Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How Many Socks …

On Tuesdays I get up early to prepare for my radio broadcast. It’s dark when I open the bureau to take out a pair of socks, and I always think of this puzzle:
A man has twenty red socks and twenty green socks. It’s dark when he gets up. How many socks must he take out of the sock drawer to make sure he has a pair? (Let’s assume the rest of his clothes are black, so it doesn’t matter which color socks he wears.) Obviously the answer is: two. His socks are neatly wrapped up in matching pairs. He only needs to grab a balled-up sock pair. But that’s not the answer I discovered in the back of the puzzle book. Apparently this guy, just like me, simply tosses his socks into the sock drawer. So he has to grab three separate socks in the dark to make sure he has a pair of SOMETHING.

Now as it happens, almost all my socks are black. I buy wonderful, comfortable things called the “World’s Softest Sock.” I used to buy them in many colors, but as the washing machine gradually ate them up, I found I had many unmatched socks. So I gradually bought fewer and fewer colors, until now I only buy black. But I do, just, happen, to, have, one pair of very dark blue socks that refuse to disappear or develop holes. So I have to grab three socks and take them into the bright bathroom, to discern whether I have two dark blue socks or at least two black ones. Then I’m ready to roll.

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