Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pick A Number

I had only one prize to give away, but two teenage contestants of equal merit.

Thinking quickly about how to inject some humorous suspense into the routine proceedings, I decided to award the prize based on the old game of "pick a number".

I explained that I would pick a number between one and twenty, and whichever of the two competitors picked a number closest to the one I had chosen, would win the prize.

I mentally picked number 7, then turned to the first teen.

"Okay: pick a number between one and twenty."

"Five", he said with assurance.

I was surprised by his answer, because it certainly shifted the odds in favor of the second contestant... all he had to do was say "six", and he would command most of the remaining potential numbers, leaving the first player reliant upon only numbers one through four... the second player would have six through twenty!

A considerable advantage.

I faced the second contestant, and prompted him in his turn to pick a number from one to twenty.

Like a fixed game show, I was already rehearsing how I would award him the prize, since it seemed such a sure-fire victory, given the odds.

He hesitated, feeling the pressure. "Ummmmm... 17!", he declared.


I don't think I would have been any less surprised than if he had answered, "Boston!"

Experiences like this one really point out how "Intelligence" can be such a multi-layered concept.

These two perfectly decent young people could take apart and re-assemble a buggy computer so that it's in working order, play the guitar, drive a car, and a hundred other skills...
yet neither of them could figure out how to master the simple odds of "Pick a Number".

A reminder that expertise in one thing does not automatically translate into expertise in many things, let alone every thing.


truepeers said...

Are you sure they wanted to win? They might have been thinking "that it wouldn't be cool if i'm competitive at this."

Then again, since the advent of calculators, numeracy has become a lost art for many.

Dag said...

How many numbers is Boston? I'm not psychic, you know.

And that's the problem with the kids atop: They didn't want to win by getting the 'better' answer, they wanted to win by getting the 'right' answer, which they could (probably) only do by abandoning Reason in favor of e.s.p., thereby coming across not only as wrong but as losers. The better isn't attractive. It's a phantasy world of dreamers we face. For them if it's not perfect it sucketh.

My guess, by the way, is seven. What's my prize?

Charles Henry said...

My guess, by the way, is seven. What's my prize?

hmm, well I'm bringing that old book I told you about to the meeting tonight, the 1952 book on the Yemeni Jews airlift to Israel, so I guess I'll award that to you for your uncanny accuracy.

I wonder if calculators have caused damage to more than just our numeracy... since so much of life, of being alive, is incalculable, we seem increasingly unable nowadays to handle the large degree to which the "unknowable" must remain a part of life.