Saturday, April 14, 2007

Doesn’t take a genius to make correct change

I had a couple of strange dinners this week, catching up with old friends at restaurants. The meals themselves weren’t all that unusual, but paying for them was.

On Monday I ate at a nice restaurant with my old buddy Schrödinger. When the check came we calculated that, with tip, the total should be $100. We agreed to pay $50 each. It so happens that each of us had loaded up at the ATM on our respective ways to the restaurant, and all that either of us found in our wallets was $20s. Schrödinger is not as patient as I am, and wasn’t willing to wait for the waiter to bring back any change, so he said “you put in $60, I’ll put in $40. That’s $100 and we’re out of here. I’ll owe you $10. Don’t worry; I’m good for it. In fact, I’ll pay you the $10 right now.” Saying this, Schrödinger put another $20 on the table. “We’ll split this $20 right here and now.”

In the next instant Schrödinger grabbed the twenty, shuffled it in his hands behind his back, then held out both of his fists before me, saying “You may want to think that one of these hands holds a $20 and the other hand is empty, and so the $20 bill has an equal probability of being in either hand. But the correct way to view it, dear observer and student of my equation, is that the $20 is neither in my left hand nor my right hand, yet it is simultaneously in both my left hand and my right hand. It is a superposition of states that you cannot directly observe. You may quite correctly interpret my equation as showing that each hand is holding $10. All you have to do is pick one of the two equivalent $10 hands and you will be repaid.”

I was staring at his hands, carefully thinking it over: This behavior is weird. How much had we had to drink? Let’s see, we’d each ordered a beer when we sat at the table. I’d had a second, and I thought he’d had the same. But you know those Germans and their beer, maybe he’d ordered a lot more. Wait, was he German? Austrian maybe? I wonder if he knew the Von Trapp family. Do all Austrian’s know Edelweiss? Are all Austrian nannies as hot as Julie Andrews? Does he know Julie… Wow, his fists are starting to squeeze really tight; look how red and shaky they’re getting—and his knuckles are getting whiter…

He must have been growing impatient with me. He nearly yelled “Collapse the system into an eigenstate!”


“Pick a damn fist already!!!”

“You don’t have to yell. This isn’t going to turn into the Monty Hall question, is it? I don’t understand that Monty Hall question. OK, OK, I’ll take the left one. ”

He threw the $20 that was in his left fist (crumpled, but still legal tender) at me. And stood up in a huff.

“Sweet!” I said. “I win. In the end this meal cost me $40 and you $60” (I’m no dummy; I can do the math”) “You paid more so you can have the leftovers to bring home to your cat. If you still have a cat.” (Honestly, I’m glad it turned out that he paid more than I did. The meal wasn’t really worth more than $40, and he’d picked the damn overpriced restaurant. I don’t see why piling salmon on top of the starch, rather than next to the starch, and dribbling a thin string of black goo around the edges, adds at least $10 to the tab.)

A couple of nights later I went to a different restaurant with my friend Occam. After a very nice meal, and a carafe of the house wine, sure enough the bill (with tip) came to $100, and both of us had only twenties. We each owed $50 and each had only $20s.

Now it was my turn to look smart. “No problem,” I said “you put in $60, I’ll put in $40. That’s $100 and we’re out of here. I’ll owe you $10. Don’t worry; I’m good for it. In fact, I’ll pay you the $10 right now.” I put another $20 on the table. “We’ll split this $20 right here and now.”

In the next instant Occam grabbed the twenty, whipped out his ever-present razor, and sliced the bill right down the center, saying “once again, the simplest solution—in this case, how to split a twenty—tends to be the best one.”

Sheesh! I tell you, that is the last time I ever go to a restaurant with Occam. The last time! It always turns out poorly with him and that stupid razor he uses for everything. It gives me the creeps. This week wasn’t even the worst restaurant experience with Occam. One time I went to a steak house with Occam and some friend of his named Zeno (or maybe it was Xeno, or some friend from Reno—I’m not sure.) Zeno took great interest in the extremely sharp razor Occam was using to cut his steak, and Zeno insisted—insisted!—that Occam always cut his remaining piece of steak exactly in half. We were there all night! By the time they threw us out I ended up paying the entire $120 bill myself (with only $20s, of course) while Occam and Zeno fought with the manager because Occam wasn’t done eating yet.

My new rules of dining: 1) Bring bills in all denominations. 2) No more eating with frickin’ geniuses.

1 comment:

  1. How much vicodin have you taken? :)