Should Rare Events Surprise Us?

(Archive Question of the Week) We often receive questions saying something like, “My wife has the same birthday as my son-in-law, whose dog has the same name as my wife’s brother, … ,” and asking us to calculate how likely it is that this would happen. Sometimes it is simply impossible to answer (without, say, looking up …

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What Operation Was She Doing?

(Archive question of the week) For Wednesdays, I plan to find a single interesting question from the past and discuss it. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Ask Dr. Math is getting questions I’d never have thought of on my own, but which lead to some fascinating ideas. Here is an old favorite from …

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Why We Care About “Why”

(Archive question of the week) One day back in November, as I entered the community college where I teach, a man came in behind me with his son, probably about 3 years old. It was the first snowy day of the year, and the father stood on the mat wiping his feet, while the little …

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