepticality listener  Stephen Hayko.)

I do clerical work for a company that uses part numbers that are six digits long and begin with either a 5 or 6. When we order parts, our ordering system generates a purchase order (PO) that is six digits long and sequential.

We’ve been using this ordering system for about a year, and throughout the company, we typically place about 45-50 orders in the system every week, in my branch. We’re one of 25 branches in the US that uses this system, and we are one of the higher-volume branches – most other branches use about 30-35 orders per week.

In March, I placed an order for part number 649384. This is a relatively common piece and we typically sell 8-10 of this part per week – so it accounts for 16-20% of our orders. Lo and Behold! The PO was 649384.

Given that information, what are the odds that PO 649384 was attached to an order for part number 649384?


Below are the extended notes provided by contributing editor Mark Gouch for use in Skepticality Episode 253. 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.

This problem seemed very straightforward at first, but on closer review it seems that there is something interesting hidden in the details Steve provided. Estimating the total number of POs generated company-wide using the average of the ranges you gave comes to about 780 POs per week. That’s about 3,586 per month, and 43,030 annually. Steve said the numbers generated automatically are six digits long, and are sequential. So if 43,030 are generated annually, it would take 649,384 / 43,030 years to hit number 649384, or about 15 years, one month. So barring any large increase or decrease in business, in about 15 years you may see this happen again. But wait, Steve also stated that the company has been using this system for a year. Something is fishy here. If the numbers are sequential, and they’ve used this for a year, then they must not have started at 000 001. They must have started somewhere around 649,384 – 43,030 = 606,354. That is, if the numbers Steve gave were close to correct. Starting to wonder if this is some sort of trick question here Steve. Something does not add up. Literally.

So either Steve submitted a trick question which he knows is impossible, or someone, for some reason, decided to covertly tamper with the automatic PO number generating software to make it start at some number other than 000001. Perhaps someone thought PO numbers like 000001, 0000002, etc. would make the company look like a startup, or just would look odd. PO number 606354 makes the company look like they’ve been in business for a long time, and/or process quite a lot of POs. So this great mystery deserves some investigation. Inquisitive minds want to know what was the first PO number generated, who determined what that number was, how did they determine it, and why? And was it part of a conspiracy, or did this mysterious person act alone? A reasonably thorough investigation is certainly in order. There must be a logical explanation.

A number starting in 60 does not look like someone used their birthdate, which would be weird anyway. Does Steve know the last six digits of the CEO’s social security number? Well, there could be a mundane explanation, like the numbers were sequential for many years, maybe kept on a clipboard or something, and only a year ago was it computerized. Let’s go with that, and forget the conspiracy theory. In fact, everyone please forget all conspiracy “theories.”

So back to the actual question. It seems that Steve already knows the answer to his question. He said that this common part accounts for 16 to 20% of their orders. So the odds of any one order having this part number on it should be approximately……16 to 20%! Grab any random order out of the pile (or computer system) and there will be a 16-20% chance that it has this part number on it. That goes for any PO number: 650000, 700000, 131313, and also for 649384. Steve knew the answer; he just did not know that he knew. This is certainly not a criticism. It is better to not know that you know something than to think you know something that you do not. The fallacy was that he thought the odds would be different for that one special PO number, but they are not. The odds are the odds. The odds, in this case, are perfectly rational – but not sequential.

Accident Down Under

(Submitted by Skepticality listener  Craig.)


I have this story this is totally legit, happened to me a few months ago.

Basically one Sunday night we heard a big crash out the front of our house. Turns out a car had crashed through our neighbour and my front fence with three young occupants (2 males, 1 female). The police came and took the relevant details and while getting names we realised the driver lived right next door to my sister, who lives two suburbs away (Melbourne, Australia). She always said they were dodgy neighbours!

Then when the my neighbours daughter in law came around to see if everything was fine she realised that she knew the female occupant of the car (who then begged not to tell her parents). Her sister was the god mother of the girl.

So it was to co-incidents in the one crash. The odd’s must be crazy!



Below are the extended notes provided by contributing editor Mark Gouch for use in Skepticality Episode 249. 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.

There is an old adage that says most car accidents happen close to home. We’ve all heard this, and it seems reasonable that since we drive to and from our homes quite often, that we probably spend a lot more time driving near our home than far away, so we would expect to have more accidents close to home.

According to DrivingToday web site , this kind of data is surprisingly not typically gathered by law enforcement or insurance companies, but the Progressive Insurance company completed a survey in 2001 to try to find out. (Gather a decent amount of data, analyze the data, and learn something. What a progressive thing to do! )

According to the site, they gathered information from people who were involved in 11,000 accidents, and found 52 % occurred within 5 miles of home and 77% within 15 miles. (Isn’t it nice when actual statistics confirm what we thought we already knew? This seems to be not usually the case. So much of what people think is true turns out not to be true when researched objectively. But that is another story).

Craig said his sister lived two suburbs away. Suburbs is not a standard unit of distance in the U.S., so we are not sure how far that is. It’s probably safe to assume the distance is 15 miles or less. If so, then the person driving had really good odds of having an accident within a radius that includes his house.

So the fact that the driver lived only two towns away has to be considered as unremarkable. Or actually: pretty likely. It would be highly unlikely for a person who lives in Canada or Argentina to have crashed into your yard.

Your neighbor’s daughter-in-law knows one of the people in the car. So let’s restate this: Not your neighbor, not his child, but the child’s spouse knew someone in the car. So the acquaintance had three “degrees of separation”, so to speak, half way to Kevin Bacon (not sure if your part of the world will get that reference).

It seems that this coincidence should be calculated by the number of acquaintances that your neighbor’s family has compared to the number of people living in the greater Melbourne area. The number of acquaintances that people have on average has been estimated by various methods to be in a wide range of between 150 and 300.

A very cool teenage acquaintance I asked said 1,500 minimum, in this, the social media age. But I think that is high. According to Robin Dunbar on the Social Science Space Web Site, a good estimate is 150. In this case we are talking about acquaintances of family members, who will have some overlap in the people they know, so let’s conservatively use 100.

So if your neighbor knows 100 people and each one of those 100 knows 100 people, then the total number of acquaintances of your neighbor and his acquaintances is 100 * 100 or 10,000. Assume your neighbors have two children, and both are married. So we have your neighbor and his wife, their two kids, and their two spouses, for a total of 6 people. Those 6 people should have about 60,000 acquaintances. Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) indicates that about 4.5 million people live in the greater Melbourne area . So it seems that the odds of this coincidence would be about 60,000/4,500,000 or about 1.33 out of a hundred. That’s not all that low. (if we used 150 the odds come out to 3.0 out of a hundred.

  • http://www.drivingtoday.com/features/archive/crashes/index.html#axzz3SQw6YAQU
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees_of_Kevin_Bacon
  • http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2013/11/robin-dunbar-on-dunbar-numbers
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne

Three Trendies

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Michael McClure.)

I’ve been working at Disney Animation now for more than 18 years. My son was 11 months old when I started my career at the mouse. He’s now a 19 year old sophomore in college.

We were working on Tarzan a year or so after I started at Disney Animation. I got to know the Artistic Coordinator on the show, a fellow Scot musician named Fraser. One morning he called Support (where I was working at the time), so I took the ticket and went to see him. I had brought in some of my slides in a sleeve (16 slides per sleeve) a few days earlier, because I had a shot of the composer on Tarzan, one Phil Collins. However, instead of the short-haired, balding Phil of the early ’80s, my shot was from a Genesis gig in 1977 at the San Diego Sports Arena, with hirsute Phil (long hair, beard and all!) decked out in the jersey of the farm hockey team from the town that he threw on for the band’s encore of the evening, singing his heart out in a pool of red light. I’d shot the picture 20 years prior, and of course hippie Phil would be relatively unrecognizable to most folks in the late ’90s. The Tarzan production admin folks put out a printed newsletter each week containing the goings on in production-land, and I thought it would be fun to put this picture of Phil into the newsletter, to see if anyone could guess who it was.


Phil Collins, San Diego Sports Arena, 1977 Genesis Concert

I brought the sleeve of slides with me to Fraser’s office, I pulled out the slides to show to him, to see if maybe my musical brethren could guess who the hairy man in the slide was.

Fraser held the sleeve up to the light, and he pondered the picture of Phil for a moment, but I saw his glance drift to one of the other slides in the sleeve. Fraser couldn’t guess who it was, and was amazed when I told him that it was a picture of Phil Collins, but he kept looking at a different slide in the sleeve. Finally, Fraser said, “Can I pull this slide out?” pointing at some random slide I had in the sleeve along with my Genesis concert pictures. I said sure, and he pulled out a picture I’d shot of some random people along Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland when I was there with the California Repertory Theater in the summer of 1980 for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a huge, yearly theatrical festival held in the city. Fraser inspected the slide very closely, and then looked me in the eye, and said, “This is my best friend Graham.”

“What? Really?”

“Yes. No doubt about it. This is Graham.”


“3 trendies”

Well, that was stunning right there. The picture, as you can tell, shows three trendies (as I wrote on the edge of the slide) whom I stopped on the street that sunny day in August of 1981, and asked in my California twang if I could take their picture. The girls were fine with it, but the boy in the shot was huffy. I think he was annoyed by this ‘foreigner’ bothering them, and showed that by being annoyed and petulant in the picture (but, he was still in the picture!).


The sheet of slides, showing where the two pictures were located.


The “P. Collins” slide

3trendiesSlide (1)

The “3 trendies” slide (dated SEP 80).

Fraser and I had a great can-you-believe-it moment about this, a good laugh, and then we went about our day.

Within 20 minutes, Fraser had called back down to my offices, asking for me. I went back to his office, where I found him, looking even more stunned. After seeing this now 16 or 17 year old picture of his Best Friend, shot by his Support Guy at Disney Animation, he just had to call Graham to tell him about it. So, he did. And things got REALLY weird.

Graham apparently picked up his phone and said hello to Fraser. Fraser explained about the photo, and Graham shrieked in his ear on the phone and hung up. I mean, Fraser said he really SHRIEKED at him, and then abruptly hung the phone up. That was it.

So, Fraser called him back.

Fraser got Graham back on the line, and after a few moments, he drew the story of the shriek and the ensuing hang up out of him. Graham was completely beside himself the entire time they were on the phone. But, in the end, it made perfect sense.

Graham told Fraser that just a few hours earlier THAT SAME DAY, he had had a conversation with his old friend — let’s call her Carol — the small brunette in my photograph. He was attempting to refresh her memory of their other friend — let’s call her Alice — the blonde in the picture. But, Carol wasn’t remembering her. She couldn’t quite place her. Apparently Alice had left Scotland not too long after I’d taken the picture of the three of them in Edinburgh, to marry the bass player of the Bay City Rollers, a then very popular pop group/boy band. She’d gone all the way to New Jersey to marry this guy, apparently. In any case, Graham was trying to remind Carol of this other girl Alice, when he said something to the effect of, “Do you remember when that Yank stopped us on Princes Street years ago and took a picture of the three of us?” hoping that would jar her memory. Maybe it did, or maybe it didn’t — I don’t remember that part. But, Graham hung up with Carol eventually, and then Fraser rung him up from the States soon after that call and said over the staticky international land line, “You’re not going to believe the picture I just saw of you and two girls on Princes Street from the summer of 1981…”

I think I would shriek, too.

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 247.  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.

There are some factors that increase the probability that Fraser would recognize someone in one of the pictures, namely the shared interest in a genre of music and probably the artist. However, it’s a pretty amazing and impressive event. I’ll add that if I was in Graham’s shoes, I would probably shriek, too. These things are bound to happen from time-to-time, of course, so there’s nothing supernatural about it, but that wouldn’t keep my jaw from hitting the floor if this had happened to me.

(Submitted by Skepticality listener  Mark Gouch relayed to The Odds Must Be Crazy by Barbara Drescher.)

Here is the article (includes video) by Barry Wolf, WKYC.

Holiday & Seasonal

But how can we say this is unbelievable as they do in the article? Sorry, but I can’t help myself here…

The odds would be one out of 365 * 365 * 365, or about one out of 48.6 million births. With 7 billion people on the planet, odds are that this has probably happened about 143 times ( to living persons. many more to those in the past). So rare, fun, and interesting, but not unbelievable.

I believe it happened based on the evidence (their claim that it did, which is good enough).

Actually since everyone has to have a birthday, we can ignore the first birthday, that of the man or the woman. So the odds someone marries someone with the same birthday (date of the year) as them is 1/365.

Then the odds their baby has that same birthday would be 1/(365 * 365) or 1/133,225. So with ~7 billion people this probably happened 52,543 times to persons living on the planet now.

The error in the first calculation is that the date was selected first. That calculation is correct for any specific date, whether it is January 1st or July 4th, or March 15th, or July 22nd. Anyone with better knowlege of probability please correct me if any of the above is incorrect.

As often happens, things that seem unbelievable are quite believable and things that are believed without evidence are not believable.

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 246.  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.

Good job!

You are correct with both calculations. It depends on how you frame it. If you’re wondering the odds of two people with the birthday of January 1st marrying and having a baby on January 1st, then the first is correct, but as you pointed out, that’s not really what’s interesting.

The only thing I would add is that these calculations also assume some things that we know are not true, such as that births are uniformly distributed across the days of the year. Even if natural births were (they aren’t), we’d see fewer births on days like January 1st simply because the number of scheduled C-sections and inductions is lower because it’s a holiday. However, figuring those few things in requires data that probably isn’t available.

Checking the Check

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Paul)

I live on one side of town, and I’m currently taking a college class one day a week on the other side of town about 40 minutes away. Today we got out of class about 2 hours early, so I decided that since I’m rarely on the other side of town I would use the extra time to stop by the new beer warehouse that was opened earlier this year by my wife’s former co-worker. I had never been there before but I had heard good things about it, and so I was really looking forward to checking it out.

Once inside, I chatted with my wife’s former co-worker and toured the store, sampling some beer and picking out some interesting bottles to bring home and try. Okay, so I went a little overboard and wound up with nearly a case of various microbrews and hard ciders I had never tried. I also added a growler of one of the beers I had sampled and enjoyed, and as I was at the checkout my wife’s former co-worker came over and gave me a 10% discount. I signed the credit card receipt as we talked some more, then I thanked him and departed for home.

When I got home I checked the mail and found an envelope from the New York State Tax Board. My stomach sank, and I assumed the worst: we owed some back taxes. I put off opening it for the time being while I fed the dog and let her outside to relieve herself.

Finally I decided to open the envelope to see what bad news might be awaiting me. The letter inside informed me that the state was refunding home owners a percentage of their property taxes if their school district had kept taxes capped below a certain level for the year. Ours had, and so we qualified for the rebate.

Sure enough, there was a check inside! I immediately looked at the amount to see what our windfall was. The check was in the amount of $77.26. That seemed familiar to me, as I seemed to recall the total at the beer warehouse had been seventy-something dollars but I hadn’t really been paying attention because I was distracted while talking with my wife’s former co-worker. So I pulled out my receipt and checked the amount. I did a double-take when I saw that the total was $77.26!

I had just paid $77.26 at a store, and within 30 minutes had opened an unexpected refund check from the state for the exact same amount! So I ask you: what are the odds?!?!

Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 245 provided Edward Clint.  Ed Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

There is a mysterious power in the universe bending time and space, the very fabric of existence, creating amazing, inexplicable patterns. We may never fully discern its inscrutable purpose, but obviously it’s so some people can get some free beer, and occasionally scratch their heads and say “huh, how ’bout that?” Thank goodness it’s not wasting time preventing epidemics or something stupid like that.

Okay, that may have been a tad sarcastic, but their really is a mysterious force creating coincidences, and it sits between the ears. A couple of pounds of grey goo that can do amazing things, like feel bad about eating the last donut, seems pretty mysterious, to me, at least.

To understand why apparently astronomically unlikely coincidences are fairly mundane, I suggest an exercise in doing what minds are ordinarily a bit crap at: look at it from the opposite point of view, in this case, the universe’s. Imagine the mysterious cosmic power is you, except that your job is to prevent apparent coincidences that occur during random events in human affairs. Think about how much work you would have to do. Whenever a number crosses a person’s path twice or more in one day, you’d have to intervene. Whenever a popular song, movie, tv show, book (or part thereof) is referenced more than once in a short time frame, whenever two humans (who just love talking to each other) call each other at almost the same time, when two people meet and happen to share any significant detail such as hometown or favorite sports-ball team, et cetera.

That’s just a sample of the hundreds of ways people connect unconnected events. Your cosmic civil servant self would be working overtime. You would probably need to intervene in the life of every single human daily (hourly, for the numerologists).

That is, until someone says to someone else, “hey you ever notice two of the same number never show up on the same day? What’r the odds?” Then you’d have to start creating coincidences, to mimic what the universe already does. Or alternately, you could just quit, since that’s the way the universe works anyway.

Road Rage!

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Michael Farese.

I have less of a story and more of a question. My girlfriend is from New Jersey and has a very, um, animated personality. While driving, she often gives people certain gestures, honks, flashes headlights, etc.

I always tell her that she needs to be careful and that she shouldn’t do things like that because there are crazy people out there who might try to run her off the road (or worse) in a fit of road rage. She tells me that I’m being ridiculous and that she has a better chance of getting struck by lightning.

My question is: does she have a better chance of getting struck by lightning? Am I worrying about something that has only a negligible statistical chance of occurring?

Looking forward to some insight!

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 243.  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.

Hmmm…. Well, finding statistics about road rage is difficult, mostly because the definition of “road rage” is fuzzy. However, after looking at several different sources, I believe it’s safe to say that it seriously injures or kills around 1500 people in the U.S. per year, and that doesn’t include incidents in which only minor injuries or property damage are involved.

By contrast, the number of people who are injured by lightning in the U.S. each year is fewer than 300. On average, the number killed is 33.

Several websites echoed this sentiment written in About News:

“Statistics tell us that most all of us have been involved in an aggressive driving experience either as the victim or the aggressor at some point in our lives.”

Yet the lifetime chances of being struck by lightning at some point in one’s life are about 1 in 12,000. So I’d go with the author on this one.

Gamer’s Timed Coincidence

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Lee Christie)

Hi, I listen to your segment on Skepticality and encountered a coincidence today that I felt would be fun to share with you.

After watching a show on TV, I began playing “NES Remix” for Wii U (a new downloadable game which gives you hundreds of mini challenges lasting usually about 10-20 seconds each from 16 classic Nintendo games from the mid ’80s).

I was playing using the portable gamepad screen alone, and left the TV on the same channel I was no longer watching. It was playing a program called “Rude(ish) Tube” with an assortment of amusing clips and at that moment, a series of clips involving cats.

I had been playing the challenge stages of “Donkey Kong Jr.” for a while and then just as I switched to playing the first underground stage challenge of “Super Mario Bros.” remix (which has a 10 second timer on the challenge to collect 4 coins then ends), the TV clip show started showing a clip (lasting about 15 seconds) of an cute ginger cat jumping around, reacting to the unmistakable music and sound effects from an underground level of “Super Mario Bros.”

I don’t recall another instance of hearing the underground-level SMB theme on a TV show, and certainly not coinciding with me playing 10-second underground-level challenge of SMB.

Note: as “NES Remix” was only released 6 days ago and I assume these shows have a longer time between recording and air, I suspect the people who submitted the clip of the cat were playing the original 1985 “Super Mario Bros.” or a re-release of it, not the recent “NES Remix” as I was playing.

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Michael O’Dea

Hi there,

I enjoy the show and want to tell you my against-the-odds-story.

I am from Dublin, Ireland and I was on vacation in Boston, visiting my cousin about 20 years ago.

There was a free public concert in the Boston Common park. (It was Kid Creole and the Coconuts, not that that is relevant!)

I was with an American friend who was a server in a Boston restaurant (Legal’s) at the time. As we enjoyed the music he met a colleague from the restaurant who was with a companion and they chatted for a few minutes as we watched the gig. My friend then went to introduce me, when the companion turned around it was my next-door-neighbour from Dublin!

We had not seen each other for years and had no other connection of any kind other than growing up in adjacent houses.

What do you think?

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 239.  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.

I think this is an interesting coincidence! Normally, I would talk about the factors that would increase the probability of this happening, so I will, but there are really very few. People living next door to one another are much, much more alike than two people chosen at random from the global population. They are more likely to be close together in S.E.S. (socioeconomic status), for example. They are more likely to be exposed to similar cultural icons (such as music genres). Factors such as these may exponentially increase the probability of running into each other at just such an event.

However, given the astronomically small base probability (e.g., given all of the people in the world, the probability of any two people, chosen at random, would meet), this is still a story with crazy odds.

Consider the factors that don’t really come into play here, but have in similar stories we have encountered. For example it is unlikely both been inspired to visit by the same event (e.g., hearing a mutual friend talk about visiting Boston). They may have been inspired to visit (assuming the companion was also visiting and not living there) by cheap airfare to the U.S., but then why choose Boston? The probability that they all met each other through mutual friends is greatly reduced by the fact that the Americans know each other because they work together (unless, of course, they knew each other before working there).

So we must rely on the mathematical rule that we should expect at least some low- and even astronomical-probability events to occur in our lives, given the large number of events that occur.

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Charles Dahlheim

Back in the bad old days before bluetooth became common in automobiles people often used FM transmitters on their cellphones to listen to their music in their cars. These transmitters often used low FM frequencies and would override reception in nearby cars.

One day I was listening to a fascinating story about how some outstanding grade school science teachers were rewarded by being given a ride on NASA’s Vomit Comet. The teacher’s students had designed experiments for their teachers to perform under microgravity conditions and I was very interested to hear about their experiences.

Just as the story reached the part where the teachers were going to describe how it felt to be weightless, I suddenly heard music coming from my radio and Lionel Richie started singing “Ooo what a feeling, when you’re dancing on the ceiling”.

It’s a good thing I was pulled up at a stop light or I’d have driven off the road. The coincidence was awesome.

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 238.  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.

Hahaha! Very cute.

The odds are not as crazy as people might think. Lots of music might have been funny in that situation. A line from Space Odyssey, maybe, or any line about floating or feeling. I can think of several off the top of my head, some more fitting than others, but all pretty funny, like “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now”, “I can see clearly now”, “I’m hooked on a feeling, high on believing”, or “Up, up, and away”. And I’m sure there are many more that are even better.

But of course none of that reduces the humor of the story, and it was a low, if not crazy-low probability event.

Three, Two, One…

(Submitted by reader Nick Ward)

Listening to your segment on Skepticality reminded me of a TOMBC micro-moment:

In high school, my friends and I were very nerdy, so we timed our watches to the beginning and ending bells for classes.  Near the end of class one day, a teacher was mocking us, saying: “You guys don’t time your watches to the bell do you?! Like you sit there and say ‘3, 2, 1…’…” and right after he said “one” aloud, the bell rang.

We all sat around dumbfounded for a few seconds and then burst out laughing. My guess is that, since we were at the end of class, we were at least within 60 seconds of the bell, so we’d be looking at a 1.6% chance (at worst) that the second he chose would be the moment of the bell.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 199. Take a look and leave your comments below.

The author of this story recognized at least part of what makes this story easy to explain. I am sure that it was absolutely hilarious when it happened, but it is one of those things which is more expected than unexpected.

The author doesn’t state what prompted the teacher’s comment, but I suspect that the teacher noticed one or more of them looking at their watch(es). As a teacher myself, I was often very distracted when, with about 5 minutes to go, students began to pack up their belongings. And when one student did it, others followed. Pretty soon the whole class has that “it’s time to go” feeling and students start walking out the door while I continue to lecture.

So, the chances that the bell would ring at any moment precise enough to be as funny as this was is actually very, very high.