Heads or Tails

Four men stand dotted about a function room, all turned to face a stage where the quizmaster presides over a trivial spot-prize competition. Each of the four has one hand on his head, the other clasped firmly on his buttocks.

The game is this: put each of your hands on either your head or your ass. You can put them both in the same place if you want or, like a communist distributing the fruits of the public’s labour, give one to each. The quizmaster then tosses two coins. Two heads on the coins and all of the people with both hands on their head stay standing while everyone else sits down. Simliarly, tails equals ass. The game continues until there is one player remaining. Tradition dictates that this person be labelled the winner.

A simple game. And with a moment’s thought, a simple optimal strategy. Clearly in this game placing both of your eggs in one basket is the inferior choice. One hand on your head and the other on your ass gives a 50% chance of staying in the game at each round. The other options have only a 25% chance each. These four remaining men know it. They have played the same position for each round leading up to this and none of them is keen to switch strategies. We are at an impasse.

This is where my faith in humaity begins to disappear. The quizmaster tosses the coins again. A head and a tail. All men remain. Again. Two heads. All sit down. We can’t finish without a winner. Stand up and we”l go again. A head and a tail. It slowly dawns on the quizmaster and the assembled onlookers that this game doesn’t appear to be nearing a conclusion. The men are asked to change their choices. They all look around at the others hoping that a rival will concede to the request. No-one does. More coin tossing. Sit down. Stand up again. Another draw. Whatever will we do? My mood sinks deeper and deeper. More sitting. Stand up again. And then it happens. Humanity, by the hand (or, in fact, voice) of a lone assailant on reason, loses the battle.

"Change the coins."