Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Happy Father's Day

There are two words that I've never heard said by anyone but my dad: geedunk and cattywampus. Now through the magic of the Internet I can see that he wasn't just making them up (not that I ever doubted my dear old dad :-). Oh, and there's a math problem at the end in honor of Father's day.

The way my dad uses it, "geedunk" means sweets (and maybe other junk food), based on the name of a place where you can get this stuff. That's basically what they say on the Navy Historical Facts and Trivia page. The Naval Historical Center also has some info on the word. The term seems to have jumped ship and crossed over to other branches of the service, or at least to the army, where my dad learned it.

"Caddywampus" means caddycorner, or kittycorner, according to both my dad and SlangSite.com. Caddywampus is also the name of "one of today's formost instrumental rock bands" according to their own web site (I had never heard of them, but that doesn't mean anything). This word came into my mind recently because the What Kind of American English Do You Speak quiz at Blogthings falied to list it as an alternative to "catty corner."

One more thing for my dad: A math problem. I hate this particular one; I was a math major, and I took a class in probability, and it still doesn't make sense to me. It's the (in)famous Monty Hall Problem, made famous a number of years ago by Marilyn vos Savant in Parade magazine. Many people, including math professors, wrote in to tell her she was wrong, but all my Googling seems to say she was right (as does Charlie, the math genius on the TV show Numbers).

The common definition of the problem seems to be: There are three doors; behind one is a good prize (say, a car), and behind the other two are less desirable things (say, goats). You choose a door, hoping to get the car. Then the game show host, knowing what's behind each door, opens one of the doors that you didn't choose and reveals a goat. Now there are two doors left--your's and the other one. He asks if you want to change to the other door. What is the probability that the car is behind your door, and what is the probability that it's behind the other door?

Well, at first there were three doors, so you had a one in three chance of getting the car. Now there are two doors, so you have a fifty-fifty chance, right? What if I choose door number 1, but my friend in the audience secretly thinks "it's door number 3", and then the host opens door number 2; my act of choosing doesn't mean any more than my friend's silent act of choosing, does it?

So, it seems like it's fifty-fifty, but the experts say no. They say that whatever door you choose has a 1 in 3 chance even when there are only two doors left. There is an explanation of this on the Math Forum at Drexel School of Education, and a more mathy one on a web page of the Naval Academy. Another explanation if at the Wikipedia. That's the one that I think has the best explanation--but it's still definitely counterintuitive.


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