Yearly Archives: 2016

Yodely GuyThese days, Sue and I usually have lunch together over an episode of The Price is Right.  It is just and proper that we do so — we are both over sixty, we enjoy Drew Carey, and we like to compete with each other.  After a few months of comparing our guesses in the showcase round, I proposed that we have an official 100-showcase tournament: Sue and I would make our guesses for each showcase, and the person closest to the actual price without going over would win that showcase.  If we both overbid, there would be no winner. Here are our results, along with my rules-of-thumb for guessing showcase prices and a few other interesting findings.

How we guessed our guesses

A showcase generally comprises a low-priced item ($1000-$3000), a mid-priced item or bundle ($5000-$8000), and a high-priced feature item like a car or boat ($15,000-plus).  Sometimes, instead of offering a big-ticket item, the producers will put together a package of variously-priced vacations. The key to a good guess is knowing the rules-of-thumb for pricing vacations and the more expensive items.  I based the following rules on personal experience — the TPIR episode database does not go into enough detail for me to provide item-by-item price statistics.

VACATIONS:  Showcase vacations range from three-night stays in nearby cities such as Las Vegas or San Fransisco to six-night trips halfway around the world.  A reasonable starting point for a TPIR vacation price is $4000, plus $1000 for every time-zone change from Los Angeles to the destination.  You might add $1000 for big cities like New York, London and Paris.  For showcase purposes, I figure six nights for two people to Cancun is about $5000; Boston or New York at $7000-$8000; the Caribbean at $8000; Europe at $11,000-$12,000; and Fiji, Bali, Thailand or New Zealand at $13,000-$14,000.

Fridge with three doors and bow tieKITCHEN APPLIANCES: For the standard set of stainless-steel appliances (dishwasher, range, microwave and refrigerator), I start at $5500-$6000.  I may add another $1000 if the fridge has a third door or the range has custom features.

MOTORCYCLES: My rule-of-thumb is $2500 per 200cc of engine size.

JET SKIS: Some showcases may include one large jet-ski (always with trailer) or two smaller jet-skis, but either way I throw in $8,000.

BRAND NEW CARS: Someday, inflation will make this rule-of-thumb obsolete, but right now a very good baseline guess for showcase car prices is $10,000 per liter of engine size.  If the trim-line is L (luxury) instead of S (standard), add another $1000.  If the car is made by a German corporation (BMW, Mini Cooper, Volkwagen), add $2000 — they are always more expensive than they look.  For a Kia or Dodge, subtract $1000, as they are cheaper than they look.  For SUVs, add $3000-$5000, depending on the manufacturer.

BOATS: I have had a hard time coming up with a pricing rule for this category.  There are sailboats, pontoon party boats, jet boats and motor boats.  They are almost always 15 to 17 feet long, so pricing by the foot ($1000 per foot, plus $1000 for the trailer) only takes you so far.  I usually add $2000-$4000 if the boat has a big motor, looks especially muscular, or the announcer includes the word “deluxe” in the description.

100 Showcase Tournament ResultsAnd the winner is…

After 100 showcases (click chart at right), I had won 43 (just call me champ), Sue had won 30, and we both overbid on 27.  I overbid more often than Sue, but my guesses were usually closer to the actual price.

You know me: I had to go full-costume nerd with our tournament data, and in doing so gained some insight on bidding behaviors.  I started by plotting the over-under errors of our guesses vs. the actual prices, and was surprised to see that our data clusters looked pretty similar.  [On the graph below, the bold horizontal line denotes zero error — overbids are plotted above the line, underbids below.]  Our trend lines (blue and gold) show how we both tend to overbid lower-priced showcases and underbid higher-priced ones.

Showcase Error vs Actual PriceWhile I was a bit more accurate than Sue at the high end, we were both prone to overbid on showcases less than the median price ($26,897).  I think I can explain this as an example of anchoring, a cognitive bias first described by Tversky and Kahneman (1974). Anchoring takes place when a typical price or price range is established ahead of time.  The anchor price sticks in one’s mind and influences one’s later estimates.

In the weeks before our tournament, Sue and I obviously obtained a feel for the price of a typical showcase.  I surmise that, with this anchor price in our minds, we unconsciously adjusted our lower bids up toward the anchor and our higher bids downward, so that they deviated less from the norm.¹  In fact, I recall that, when making some of my high guesses, I found myself thinking, “It can’t be worth that much!”

It would be interesting (to me, anyway) to see whether other experienced players would reproduce this over-under tendency.  My guess is yes.

That’s too much!

Our showcase overbid rates (40% for me, 32% for Sue, 27% double-over) were well above the 25% overbid rate and the 6% double-over rate of last year’s TPIR contestants.  Why?  What does this say about our bidding?  Can these questions even be answered?

In my effort to explain our overbids, I must have read (or slept through) over two hundred articles and lectures on game theory; I learned about probability density, the Liebniz rule and Bayesian auctions; and I scratched out page after page of calculations (most of which were dead ends).  I even programmed a showcase simulator to help me test strategies.

In the end, I finally did find the optimum TPIR showcase bidding strategy — but it is far too detailed to describe in this post.  I intend to publish my solution in the next few weeks, as soon as I finish my analysis of showcases involving opponents of different skill levels.  In the meantime, however, I can offer my readers the following first-order approximation: when the players have roughly equal estimation skills, each should bid the lowest possible price that his or her showcase could be worth.  Why?  Because it is far worse to overbid your showcase (instant loss) than it is to underbid and hope that your opponent will either overbid his showcase or underbid his by more than you did yours.

But what about players with unequal estimation skills?  In this case, the less-skilled player will have to bump up her bid (and accept the risk of overbidding) if she wants to maximize her chance of winning.  The worse her relative skill level is, the closer her bid should be to her midpoint estimate.

The specifics will be discussed in my upcoming paper.  You will assuredly be notified here when it is ready.

One last comment about overbid rates.  If the population of TPIR contestants were equally divided between minimum-bidders and midpoint-bidders, and the showcase players were drawn from this population at random, then the long-term individual overbid rate would be 25% and the chance of both players overbidding would be about 6%.²  This is very close to the game statistics cited above.  Coincidence?  Probably.  Without doing post-showcase interviews, it would be impossible to say what bidding strategies the players actually used.

I can say this about my relatively high overbid rate: unlike actual contestants, I did not bid conservatively.  I didn’t fear going over, as real players do, because there was no money at stake, nothing to lose.  In fact, it was far more rewarding to me when I made a really close bid (within a few hundred dollars) than it was to win with a bid that was off by thousands.  It’s akin to how I play Scrabble — the fun part is playing killer seven-letter words and the score is secondary.  So it makes sense that my overbid rate would be greater than that of typical contestants.

Punch a bunch of hundreds

Finally (as George Gray likes to say when introducing the big-ticket item), we come to the last pearl of wisdom in this post.  In our 100-showcase tournament, Sue rounded her guess to the nearest thousand dollars (as most contestants do) a total of 99 times.  I did so only 10 times — in my other 90 bids, I added an arbitrary number of hundreds.  There is a good rationale for this, and it has to do with the double-showcase rule — if a contestant’s bid is within $250 of his or her showcase (without going over), the player wins both showcases.

In our tournament, we did not award ourselves double points for bidding closer than $250, but doing so was an ego-boost nonetheless.  As it turned out, I would have won a double-showcase four times out of the 100 showcases that we bid on.  (I overbid by less than $250 another four times.)   For comparison, last season on the show there were only five double-showcase winners among 380 players.  This means I was three times more likely to be a double-winner than were the contestants on the show.

Final Showcase DigitsAs I mentioned earlier, this is partly due to my aggressive bidding, but I also found that it is just as important to avoid bids that are rounded to the nearest thousand.  The chart at right (click to zoom) is a breakdown of the final three digits of the showcase prices in our tournament.  Note — there was not one showcase whose price ended in 250 or less.   Coincidence?  Not this time!

The producers of the show obviously caught onto the fact that most players round off their guesses to the nearest thousand — so the easiest way to keep players from winning both showcases is to make sure all showcase prices end in something more than $250.  The last time a player won a double-showcase with an even-thousands bid was in 2011.  Since then, most double-showcase winners made bids that ended in $500.  My recommendation is to finish off your guess with $251, until the producers catch onto this trick too.

Hope you liked this, because it’s the last post we have

Well, it’s the last post for this year anyway.  I hope your last ten minutes spent here were informative and will help you make better showcase bids the next time you are sick and staying home watching daytime television.  Credit for TPIR game statistics is due to the fan websites The Price is Right Stats and The Price is Right Wiki.  Have your pets spayed and neutered and let’s try to make it through 2017 without going over.

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[1] Interestingly, the anchoring effect also implies that an experienced player may be at a disadvantage compared to someone coming in cold who is familiar with prices but unaware of previous game results.
[2] If the population of players were evenly split between min-bidders and mid-bidders, there would be a 25% chance that two given showcase contestants are mid-bidders, a 50% chance that Player A will overbid, and a 50% chance that Player B will overbid.  The product of those probabilities is 6.25%.
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• Here, all this time, I thought it was teatotaler.

• I rented a Thrifty rental car a few weeks ago.  The representative at the counter asked me whether I wanted liability insurance for $13.95.  I replied yes, since I thought that $13.95 was a good deal for a five-day rental.  Turns out the cost of the insurance was $13.95 a day and so I spent $56 more for insurance than I intended (otherwise I would have declined).  After I got home, Thrifty sent me an online survey — I told them about my experience and clicked the box to request that a manager contact me about it.  Have I heard from Thrifty?  Of course not.

• My spouse thinks that my recent laptop purchase constitutes a Christmas gift to myself.  I have tried in vain to convince her that the sorry state of my old laptop (low battery life, wobbly screen, screws falling out) justified the purchase as a wear-and-tear replacement rather than a Christmas gift.  Would I be mentioning this had I won that argument?  No.

• I’m eating some Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn — the bag says “best by” 2009. I figure, OK, I was probably best by 2009 too, so we’re even.

• I don’t begrudge Christians, Jews and Muslims their religious holidays.  Hell, we atheists have somewhere around 350 unreligious holidays a year… we need a break now and then from all that celebrating.

• I can identify several instances in my lifetime where the universe has bifurcated, that is, where the path taken vs. the alternate path has had profound consequences.  These events include (1) the 1980 assassination of John Lennon;  (2) the Contract with America enacted by the Republican Congress in 1994;  (3) the USA failure to kill Osama bin Laden in 1998;  (4) the election of George W. Bush in 2000;  (5) the horrific attack by Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001;  (6) the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

• Discussing this list with my daughter-in-law the other day, it dawned on me that all these bifurcations were negative in outcome and that I neglected to mention any positive ones.  So, for the sake of balance, here are a few other, more personal universe-changing events: (1) the day my future wife happened to stroll by and pick me up at the bus stop in 1969;  (2) the births of our children in 1978 and 1981;  (3) meeting a boy named Bill Foster in second-grade (1960), which led to a twenty-year friendship that demanded little from me other than listening, while offering an island of safety and sanity and the assurance that I would not need to compete with the rough-and-tumble playground crowd to be accepted.  I miss Bill.  This universe is a worse place without him.

• Haddock tastes different than halibut in the same way that nonetheless means something different than regardless.  Inconsequential differences among bland alternatives.

• We are going to be treated to a four-year circus in the US.  Let’s hope the tents have been fire-proofed, the lions and tigers have been tamed and the clowns can lead us to the exits.

• Could the likes of Richard Nixon be impeached today?  Probably not.

• My resolution for 2017 is to avoid pontificating on subjects on which I have no expertise.  Should I decide to abide by this resolution, my readers will encounter many blank pages next year.  But should I not, then hooray, business as usual at The 100 Billionth Person.

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Most of you know about the teen-ignited wildfires near Gatlinburg, Tennesee, that led to the deaths of fourteen people and the damage to or destruction of over 2,000 structures in the Gatlinburg area.  This is tragic and sad, but what portends further sadness ahead is evident in the reaction of the locals (as well as those not-so-local).

I made the mistake of delving into the comments on the article “Authorities Charge Two Teens in Gatlingburg Wildfires” published in our so-called “local” newspaper, Asheville Citizen-Times.  Since the commenters made their remarks in a public forum, I feel free to reproduce their comments here and at length.  In fact, it is the very length and depth of this muck that make their words editorially notable, and deplorable.

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Anthony Cieszkiewicz · Texas A&M
The social workers and public aid lawyers will contend that these two teenagers could not have known that there would be any consequences to starting a fire. They started a small fire, not a large one.
Dec 7, 2016 4:40pm

Mirella Gutierrez · Escuela Secundaria Tecnica #77
they’re probably some Caucasian Christian right-wing Trumpsters from Tennessee and as such will get minimal charges (if any). I predict that a 3 year prison term is the max they’ll face….
Dec 7, 2016 4:49pm

Pete Baynes
Mirella Gutierrez Bigot.
Dec 7, 2016 4:51pm

Vanessa Merold · Milton, Florida
Mirella Gutierrez, you’re an idiot
Dec 7, 2016 4:57pm

David Mcandrew · The Old School Of Hard Knocks
Mirella Gutierrez whereas you would be deprted and right back the next day
Dec 7, 2016 4:59pm

David Cook · Auburn University at Montgomery
Mirella Gutierrez, Your EBT card has been refilled.
Dec 7, 2016 5:09pm

John Smith
Mirella Gutierrez or they are minority islamic jihadist
Dec 7, 2016 5:12pm

Sidney Jewell · Landrum, South Carolina
Mirella Gutierrez how can someone so young be a bigot already?
Dec 7, 2016 5:12pm

Terrence Allen
Mirella Gutierrez Yeah. I bet they release the names/pictures if the kids are White, but not if they’re Dindoos. What part Mexico are you moving back to, btw?
Dec 7, 2016 5:18pm

Gregg Anderson
Mirella Gutierrez: Or Hillary protesters
Dec 7, 2016 5:19pm

Carrie Anne Smith
Mirella Gutierrez – Hillary, is that you logged into your fake FB account?
Dec 7, 2016 5:24pm

Jason Lago
Mirella Gutierrez Build the Wall
Dec 7, 2016 5:29pm

Paulette Baker
Pete Baynes You call her a bigot? Because she’s probably right about their being white?
Dec 7, 2016 5:31pm

Jim Christian
Anthony Cieszkiewicz: Muslims.
Dec 7, 2016 5:33pm

Jim Misner · Works at Retired
Mirella Gutierrez posted by a, or want to be illegal Mexican, Central American, or South American mud hut trash. Worry about your internal problems, and how you’ll cross the river and keep your hair dry.
Dec 7, 2016 5:51pm

Bill Melater · Dillon, Colorado
Mirella Gutierrez are you a dbag all the time?
Dec 7, 2016 5:54pm

Thomas Wright
Mirella Gutierrez: You soiled yourself Mirella. Get over it. You lost. America won. Enjoy your stay.
Dec 7, 2016 6:16pm

Chris Hanson
Mirella Gutierrez you sound like an angry mixed up girl. Good thing there are many other countries you could move to. Please go where u think its better than here.
Dec 7, 2016 6:16pm

Bill Snider
Mirella Gutierrez: Or they might be some illegal mexicans who have overstayed their visit and can’t scam anymore welfare out of real Americans
Dec 7, 2016 6:30pm

John Morgan · Part Time at Gizmonic Institute: Twin Cities
Death Penalty case if you ask me.
Dec 7, 2016 3:32pm

Joseph Girard · Classical High School, Springfield, MA
Wouldn’t that depend on whether or not they set the fire on purpose?
Dec 7, 2016 3:33pm

Jeff Felix · Concord High School
Joseph Girard: Good point.  That’s why we need to follow our process.
However, if it was arson I support Mr. Morgans recommendation.
The media gives the impression is was arson…..unfortunately none of us can trust the media from any side anymore.
Dec 7, 2016 3:42pm

Hampton John Ray · Ohio Northern University
Or a cigarette tossed out s window could’ve caused it. If they did it by accident give them probation, why ruin their lives , won’t bring anyone’s life back. Tragedies happen.
Dec 9, 2016 10:12am

Mark Willis
Funny, the Republican lawmakers who set the table for this disaster with their decades of climate change denial seem to be “living with” themselves just fine. I guess those millions in fossil fuel bribes kind of help ease any compunctions.
Dec 7, 2016 9:31pm

Karen Davis
If these boys did set this fire they should be charged as adults and charged with murder.
Dec 7, 2016 3:43pm

Christal Butler
Unbelievable!!! Two juveniles are responsible for this horrific tragedy and have been charged with aggravated arsen? How about adding 14 charges of negligent homicide and if charges do not exist for the monetary loss of a business due to arsen, let’s add that in too. I could not imagine being the parents of these two.
Dec 7, 2016 3:46pm

Rick Hansen · Owner at RLHansen LLC
Screw that putting them in jail, let the families who lost family members in this fire, take the two teenagers out tie them back to back, have them sit down and pour gasoline on the both and set them on fire, letting them feel what it’s like to lose a life
Dec 7, 2016 4:01pm

Tyson Park · Works at Big Ed’s Gas Farm
Reported.
Dec 7, 2016 4:30pm

Nick Kenworthy · Works at Certified problem solver
Tyson Park – reported?  For what?  Sounds better than housing them for the next forty or so years.
Dec 7, 2016 4:33pm

Eric Kinnaw · Mizzou
What did your wife cuck you again and that’s why your such a salty Cunt today.
Dec 7, 2016 5:31pm

Peggy Moody
Make their parents pay the cost of fighting the fire then lock them both up for life.
Dec 7, 2016 4:46pm

Larry Jones
Do you really think their parents have MILLIONS of dollars?
Dec 7, 2016 6:29pm

John Monteiro · Owner at Self-Employed
It’s total Karma in my opinion that brings these life changing events into the lives of unsuspecting victums. Our souls/spirits are never ending. Can we agree on that? If that is true, then we all have had good and bad experiences in the many previous incarnations that we’ve lived through. These experiences will come back to either haunt or reward you. “What goes around comes around.”
Dec 7, 2016 4:46pm

Mary George
There is a female Mexican on this comment site who said the arsonists were white Christians. So what? How does the Mexican woman know? All I can say is Mexicans claim they are Catholic, and that they are very religious. Lies,lies,lies! All Mexicans voted for Killary, and Mexicans expect me a white Christian to pay for their abortions. Shut your ignorant mouth Mexican woman.  Get your backside back the other side of the border.
Dec 7, 2016 4:58pm

Don Scotter · Works at Retired
Burning at the stake would be appropriate.
Dec 7, 2016 4:59pm

Richard VanCamp · Works at Self-Employed
How about burning them to a stake down town Gatlinburg. These kids should tried as adults. For 7 counts of murder or how ever many died. Get them for killing animal , arson
Dec 7, 2016 6:11pm

Thomas Frazier
Burn them to death. There is nothing there worth saving.
Dec 7, 2016 6:42pm

Betty White
Hang there lil punk asses, they probably don’t and WONT work, we don’t need to keep them up.
Dec 7, 2016 7:06pm

Brent Miller · University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
Worthless trash. Please transfer them to adult court so they can spend the next few years being sodomized behind bars.
Dec 7, 2016 8:01pm

Tom DH
Hang ’em high.
Dec 8, 2016 10:35am

Sally Carlstrom Matthews · Rehab Nurse at Murray-Calloway County Hospital
Life behind bars. No parole.
Dec 8, 2016 12:01pm

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I remind my Appalachian friends — as few as you may be — that these commenters would comprise the so-called jury of your peers, should you ever have the misfortune to enter our criminal justice system.  But if you do happen to be arrested in these parts (perhaps for using the wrong restroom), take heart:  you can rely on the Fourth Estate, our free press, to illuminate the events of the day and to ensure that justice and enlightenment will prevail in your case.  Right?

Here is the text of an email conversation I initiated with the News Department of the Asheville Citizen-Times, after having slogged through the disgusting comments above:

ME (to the Asheville Citizen-Times news editor, December 7):  Are you not aware of the hateful, insulting, swearing comments that have been posted on this article?  Read them!  All of them.  It is clearly out of control, a lynch mob mentality, and the Citizen-Times, by not moderating it, only encourages it.  Your newspaper is not creating an enlightened readership.  When it gets to this point, it simply provides fodder for the ignorant and hateful to stoke fires.  You — your newspaper — has a role in this and you need to step up to the plate and stop it.  You, your newspaper, is asleep at the wheel.

CITIZEN-TIMES (automated reply from Katie Wadington):  Hello!  I’m sorry I missed your note. I will be out of the office until Monday, Dec. 12, and will not be checking email until then, so a proper reply may be delayed.  For breaking news or urgent matters, please contact Brian Ponder.

CITIZEN-TIMES (eight hours later, December 8, from Casey Swaney):  Mr. Collins, the story you are referring to is from the Knoxville News Sentinel.  While we are able to use their news on our website since they are part of the Gannett network, they are the only one who can police the comments on stories they originate. I would encourage you to contact them with your concerns. Below is a link to their online contact page with phone numbers and a way to email.   Thanks,  Casey Swaney

ME (replying to Casey Swaney, December 8): But you (Citizen-Times) re-published it!!  Do you not have a responsibility for what you display on your site?  Why do YOU not contact the other newspaper?  You seem to have a very hands-off attitude about this.

CITIZEN-TIMES (silence):

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