8.5.16

WE HAVE ARRESTED YOUR FRIEND TCHAIKOVSKY, AND ALREADY HE IS CONFESSING.

I found a way of introducing the Prisoners' Dilemma in Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff's Thinking Strategically.  It involves Soviet secret policeman worried about meeting quota of arrests by end of month who observes man looking at strange symbols on piece of paper.  Man claims to be piano player enroute from Minsk to Pinsk to perform Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.

Chance for professor to demonstrate that much of college teaching is acting.


I'd have to revise the schtick a bit in light of recent developments. "Finally the pilot came by, and approached the real culprit behind the delay: that darkly-complected foreign man. He was now escorted off the plane, too, and taken to meet some sort of agent, though he wasn’t entirely sure of the agent’s affiliation, he would later say."  Not because Organs of State Security were behind on quota, dear reader.
The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her.

She decided to try out some small talk.

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions.  He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note of her own.
Yes, and the only thing more subversive than Allegro con fuoco is a differential equation!
The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code.  They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.
Perhaps even an exact differential equation. Fortunately, all seems to have gone well. Penn's Guido Menzio got to Queen's University to give his talk.  The cloak of anonymity protects the nosy seatmate from the scorn she otherwise deserves.  And the intrusive security state doesn't look so good.

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