Friday, August 18, 2006

upcoming conference on splitting the bill...

Other mathematicians have the same experience all the time, I’m sure. Going out to dinner with a group of friends, time comes for the check to get divided, someone says, “Hey, Josh is a mathematician. Why don’t we get him to divide the bill?”

This picture (following a nice dinner at a conference I attended) is my answer to that question:



Seriously, my answer is generally, “You do realize that the time it takes to split the bill doubles with each mathematician present?” Some like to say it’s because we haven’t worked with numbers for so long that we’ve forgotten how. I think—although that statement may be true—in this case it’s more due to our proclivity to solve optimization problems. We want to figure out how to take exactly the cash everyone’s contributed to the pile and give everyone the proper change from what’s available. This holds even—perhaps especially—when one person has contributed a $10 and three $1 bills, while everyone else only had $20s. It is invariably the non-mathematician at the table who says, “Why don’t we just ask them to make change from the twenties?” Because that solution is not elegant, we want to reply. Elegance is paramount. Just give us a few more minutes and we’ll work out how to handle this…

2 comments:

Hannah said...

It is totally awesome that you have that picture up where other people can enjoy it...I've been describing it to people every time they ask me to split a bill, too... :-) - Hannah

Becky said...

Apparently, it's not just mathematicians . . . http://www.theonion.com/content/node/52324