A Dark and Stormy Nautical-Automotive Conundrum

Sep 15, 2003

RAY: It was a dark and stormy night. Tommy and I were passengers on a small ferry, en route to a tiny island off the Connecticut coast. We were on the upper deck, smoking Cuban cigars with the Captain. This was the kind of ferry that takes cars as well as passengers, and from our vantage, we could see the 8 or 9 cars that were parked on the front of the boat. But, we could barely see the license plates of these cars, let alone what makes and models they were.

As we approached the dock, Tommy and I decided that we needed to have a bet. Tommy said, "Geez, how many of these cars do you figure are automatics, and how many do you figure are standard shift?"

So, I picked a number. I said, " I think three cars are stick shift." And Tommy said, "I think there are five."

The boat finally docked, and the people who owned the cars got in them and drove away. And, I turned to my brother, and said, "You won."

We never left the upper deck, and all we could see were the backs of the cars. We couldn't see inside the cars, nor could we identify what makes the cars were. But, we did see the people get in and drive the cars off the boat.

The captain said, "How could there not be an argument here? How could you possibly know, and agree that Tommy's number was right?"


RAY: The answer is we didn't determine how many stick shifts there were. We determined how many automatics there were. We did a little subtraction problem here. The way we determined which cars were automatics is that when you start an automatic transmission car, as you shift from park to drive --

TOM: You go through reverse!

RAY: Momentarily. So all the cars with automatics had their reverse lights flash for a split second, and then they drove off. We counted how many cars had their lights flash. And then I settled the bet. I lost another hundred bucks.

So who's our winner?

TOM: The winner is Fred Orlanski from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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