Good Minds Go to Waste: The Math of Urinal Selection

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Here at the Council, we try our best to cover as many of the timely, important issues as possible. 

So, I was mortified to see that one slipped through the cracks. Sure, junk science, vaccines, the anti-GMO movement, and the faux fear of "endocrine disruptors" are our bread and butter. Yet, somehow we missed this one

The significance of this issue speaks for itself:

  • Two scientists at respected universities in two North American countries collaborated to answer the age old question: "What is the pattern of urinal selection in the men's room?"
  • This was not an inconsequential or amateurish effort from a schlock sociology department. The authors came from the computer science and math departments, respectively. This will become painfully obvious.
  • Men urinate between 6-10 times per day. Let's call it eight. The combined male population of the US and Canada is 175 million.
  • Assuming that half of the urinative (1) events take place outside of the home, this means that North American men use urinals 700 million times per day, or 255 billion times per year. That's a lot of data, and requires some serious math.
  • There is plenty of serious math.
  • You will understand none of it.

The authors are nothing if not clear about the gravitas of the problem:

"Algorithmic issues may arise when considering physical privacy. A particular instance of this occurs when one considers the use of a public men’s room."

(Who knew?)

"In order to obtain some amount of privacy while vacating one’s bladder it is desirable to have a urinal such that its neighboring positions are unoccupied."

(Show me one guy who doesn't already know this)

"In this paper, we consider a variety of models for men’s room behavior and attempt to develop strategies for maintaining privacy under each."

(So, it should come as no surprise that....)

"As far as we know the problem we consider has not been studied before."

(Perhaps the only sane sentence in the whole paper)

"While perhaps related to our problem in name only, our study was at least partially inspired by Knuth’s Toilet Paper problem."

(Just when you think that you know everything...)

(Knuth probably has human heads in his freezer. And tell me you aren't wondering where his career path led. The Shaman of Charmin?)

"Random behavior: In this model we assume that when a man enters if the configuration is not saturated he chooses uniformly at random among all positions that provide him with privacy on both sides and that once saturation is reached he chooses uniformly among all available positions."

(Fair enough, but then this happens...)

(Let's play Wheel of Fortune!! Your turn:  P_OZAC)

Since I have to take a monster whiz, let's wrap this up:

Conclusion: "Beyond this observation, we feel that this problem leads to many interesting variations that are worthy of investigating further and we encourage everyone to do more of their thinking while using public restrooms. (2)"

No real data are presented, so it is impossible to determine the statistical significance of this study. Let's just assume that Pee < 0.05.


(1) No- this is not a word. Until now.

(2) "In the Scandinavian countries there is an acknowledged difficulty with aim using urinals - to the extent that it is a cleaning problem. The solution was to paint a fly on the urinal which provided a target and subsequently improved overall aim and hygiene." ACSH's Dr. Chuck Dinerstein. No— I do not want to know where he got this information. Or even think about it.