Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life


"Deals in a very entertaining way with problems in normal life related to mathematics, luck, coincidence, gambling."—The Independent (London)

Why do your chances of winning the lottery increase if you buy your ticket on Friday? Why do traffic lights always seem to be red when you're in a hurry? Is bad luck just chance, or can it be explained?

The intriguing answers to these and other questions about the curiosities of everyday life can be found...

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Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life

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"Deals in a very entertaining way with problems in normal life related to mathematics, luck, coincidence, gambling."—The Independent (London)

Why do your chances of winning the lottery increase if you buy your ticket on Friday? Why do traffic lights always seem to be red when you're in a hurry? Is bad luck just chance, or can it be explained?

The intriguing answers to these and other questions about the curiosities of everyday life can be found in this delightfully irreverent and highly informative book. Why Do Buses Come in Threes? explains how math and the laws of probability are constantly at work in our lives, affecting everything we do, from getting a date to catching a bus to cooking dinner. With great humor and a genuine love for the subject, Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham present solutions to such conundrums as how fast one should run in the rain to stay dry and who was the greatest sportsman of all time.Discover the mathematical explanations for the strange coincidence of two.

Presidents dying on July 4, the uncanny "accuracy" of horoscopes, and other not-so-coincidental coincidences. Eastaway and Wyndham also reveal how television ratings work, which numbers are more likely to be big winners in the lottery, and why bad things, just like buses, always seem to happen in threes.

Whether you have a degree in astrophysics or haven't touched a math problem since high school, this book sends you on a fascinating journey through the logic of life where Newton's laws explain bar fights, exploding rabbit populations, and why showers always run either too hot or too cold. Why Do Buses Come in Threes? is a delightfully entertaining ride that reveals the relevance of math in absolutely everything we do.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471379072
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 699,946
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

ROB EASTAWAY is a freelance writer and lecturer. His books include The Guinness Book of Mindbenders and What Is a Googly?
JEREMY WYNDHAM, Ph.D., runs a market research company. He has a Ph.D. in physics and was a junior international bridge player.
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Table of Contents

Why Can't I Find a Four-leafed Clover?: Links between Nature and Mathematics.

Which Way Should I Go?: From Postmen to Taxi Drivers.

How Many People Watch Friends?: Most Public Statistics Come from Surveys, But How Reliable are They?

Why Do Clever People Get Things Wrong?: Sometimes Experience and Intelligence Can Be a Disadvantage.

What's the Best Bet?: Lotteries, Horses and Casinos All Offer the Chance of a Big Prize.

How Do You Explain a Coincidence?: Coincidences Aren't as Surprising as You Would Think.

What's the Best View of the Statue of Liberty?: Everyday Geometries, from Snooker to Statues.

How Do You Keep a Secret?: Code-making and Breaking Isn't Just for Spies.

Why Do Buses Come in Threes?: Travelling without a Car Leads to All Sorts of Conundrums.

What's the Best Way to Cut a Cake?: Why Four O'Clock Can Be the Time for Some Mathematical Headaches.

How Can I Win without Cheating?: Almost Everything in Life Can Be Analysed as a Game.

Who's the Best Player in the World?: The Mathematics Behind Sports Rankings.

What Happened to Chapter 13?: Can Bad Luck Be Explained?

Whodunnit?: Everyday Logic, From Murder Mysteries to Political Statistics.

Why Am I Always in Traffic Jams?: Motorways, Escalators and Supermarkets All Have One Thing in Common: Queues.

Why are Showers Always Too Hot or Cold?: From Squealing Microphones to Population Explosions.

How Can I Get the Meal Ready on Time?: Critical Paths and Other Scheduling Problems.

How Can I Entertain the Kids?: Numbers Can Be Magic.



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  • Posted July 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An entertaining discussion of mathematical curiosities.

    Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham's Why do buses come in threes?: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life describes how mathematics can be used to analyze situations in everyday life in a manner that is accessible to a high school student who has completed courses in algebra and geometry. Readers of popularizations of mathematics will find much that is familiar here. However, there are some notable exceptions, notably negative feedback mechanisms, queueing theory, and the use of critical paths in scheduling. Other topics include Fibonacci numbers, graph theory, statistics and polling, probability (as it relates to gambling, coincidences, and bad luck), cryptography, game theory, the use of geometry and trigonometry in everyday life, sports rankings, the use of logic in everyday life, and the role of mathematics in magic. The authors mean to entertain rather than explain the underlying mathematics. Formulas are presented rather than derived. Consequently, those readers with a deep knowledge of mathematics may find the book frustrating at times. However, the authors provide a list of references so that interested readers can explore the topics further. Laypeople will find the book accessible and entertaining. This is evident from the start as the authors demonstrate why it is difficult to find a four-leaf clover using Fibonacci numbers. Other mathematical topics are also introduced through examples. For instance, game theory is introduced via a discussion of two teenagers who want to date the same girl and negative feedback mechanisms are introduced through a discussion of why it is difficult to properly adjust the temperature of your shower. The examples upon which the authors draw are often visual, making them easy for readers to understand. The authors' exposition, which is supplemented by humorous illustrations by Barbara Shore, is clear. One exception is their discussion of the 1948 presidential election results in the United States. Polls preceding the election predicted that Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican governor of New York, was likely to win the election. On election day, as the authors state, Truman won by a margin of more than two million votes. However, the percentages they give for the election are incorrect, so it looks like Truman actually did worse in the election than in the polls. In reality, Truman won 49.55% of the vote while Dewey won 45.07% of the vote. State's Rights Party (Dixiecrat) candidate Strom Thurmond (2.41%) and Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace (2.37%) accounted for most of the other votes. The authors give a percentage for independent, but it is not clear whether they are referring to Strom Thurmond (who won four southern states) or all the candidates other than Truman and Dewey. The only other error I found was a typo that proved inconsequential. Reading this book will give you a sense of why it is helpful to understand mathematics in your everyday life, particularly when dealing with people who may be unscrupulous such as marketers or politicians. Moreover, the authors will keep you entertained while you learn.

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