Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three children

On the first day of a new job, a colleague invites you around for a barbecue.  As the two of you arrive at his home, a young boy throws open the door to welcome his father.  “My other two kids will be home soon!” remarks your colleague.
Waiting in the kitchen while your colleague gets some drinks from the basement, you notice a letter from the principal of the local school tacked to the noticeboard.  “Dear Parents,” it begins, “This is the time of year when I write to all parents, such as yourselves, who have a girl or girls in the school, asking you to volunteer your time to help the girls' soccer team.”  “Hmmm,” you think to yourself, “clearly they have at least one of each!”
This, of course, leaves two possibilities: two boys and a girl, or two girls and a boy.  Are these two possibilities equally likely, or is one more likely than the other?
Note:  This is not a trick puzzle.  You should assume all things that it seems you're meant to assume, and not assume things that you aren't told to assume.  If things can easily be imagined in either of two ways, you should assume that they are equally likely.  For example, you may be able to imagine a reason that a colleague with two boys and a girl would be more likely to have invited you to dinner than one with two girls and a boy.  If so, this would affect the probabilities of the two possibilities.  But if your imagination is that good, you can probably imagine the opposite as well.  You should assume that any such extra information not mentioned in the story is not available.

1 comment:

  1. We assume that each birth is an independent event, for which the probability of a boy is the same as the probability of a girl. There are, then, three possibilities for your colleague's family, all equally likely:

    * Boy, Boy, Girl
    * Boy, Girl, Boy
    * Boy, Girl, Girl

    Therefore there is a 2/3 chance that the colleague has two boys and a girl, and a 1/3 chance he has two girls and a boy.