The Jeopardy Dilemma

Speaking of the Banana Hoarding Problem and other real-life variants of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, something very interesting happened on the game show, Jeopardy, last Friday. For the first time in its 23 year history, the show ended in a tie.    (M0C)

What was really interesting was how it all happened. Scott Weiss, the defending champion, was in first place with $13,400. The other two contestants were tied with $8,000. Scott was assured the win if he answered the question right. All he had to do was bet $2,601, which would have given him $16,001 and which would have made it statistically impossible for his competition to catch up.    (M0D)

But Scott didn’t bet $2,601. He bet $2,600.    (M0E)

Had Scott won, he would have walked away with $16,000 and returned to play another day. His competition would have gone home with $2,000 in their pockets. With the tie, all three won $16,000, and they all returned to play again.    (M0F)

Why did Scott go for the tie rather than the win? His friend, Francis Heaney, had this to say:    (M0G)

Our first thought was “Why did he do that?” but it didn’t take us very long at all to figure out, well, he must have just thought, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be nice if we all won $16,000?” At a cost to himself of one dollar, he got to give two other people an extra $14,000. (I’m assuming the other guys would have both received $2,000 if they’d tied for the second-place prize.) Yay for altruism! Everybody wins! Now all of America knows what everyone who’s met Scott knows: he is one of the nicest people alive.    (M0H)

This wasn’t quite the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There weren’t strong disincentives to tie. He was still the defending champion, and he still won the money (minus a dollar). He could have actually won quite a bit more money if he was more of a risk-taker, but in reality, that was probably the correct bet (minus a dollar).    (M0I)

Plus, the incentives were pretty compelling. He turned an ordinary moment into a special one and shared it with two other people, perhaps sparking a friendship that might not otherwise have happened.    (M0J)

All that said, it was an extraordinary move on Scott’s part. He could not have planned it in advance, and the pressure of the moment must have been high. To have done something like that more or less spontaneously was very, very cool.    (M0K)

Banana Hoarding Update

Several people contributed some excellent solutions to the Banana Hoarding Problem I mentioned earlier this month. The question was how to prevent people from hoarding bananas at works. Solutions included:    (M03)

Marielle Binken wrote in last week with these excellent suggestions:    (M08)

In addition to the idea to tag the banana’s with an RFID, I suggest the banana’s start to whistle if they’re opened one day after the last banana delivered disappeared.    (M09)

The now publicly-known whistling illegal banana-owners have to make paper out of the banana-slice and make an art-work on the recycled banana-paper with e.g. the subject, “Why monkeys eat bananas and people collect them.” Each month the favourite art-work will be sold on eBay (unique collectors item), and the money raised with it will be given to some foundations… like the one related to the guy who proposed in Davos to develop long-term holding bananas without cooling needs. 🙂    (M0A)

What did I tell you? Wisdom of Crowds.    (M0B)

The Banana Hoarding Problem

I spent a good portion of this weekend listening to (and laughing at) my friends, Andrew and Elene, who are having a little problem at work. They both work at a large Silicon Valley company that has fresh fruit delivered each week — apples, oranges, and green bananas. Each week, the bananas disappear right away. Why? Because people hoard a week’s worth of bananas at their cubicles, rather than taking only what they’re going to eat right away.    (LXI)

What should my friends do? Here were some answers I and others came up with:    (LXJ)

  • They should hoard bananas for themselves.    (LXK)
  • They should take bananas from one of the hoarders.    (LXL)
  • They should bring their own bananas.    (LXM)
  • The company should order more bananas.    (LXN)
  • The company should appoint a banana distribution manager.    (LXO)
  • They should hoard all the bananas themselves, and become the de facto banana distribution managers.    (LXP)
  • The company should hire an old person to stand in the kitchen at all times, a la Wal-Mart. This will shame people from hoarding.    (LXQ)
  • They should poison one bunch of bananas, then put up a sign saying that one bunch is poisoned without indicating which one.    (LXR)

What would you do? Blog (and link here) or tell me your answers.    (LXS)

Not only was it incredibly funny to see how dismayed my friends were (what can I say, I’m a sadist?), but it was actually interesting to think through the problem. It’s a real-life instance of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic cooperation (but not necessarily collaboration) problem.    (LXT)

At the St. Louis Collaboratory workshop last October, we spent the day working on the Iterated Prisoners Dilemma, appropriate since the workshop was held in a former police station. It was fascinating to watch people work through the problem. I’ve been sitting on a pile of notes about it for months now, and this latest real-world dilemma may motivate me to sort through them and blog about it.    (LXU)

Update    (LY4)

Clearly, the Banana Hoarding Problem is more widespread than I originally thought, as the empathy and some possible solutions are already starting to come in. Once again, we see the Wisdom of Crowds at work (or not).    (LY5)

Keep your answers coming!    (LY8)