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James May...or may not. (BBC)
James May...or may not. (BBC)
James May…or may not. (BBC)

On this week’s James May’s Man Lab, James takes on game theory.

Or, really, game show theory.

James sets out to explain the famous “Monty Hall Problem,” the counter-intuitive probability puzzle that sprang from the show Let’s Make a Deal. As you’ll remember, host Monty Hall would tell contestants to select from three doors, behind one of which was a big prize, like a car, while the other two had booby prizes, like goats.

To add drama, Hall would open one of the doors to reveal a goat, and ask contestants whether they wanted to continue. Statisticians took to asking whether it would make a difference if contestants stuck by their original choice or decided to select the other remaining door. At first blush, you’d think that since there are two doors left, the contestant’s chances just increased from one out of three to one out of two and that there’s no benefit to changing from the original selection.

But you would be wrong. Contestants should ALWAYS pick the other remaining door because it doubles their chances of getting the car, and on this week’s show (airing Mon. Dec. 16, 10p/8c James explains why, only he doesn’t use goats or cars—he uses beer. Oh, and it’s all done with a nod to the Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter, so James calls it “The Beer Hunter,” which he says is “the most perilous game known to man.”


A showbiz aside here: Monty Hall himself says there was another problem with the Monty Hall problem, namely that, after he revealed the goat, he never offered anyone the chance to change doors:

Monty Hall also never offered any Let’s Make a Deal contestants any beer on the air.

• Speaking of beer, James May was himself the face of one of Britain’s most famous beers, London Pride, the flagship brand of Fuller’s Brewery. In 2010, James did a group of ads for the historic beer, which is apparently brewed down the street from where he lives:

And don’t forget the outtakes:

• “Join us,” writes Top of the new book, The Top Gear Guide to Britain, “as we travel from A-Z cataloguing and making moderately flippant remarks about every aspect of life and living in the best country in the world after New Zealand, Denmark, probably Canada and some bits of France.”

The Top Gear Guide to Britain
The Top Gear Guide to Britain

The book does indeed group items alphabetically, so if you’re looking for information about kale and the British Isles, you’re in luck. (It turns out that kale was widely cultivated during World War II, but the book says that no one remembered to get rid of it after the war was over.) The special British penchant for saying “sorry” is in there under “A” for “apology”—the book says that Brits use “sorry” more than any other word, including “the.” There’s also a list of “ways in which on the British can use the word ‘sorry’” – which includes “Sorry, you seem to have shot me,” and “Sorry, is it possible for you to reverse your car off me?” And, yes, Reliant Robins are in the book as well.

• Next week’s Top Gear Top 41, with Richard Hammond, gets to the eagerly anticipated top ten moments, which include a rally car versus a bobsled challenge and a supercar trip through Italy. The show airs Monday, Dec. 16 at 9p/8/c.

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By Paul Hechinger