Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers

Paul J. Nahin

“How likely will you be called for jury duty, die on your upcoming flight, or win the lottery? Everyday life presents probability issues to us all. Paul Nahin asks us to use our imaginations as we consider the laws of probability as they apply in entertaining, perhaps misleading, ways to a fascinating range of hypothetical circumstances in this collection of twenty-one puzzles. Russian roulette games, issues with bug aggregation on flypaper, and methods for calculating the likelihood of the underdog winning the World Series all shed interesting light on the operation of probability. These and other beloved puzzles have been gathered over time by Nahin, a seasoned author, and math educator, in an effort to inform and amuse math fans from all walks of life.

What is the likelihood that idiot A will prevail if idiots A and B shoot a six-shot pistol alternately with a single bullet at each other? What are the chances that any given year, it will snow on your birthday? How can researchers get truthful responses to humiliating survey questions using coin flipping and the rules of probability? Here, the solutions are given in full, and many of them come as a great surprise. Additionally, some puzzles serve as lovely illustrations of fundamental mathematical ideas. For instance, “The Blind Spider and the Fly” is a clever variation on the “random walk” problem, while “Dueling Idiots” and “The Underdog and the World Series” are simple explanations of binomial distributions.

Dueling Idiots is the perfect book for anyone interested in mathematics and its role in real life and in our imaginations. It is written in a casual style and contains a wealth of fascinating historical information.”