Theater of the Absurdly Improbable

Or, What This Liberal Arts Education Has Taught Me

Left to my own devices, I would never take a class which involved numbers.  It’s true, I would need them for footnotes, but thankfully Microsoft Word does all the hard counting for me.  Still, I’m glad for our liberal arts curriculum.  I’ve learned a lot from it.  Last term, I took “Statistics 104: Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Economics”, for no reason other than that I needed to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning requirement, and it sounded better than “The Magic of Numbers”.  An excellent choice, as it turned out.  I don’t mind that it earned me my lowest grade of the term, because guess what?  At the end of the class, I was able to answer a question that has bothered me for years:

How improbable was it, exactly, for Guildenstern to toss 92 coins in succession and have them come up “heads” each time, in the first act of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?

I know, I know — it bothered you, too.  Good thing I took Stats 104, then, because I can now bust out the binomial probability equation to put the matter to rest at last!  Let’s see… finding P(X=92)… fiddling with factorials a bit… and ta-da!  We discover that the probability of Rosencrantz calling heads 92 times — correctly — is 0.00000000000000000000000000020195.

How absurd.

And that, dear readers, is the last time I will ever use statistics, ever.  Hoorah for the Core.


Work Cited:  Stoppard, Tom.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  New York: Grove Press, 1991.


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