The coolest thing I have ever done

I did the coolest thing I have ever done in my life the other night (20071028).

It was just after 3 AM. We were on the L train headed to Brooklyn. It was going slllllooowwwww. This happens, NYC does night/weekend construction to inconvenience the least amount of people possible. Unfortunately in a town with 8 Megapeople, that's still going to be a lot. Luckily for me it inconvenienced more than 30 people in my immediate area that night.

I had just sat down next to a Cuban-American guy dressed as a wiseguy. There were at least two other Cubans sitting near us. When I first saw them, I assumed they all spoke English as well as the one doing most of the talking which was not well. So when 'mugsy', as I referred to him in my head, said something, I meant to ask him if he dressed as 'mugsy,' but I think I accidentally introduced myself as such. In any case, he had grown up in New York so there was no problem with his English.

He looked rather young, but the ladies didn't believe that he was 36. So they checked his drivers license and found out, yes he was 36, but not only that his birthday was only 2 days away from one of the girls'. That's when the nerd moment began.

In mathematical parlance there's something called the 'Birthday Problem' in which the probability of two people in a group sharing a birthday is calculated. As it turns out it only takes 23 people to have greater than even odds that some pair in the group share birthdays.

There were far more than 23 people on that train car.

Then I turned him and said, "It is likely that two people on this train car share a birthday." He didn't believe me.

That was all the excuse I needed to walk up to the middle of the train car and yell out, "Ok, everyone we're going to do an experiment about birthdays!" I then started asking people to raise their hand if they had a birthday in January, February, etc.

Unfortunately for this type of interaction, the subway is not the ideal place because socially it's a lot like an elevator. That is, people aren't big on interacting with people they don't know in a subway car. The platform is a different story, but on a subway car (for me at least) it's not socially easy to start a conversation with the whole car. Because of this I didn't get a very enthusiastic response. I eventually got to November and thought that it was going to fail, but a bit of fortune was on my side!

As it turns out, two people sharing July 24th as a birthday were sitting across from each other! I assume that when I asked about July either one of them raised their hand and answered and at that point the other person thought, "That's my birthday, should I speak up? What's this crazy short dude going to do next???"

Thankfully they told me and I brought the Cuban guy back and showed him and he was quite impressed. As was I.

Mathematics. Ladies and gentlemen, it works.