Greatest Common Factor

There's no good way to start this story. I'll start telling it from right now.

I'm eating Vitamin C tablets, sitting in a dark corner of an old public library. I have two pieces of paper in front of me. On one is an incorrect solution to the Monty Hall problem. On the other, I wrote out the correct solution.

The Monty Hall problem is as follows: you're on a game show and there are three closed doors. Behind one of them is a brand new car, behind the other two are goats. You choose a door. The game show host opens up one of the three doors (but not the one you opened) and reveals a goat. He asks if you would like to change your guess or if you would like to stay on the door you initially chose.

I am eating Vitamin C tablets because it is the only thing I have in my bag. If I had candy or something else that was sweet, I would eat that. But I don't. These are semi-sweet. They have one gram of sugar per tablet. They also have two grams of carbohydrates and five hundred milligrams of Vitamin C and fifty milligrams of sodium. There are sixty tablets in the bottle. The bottle suggests that I chew one tablet daily with a meal. Keep bottle tightly closed. Store in a cool, dry place, out of reach of children. I have eaten fourteen tablets in the last four minutes.

I was in the library working with Alice. I was working on a statistics. She was working on philosophy.

I don't know why she and I date. We have nothing in common. She stays awake at night wondering about the universe. She sometimes says things that annoy me. A few nights ago, we had this conversation:

"So you think there's life on other planets?"

"I do not know," I tell her.

"Well, think about it statistically." I hate it when she says things like that. I hate it when anyone incorrectly talks about statistics. It bothers me because they usually do not know what they are talking about. I have found that, statistically, people who talk about statistics (not in an academic setting) are more favored to not know statistics. "There are zillions of stars, and a lot of those stars are like our stars, right? I mean, there's gotta be planets around a lot of these stars. Just gotta be. And, on one of those planets, who knows, life may have happened. The statistics are just too high. I mean, galaxies full of billions of stars, probably meaning ten billions of planets. Gotta be some life, right?"

"There is no statistical number to qualify how many stars there are and how many planets, on average, orbit every star. There are no statistics. Only theory. Theory is not statistics, Ally."

"You're so boring. Do you dream about numbers?"

"No, I dream about the bottom of the ocean."

"What? Really?" I nod. "Why?"

"What do you know about the bottom of the ocean?"

"It's a mystery, like outer-space, but even closer, probably wrecks of ancient civilizations and secrets to our past."

"None of that is what you know about the bottom of the ocean," I tell her.

"Shut up and kiss me," she tells me as she rolls over, starts to unzip my pants and starts kissing my neck.

I met her when I was a freshmen and I was conducting a poll. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the quad so I could talk to as many students as possible. I needed information from people about whether they would rather buy an iPod for more money or a knock-off MP3 player. It was for a business class about marketing and advertising. I found that people would rather pay more money for a product like an iPod, even though it has no extra functionality that an MP3 player like a Sansa has and even though the iPod costs three times as much (assuming the same size player). I thought this was a stupid conclusion, but it was one that I found to be true through the statistical data. People who want an MP3 player should buy the best MP3 player that has the most space and is the cheapest. The iPod is more money and usually has less space.

I was conducting my survey and Ally stopped to talk to me.

"Would you rather buy a more expensive four-gig iPod or a less-expensive four-gig generic MP3 player?"

"I wouldn't buy either," she said. "Why do you want to know?"

"I just need to know which you would buy."

"What is this, some sort of test?"

"I'm conducting a poll. For a marketing class."

"I think they're both stupid. People who walk around with their iPods in their ears never listen to people, never look at the world." The headphones are in their ears, not the iPod. I didn't correct her. "They're letting the world pass them by, letting the colors go unnoticed and the smells, yes, they even forget to smell when their head is bumping along to some trash on their white little head-glued-on iPod! Have you smelled today?"

"I never stop smelling."

"What do I smell like then?" I sniffed her.

"I don't know. Nothing." She sniffed me.

"You smell purple. Like lavender. Or Jules Verne."

I don't think I ever understood what she meant. I never asked, either, because it didn't make sense. She'd try to explain it with more of that language, and all it would do would be to compound vague metaphors on top of even more vague abstractions until I'd forget that she was trying to describe how I smelled by saying a color.

But, for some reason, I asked her to go out to dinner with me. I don't even know why. I think I was just spooked about needing to have a girl. An older person in the statistic building, a grad student, had told me "here, on this campus, you needa find a gal when you're a freshmen and then hold onto her, 'cause if you lose her, then you're gonna be single for the rest of your days here. Ain't no pickings when you're upper-class. All the girls got their boyfriends and these freshmen, they come in here with their daddies telling them not to trust any older boys, all we want is some ass, so they look to you other freshmen. Vicious cycle." So, I asked Ally out to dinner and she said yes. And I've been with her three years now.

Tonight, we were in the library studying late. I to my Statistics, she to her philosophy. At one point, she sighed heavily through her nose, then put her book down and stood up. She walked over to me, draped her hands on my shoulders, and then whispered into my ear: "I need a break. Want to be a little...Rated R?"

I had gotten used to her stupid remarks without telling her how stupid they were and just responded. "No. I am working."

"Come on. Here, in the library, it'll be exhilarating. The thrill of getting caught, the kinkiness of doing it on these books here, I'll have to keep quiet, I'm gonna try real hard, wouldn't you want to?" She started reaching down my shirt front down to my pants. I pushed her back. Then she got angry.

"Look, okay, I'm sick of this. What. The. Fuck. I throw myself at you and you don't care? What kind of man are you? What is wrong with you?" I looked back at her.

"Because I won't have sex with you in a library when I am working and you are bored with your work, I am not a man?"

"There you go, trying to be logical and deduce shit like it's A to B to C. Stop doing that."

"Think about what you say then."

"Fuck you." We both stared at each other. "Goddamnit, I never should've dated you back then. I coulda been dating Adam, you know that? He asked me out, but I said no, I was dating you, and now, look at him, I always see him getting out of his truck with his friends and they're all smiling, always out front throwing a frisbee or having a beer. He's so handsome sometimes...he has muscles, unlike you. And you're doing--what? Sitting here or reading a book? What kind of college kids are you?"

"I'm a student. They often forget that they are students."

"Being a student is not just about books!" Another pause. "Aren't you pissed about me talking about Adam like that in front of you?"

"You like his muscles. I get it."

"So be pissed! Be angry that your girl likes some other fucker! Be angry your girl wants to go suck his dick!"

"Do you think you would have been happier if you dated some other guy three years ago?"

"Who knows! Maybe! Maybe I would have!"

"You're right. You probably would have."


"On our first date, milkshakes at the diner, I told you I liked doing this. I studied hard and had an ambition to be doing statistics and math for the rest of my life. You liked that ambition. I told you what I was going to be and what I was. You should have chosen someone else if you would not have been happy with what I said."

"How can you expect me to think--of all the things--one day, back then, you knew who you were gonna be now? That's--" she stammered and balled her fists and continued to break sentences in the middle.

"It's called the Monty Hall conundrum."

"I don't want to hear about some stupid conundrum! I want to talk about us! Every night, I get naked and have to like fucking rape you for us to have sex! You look at everyone in the world the same as me! You have no like, glitter in your eye, no deep thoughts! You have no beauty in your soul when you think about me, in the way that, y'know, I feel about you. What the fuck, just tell me, tell me why you're even with me, you don't even like me, what is it?"

"Imagine there are three locked doors."

"Shut up! You and me, not doors!"

"Behind one of them is an answer. The answer you want. Why I'm with you."

"Shut up!"

"Behind the other two are lies."

"What's this for? Why?"

"I'll tell you why I am with you and why I continue to want to be with you."

"Are you serious?"

"You choose a door. One, two, or three."

She hesitated. "Two."

"Behind door one is a lie. Would you like to change the door you have selected? You should choose either two or three, but you may choose one. I don't suggest it."

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"What do you think the odds are, right now, of getting the truth?"

"Um, fifty-fifty, right? I have two doors, one lie, one truth, door two, door three."

"I'll tell you afterwards."

"Wait. You'll tell me the truth, the real truth, if I choose the right one?" I nodded. "I want to know you won't change your mind, on whatever this is. Write it down." So I pulled out two pieces of paper. On one of them I wrote a lie and on the reverse, a big two. On the other page I wrote the truth about her and me, and then a big three. Then I folded both of them up and put them both in my pocket.

"I won't write a lie for door one. You should not choose door one."

"Then--I choose, um...door three."

"So you are changing your answer from door two to three?"

"No, door two. I'm staying." I pulled out the papers from my pockets and opened door two and read aloud.

"I am with you because I just want sex and you were easy." Her eyes welled up. She bit her lip, closed her eyes, and then punched me. I fell on top of my books and I felt my lip was bleeding. She started to cry and then she started to buckle. Her shoulders bobbed like bubbles boiling in a pot.

"I knew it!" She grabbed her books, threw them in her bag, and stormed off as I tried wiping my blood off of the statistics work in front of me. Then, I pulled out the other piece of paper.

The way the Monty Hall conundrum works is that most people think that you are left with a fifty-fifty solution to choose the true answer. That is not true. Once you rule out one door as a lie--and you always tell the participant that one of the false doors is a false door--the contest should always change their door. It's statistically foolish to stay on the door one original chose, and the reason is because there are not any less options. By ruling out one door as a lie has not removed it from the probability of the entire series, which is still three doors with two lies. Think of it like this:

When you choose, I will tell you that one of the other two doors is a lie. This is not misleading. I am truthfully saying that the door that I say is a lie is actually a lie. Moving forward, let's plot out a diagram.

You are asked to choose a door.

You choose a door has a lie behind it.
A) You stick with the door.
You get a lie.
B) You change your door.
You get a car.

You choose a door has a lie behind it.
A) You stick with the door.
You get a lie.
B) You change your door.
You get a car.

You choose a door has the truth behind it.
A) You stick with the door.
You get a car.
B) You change your door.
You get a lie.

You have a two-thirds chance of getting the truth if you change. Ally did not see this. I played the odds of her not understanding this, and when she stayed on door two, I wrote door two as a lie.

I reached into my bag and got out my Vitamin C so that I would not get sick from my wound. I doubt that I would, but it is still a precaution.

On the sheet with the big three, I wrote on it: "Because the numbers are so cold and you're warm." I thought she would have liked that. But, perhaps now she'll go find Adam.

They have more things in common, anyways. I thought about it, and I only had four things in common with her. They have eleven.


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