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The Sciences

Splitting the Bill


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Continuing the end-of-year purge of things I don't have time to properly blog about: be sure not to go to dinner with this guy. He might lash out at you as everyone is heading home.

“We’re going to split the bill,” said the organizer at my friend’s ninth grade birthday party. I didn’t think much of it until I ended up paying $40 for a $10 entrée. I felt cheated because I didn’t order a drink like most others. I was afraid to ruin the party mood, so I concealed my own anger, and that ended up ruining the night for me.

Now, I almost have sympathy; if you've ever gone to dinner with a collection of scientists, you'll find that their vaunted mathematical skills tend to whither under the pressure of calculating tax and tip, and the person who volunteers to collect the money often ends up chipping in extra to cover the shortfall. But Mr. Talwalkar goes far, far overboard, devising an elaborate scheme by which everyone in the party receives emails ahead of time informing them that they will be strictly limited in the menu options once they reach the restaurant. It's a common syndrome among people with something of a quantitative bent; fixating on the relationship between the money they are paying and the tangible goods in front of them in the form of food and drink, they completely discount the goods associated with having a good time in a social atmosphere and not worrying too much about who had how many bites out of which appetizer. Admittedly, this guy probably gets more enjoyment out of solving a game theory problem and enforcing conformity with his rules than he would by relaxing and telling stories at dinner. That's why you have to choose your dining companions carefully.

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