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Four silly stories

Silly maths stories, like buses with a taxi sneaking into the bus lane behind them, come along four at a time, it seems. None of these stories merits being reported on here on its own, but we felt the fact that they all came to our attention so close to each other deserved recognition.

1 Miss Germany who studies maths

“”Miss Germany”: Mathe-Studentin aus Hannover ist die Schönste” in Der Spiegel

There can only be one Miss Germany 2013. After what was surely a hard-fought battle and in no way an anachronism which demeans us all, Caroline Noeding emerged victorious as the fairest of them all.
Now here’s the bit that’s crazy: she’s a maths student! See if you can get your head round that, Mr/Mrs PRECONCEPTIONS.

Actually, it’s not even like there isn’t precedent for maths students doing well in beauty contests: Aoibhínn ní Shúilleabhaín won the Rose of Tralee contest before continuing on to an academic career in maths education.

Noeding made it through to the final after winning the Miss Lower Saxony contest in January. Her other hobbies include dancing tango, singing, playing the piano, languages, philosophy and French. But there’s only one question we’re interested in: is she pure or applied?

2 thirds of people are confused by supermarket pricing

“Supermarket promotions confuse two thirds of shoppers, survey reveals” in The Grocer

Two thirds of a survey of 1,010 shoppers failed to identify which of a selection of special offers represented the best value. 42% failed to identify the cheapest deal on milk, when faced with four options. It’s not clear whether this is a result of the general public’s level of numeracy, or the fact that with multi-buy deals and differing pack sizes it’s getting increasingly confusing to actually work out the per-unit cost of a product. Following the supermarkets’ logic, if I were in charge of a supermarket all the prices would be in binary or in the form of alphametic puzzles, and if you couldn’t work out the best deal, it’d be your own fault.

3 years is not an eternity

“Man behind ‘Why I Don’t Have a Girlfriend’ theory to marry” at

Maths PhD student Peter Backus received mild media attention for a spectacularly low level of confidence in his marriageability a few years ago. Having been single for three years, Peter released a tongue-in-cheek “paper”, wherein he applied the Drake Equation (more commonly used to calculate the probability of making contact with extra-terrestrial life, and mentioned in our recent series of Star Trek articles by James Grime) to the problem of whether he’d be able to find a girlfriend.

The results were mildly disappointing: he reckoned he had a 1 in 285,000 chance of meeting his future wife on a given night out in London. However, in a highly unlikely/result-disproving twist, he’s met a girl and they’re getting married, which is nice. Assuming he worked hard at it and went out every Saturday night in the intervening two years, he won a 1 in 2,741 lottery (( $\Pr \left( X \leq 104 \mid X \sim \operatorname{Geo}\left( 0.0000034 \right)  \right) = 1 – (1 – 0.0000034)^{104} \approx 0.0003648 \approx \frac{1}{2471}$ )).

If this heartwarming tale made you uncomfortably optimistic about the human condition, try this article about the story on CNET in which the journalist speculates about whether he’s managed to find the happy couple’s private Pinterest page, and includes more confusing metaphors and possibly defamatory non sequiturs than I’ve ever seen in one place.

4 is banned in a Toronto suburb

Missing floors in a Shanghai lift. Photo by Chrisobyrne at Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA licensed“Richmond Hill, Toronto Suburb, Bans Number 4 For New Addresses” at The Huffington Post

Tetraphobic residents of Richmond Hill, Ontario have succeeded in pressuring local lawmakers to ban the number four in the addresses of new houses built in the area.

The story makes sense (in a way) once you discover that the suburb has a large Chinese population (21.4% according to Wikipedia). The number four is considered deeply unlucky in Chinese culture, since it sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘death’. Some buildings in Hong Kong omit the fourth floor, and sometimes any floor number including the digit 4 is skipped – although it’s possible this is done in part to make apartments sound like they are on a higher floor, and hence more valuable.

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