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The Kid Should See This

How a mathematician dissects an astonishing coincidence

True story about an adventure that befell Anne Parrish one June day in Paris. She was wandering through the old book stalls along the Seine with her husband who had been there before. He sat down at a table on the quai an let her go rummaging. She came over with and old English book for children, called “Jack Frost and Other Stories.” Only paid a franc for it. Hadn’t seen anything like it in twenty years. Not since she was a child. It contained her favorite nursery stories. Even remembered one of them. Her husband looked at it. He admitted she must have know it in her younger days. On the flyleaf was her name and New York address.

What a coincidence! Was it fate? That surprising true story was written about Anne Parrish in the July 1932 issue of The New Yorker… but as Vox’s Phil Edwards asks in the video above, can we “unknot a twist of fate with logic?”

Mathematician Joseph Mazur explains how he dissects an astonishing coincidence like this one by researching the hidden variables and details of the story. Then he calculates the odds… which may not actually be that surprising.

Related reading: The Guardian’s review of Mazur’s book Fluke: The Maths and Myths of Coincidences.

Related videos in math, logic, and puzzles. Plus, more from the 1920s.

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