The Loop: Monty who?

car and goat

Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts from Twitter and Facebook.

Who would have thought that an article about a game show problem would generate such interest. Magazine's inbox is groaning under the weight of them and we thank you.

The article was about the Monty Hall probability problem, in which a game show contestant is invited to choose one of three doors, behind one of which is a good prize - such as a car - and two of which is a bad prize, like, er, a goat. The contestant is then shown what's behind one of the two remaining doors and is offered a chance to change their selection.

Basically, a contestant gains a distinct advantage by changing their selection. The article was intended to address the issue of why many people find it difficult to understand that by changing their selection, the probability of winning the car is 2:3 - not 1:2 as many assume.

Most of you thought maths lecturer Dr John Moriarty provided an extremely clear explanation. But in anticipation that not everyone was going to be on board, Moriarty wrote: "Still not convinced? You are in good company. The paradox of the Monty Hall Problem has been incredibly powerful, busting the brains of scientists since 1975."

Gavin Smith, who lives in Istanbul, Turkey, appears not to agree with Moriarty.

"I believe that the problem is a game of two halves. In the first instance you have a 1:3 chance of getting the prize. Once you've made your initial choice, even though the 'box' contents remain the same, one 'false' choice is removed and you are then offered the chance to choose again. There is a play on words here, perhaps, with the option to 'switch'. Effectively you are being asked to make a choice of 1:2. Now, if this is always going to happen then the odds of you winning the prize in the first instance is 1:2, as it doesn't really matter whether or not you choose correctly the first time - one 'false' is going to be removed and you'll be presented with just two options. It's mind trickery. The first choice is totally irrelevant because you will always end up having to pick one option from two in order to attain the prize. In my humble opinion."

Nick Brown, however, thinks that while theoretically the Monty Hall solution stands up, in practice, game shows "rely upon emotional responses, too".

"The regret a person would feel having chosen the car initially and ending up with a goat would far outweigh the regret of choosing a goat and sticking with it," he writes. "In the former case, the contestant would feel they had won a car and lost it; in the latter, they would feel they had never had the car to lose. Plus, in probability-land, a person can repeat a situation many times and benefit from the long run. In game show-land, they get only one shot and have to live with the outcome for ever. This is why so many contestants on Deal or No Deal take the Deal, even when probability says it is in their best interests not to do so. Regret is a powerful factor that does not show on probability theory pay off matrices."

For those still struggling to understand the concept, Megan from Cheshire may have the answer: Dungeons and Dragons.

"I have developed a keen awareness of probability because I play Dungeons & Dragons... I roll lots of dice," she writes. "I do understand the mathematics as well, but the intuitive 'feel' that is merely proven after I've done the sums is due to years of D&D (over 30...) and people say I'm wasting time role-playing."

Forty years ago, Gen Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile. This was followed by 17 years of military rule. Thousands of people were tortured or killed, including Carmen Quintana who was doused with kerosene and set on fire. Magazine told her tale.

Magazine also used the anniversary to look at the difficulties English speakers have in pronouncing Chilean names, such as Pinochet, Salvador Allende (the elected president who was ousted) and Bachelet, the surname of the country's first female president.

While a number of readers enjoyed the lesson, a few added their own observations.

"There is a glaring omission in this article. Spanish speakers can not say 'vee'. Therefore Salvador would be pronounced: Salbador," wrote Glyn Allott, of Penistone.

Seb from London said he disagreed that Spanish speakers find the "sh" difficult. "The whole of Argentina and Uruguay do use that sound, mostly in the River Plate region."

Others simply didn't like the idea of the article at all.

"On the 40th anniversary of the coup which saw at least 3,000 people murdered and disappeared and many more tortured, harassed and brutally repressed, I find it offensive and insulting that you should focus on the pronunciation of certain names," wrote Carl Blackburn from London.

The news website as a whole did have a range of material commemorating the anniversary. But Blackburn thought this article "somewhat undermines those and appears to make light of what was a bloody and horrific period of history".

In response to a survey suggesting that the terms "hard-working", "team player" and "motivated" are so ubiquitous in CVs that they have become utterly meaningless, Finlo Rohrer looked at what readers might use instead.

Michael Cross from Horsham flagged up the "110 per cent commitment" as particularly irritating:

"'I always give 110 per cent.' 110 per cent of what? 110 per cent of yourself? So the next task starts in negative territory. 110 per cent of what is required? Waste of resources. 110 per cent of what others give? You'll have a hard time proving that."

Phil Taylor pointed out that "some recruiters electronically scan CVs for certain terms so unfortunately you almost have to use the standard cliches," while Thomas from London said he got so tired writing the same types of covering letters that he created an Excel spreadsheet to write his letters for him.

Oli from Lancaster, who runs a Smoothie Cafe, noted the favourite words that he sees on CVs: "Committed", "Flexible but...", "I feel I would be an excellent addition to your team", "I am a quick learner", "Able to work in a busy environment", "Confident".

But, he said, the "all time classic" was the note in interests section that read: "In my spare time I like to socialise with my friends."

At least he/she had friends.

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