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Making The World Safe For Science - One Supermodel At A Time

How Math Can Save Your Marriage - An Interview With The Author Of Geek Logik

Ever have someone tell you a certain pesky question can't be answered scientifically? Garth Sundem is here to help. He's the author of Geek Logik and it's his business to help you mathematically solve life's most pressing problems.

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Garth has created plug-in numerical solutions that help you make decisions while completely abdicating accountability for your actions - because you can always claim the numbers said it was the right thing to do. It's like the Taguchi Method, only with real algebra and a lot funnier. Here are the kinds of life-altering decisions Garth can help you make:

"How many beers should I have at the company picnic?"
"Should I go to the gym?"
"Do I have a snowball's chance in hell with him/her?"
"What IS a snowball's chance in hell?"

I first stumbled upon Garth when I read Esquire this past summer and saw he was able to answer the question "Should I apologize to to my girlfriend?" with the following equation:


Each of these variables has a 1 to 10 scale. D is the severity of the issue (1 being "I forgot to take out the trash before work" and 10 being "I left the kids with matches and forgot to turn off the gas before leaving on vacation"), Ra is your actual responsibility for your crime, Rp is your perceived responsibility for your crime, and P is how pissed off she is. A is, of course, apologizing.

If A > 1, you basically apologize and numbers higher than 1 mean you have to buy her better presents. Anything below 1, you tell her to kick rocks and wait for her to come crawling back and bake you pies.

At first I saw it and thought, "How quaint. I want that 15 seconds of my life back" but I had a pencil nearby so I put on my best Six Sigma game face and decided to tackle a "should I apologize about this?" issue of my own. I don't remember exactly what the issue was now but I think I slept with her sister or something equally minor and she was making a big deal about it and telling me I should apologize. I was firmly thinking she should apologize to me for all of the yelling she did about it.

So I filled in the numbers and the equation told me I should apologize, because A was actually greater than 10,000. I thought maybe his formula was broken so I contacted him and he assured me that, while he had never seen a number that large before, he was confident that her rage had peaked well before 10,000 and I couldn't make things any worse so I should just go ahead and apologize. That decision, combined with a lot of jewelry, turned out to be the right thing to do. So I knew he was on to something.

The next time I saw his work was in a New York Times article by John Tierney showing us how to predict the demise of celebrity marriages. ( subscription required ) and after that I was a believer and a Garth Sundem book owner. Why? Because he's eerily accurate.* The formula is below:

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P is the celebrity couples combined number of previous marriages
Ab is his age in years
Ag is her age in years
Gb how many millions of hits when his name is Googled
Gg how many millions of hits when her name is Googled
S is the number of pictures in her first 5 hits that make you think of sex
D is the number of months they knew each other before marriage ( fractions are allowed )
T is years of marriage you want to see - so if you want to see the the likelihood of them lasting 1 year, use 1 and for 5, use 5, etc.
Bliss is the percentage chance for the number of years you chose.

Why is this relevant today? Because I just saw that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe are getting a divorce so I figured it was time to dust off the Unified Celebrity Theory and crunch some numbers.

What did the Geek Logik method say about their marriage?

For Reese and Ryan at 1 year: statistically certain the marriage will be intact

For Reese and Ryan at 5 years: 88% likely to still be married.

For Reese and Ryan at 15 years: 25% likely to still be married.

Actual marriage length: 7 years. The equation gives them a 69% chance of making it seven years and a 61% chance of making it eight. That's not just amazing, it is bordering on the supernatural.

I contacted Garth to discuss this and he wrote, "These are actually some of the strongest numbers I found for any couple outside Johnny Cash and June Carter, due mostly to relatively small combined fame (Reese certainly isn't a nobody, but she's not a media darling like Angelina Jolie), low skin in Reese's first five Google hits, no previous marriages, and similarity in ages."

So it's not just that the formula is accurate, it's that his method for creating the formula is astounding. I feel a lot better consulting his equations about how many cups of coffee I should have now (11, it turns out.)

While I had his attention I figured I would take the opportunity to have him answer a few questions about Geek Logik and quantifying life:

Cash: You came from a mathematical family, but what inspired you to go into this kind of work?

Garth: Geek Logik started on a plaid couch at Cornell. My geeky friends and I spent way too much time on this couch, much to the detriment of our GPA's, and needed something concrete to tell us when it was time to get off the couch and actually go to the library.

Being geeks, we made an equation—based on how long 'till the test, how much studying we'd already done, how hard the test was going to be and, of course, how many beers we had already consumed. Much to our geeky delight, the equation worked! Since then, I've made equations whenever the need arose, most successfully in the area of dating and romance.

Empirical testing has centered on allowing geeks to lessen the occurrence of girlfriend-genic flying dishware by performing at or near societal norms in a variety of social settings such as when to apologize, should they go to Vegas against their girlfriend's wishes, and should they bring their new girlfriend home to meet their embarrassing parents.

Cash: Which of the equations in Geek Logik is your favorite?

Garth: Strangely, my favorites include some of the more mundane equations, because these tend to be the most useful on a daily basis. For example, "should you stop to put gas in the car," or "should you eat something scary from the back of the 'fridge or just order Chinese again?"

These, really, are the central questions of our time. Or at least they allow geeks to make it through the day with a relatively small disaster coefficient.

Cash: Given what you know about my site, the overall audience and me, how many people does your problem solving prowess predict will read this interview?

Garth: Ha! We'd have to take into account your average blog-reading demographic, which I think is safe to say leans a little toward the geek (no offense; I include myself), and the news with which this is competing.

Luckily, I think the average American is 102.34% sick of midterm election news and looking for something a little on the light side. Also, this is an easy topic to spam to friends (a way of saying, "yes, you are whipped and now the numbers prove it").

So, we bump up your average a bit with demographics, a bit with timeliness, and a bit with "S" the spam-a-rific factor, and end up with about 107.72% of your average readership. The numbers here, I have to admit, aren't quite as hard as they were with celebrity marriage, which we all know is governed by definite rules of math and physics...

See? He made sure to endorse physics. I told you he was a smart guy.

Got some geek math thoughts of your own? Reach the Geek Logik website here.

*And see a sample of his celebrity marriage predictions here.

posted by Buckaroo at 10:48 PM |

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