Wait, Wait… I’ve Got a Math Question
“Not My Job” is a segment on the NPR game show Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! During the segment, host Peter Sagal asks a celebrity three questions, on a topic about which they likely have no clue. For instance,
- Cindy Crawford was asked questions about scale models, not supermodels;
- Rob Lowe was asked questions about bratwurst, not the Brat Pack;
- Stephen King was asked questions about the Teletubbies; and,
- Leonard Nimoy was asked questions about the other Dr. Spock (you know, the celebrity pediatrician).
My favorite of these segments, however, was with singer-songwriter Will Oldham, better known by his stage name Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Sagal explained, “You sing mostly sad or mournful songs, interspersed with the occasional tragic one. And we were thinking, who’s the singer least like you? […] So, we’re going to ask you three questions about Ms. Doris Day, the sweet-faced, sweet-voiced singer most famous in the 50s and 60s.”
As Sagal congratulated him, Oldham pretended that Doris Day was in the room with him. “Hey, Doris, you were right!” he said. “All the questions were about you!”
Now, that’s funny!
(As an aside, let me share with you a slide that I sometimes show during presentations about classroom technology:
Yep, that’s Doris Day in the 1958 movie Teacher’s Pet. Hopefully that image looks a little odd to you in 2015. Honestly, if you’re teaching math to adolescents and still using chalk and a wooden pointer, I’ll kindly ask you to consider a different career. There are other options for you. For instance, you could become a dentist and specialize in square root canals. But, I digress.)
So, back to the point.
The celebrity quiz contains three multiple-choice questions, each with three choices. If the guest answers at least two questions correctly, he or she wins. Which got me to thinking…
What is the probability that a celebrity guest will get at least two questions correct if she guesses randomly?
Brute force is definitely an option here. Write down all possible answer choice combinations, randomly decide which configuration will be correct, and then figure out how many of the possible combinations would yield a winner. Not pretty, but it works.
Speaking of combinations, here’s a joke that just has to be shared: