β€œThat's too bad," Mr. Hall said, opening Door 1. "You've won a goat."
October 1, 2017 6:51 AM   Subscribe

"But you didn't open another door yet or give me a chance to switch." "Where does it say I have to let you switch every time? I'm the master of the show.”

Monty Hall, the famous host of the television game show Let's Make a Deal, passed away yesterday at the age of 96.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is what is now known as the Monty Hall Problem a statistical problem taken from his game show that is famous for the correct answer being non-intuitive, and leading to long arguments between those insisting the odds are 50-50 and those insisting they are 1/3-2/3. It proved so divisive that no less than Marilyn vos Savant, who holds the Guiness World Record for highest recorded IQ, was inundated with hate mail insisting she was wrong when she correctly answered the problem in Parade magazine back in the early '90s. Of course, Monty himself didn't always follow the rules of the problem, but then he was not a statistician...
posted by mystyk (52 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I understand the reason why it's 1/3-2/3 and I still don't always agree with it deep in my brain. A lot of it is dependent on the interpretation and phrasing of the problem, and whether you accept that the second choice is linked to information revealed after the first choice or view it as a new, independent choice that makes the previous choice irrelevant.

I just want to know where Monty got all the goats.

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posted by delfin at 7:01 AM on October 1 [11 favorites]


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His personal assistant, at his direct instruction, contacted me about my domain and site devoted to the MHP, because it includes his name. I assured her that it was exclusively about the probability puzzle and that there has never nor will there ever be any ads or commercialization at all. She was nice and told me that she'd let him know what I'd said. She got back to me and told me that he was cool with it.

When I got the email, my first thought was that this was going to be one of those celebrities being high-handed things. But no, Monty Hall was a good guy. And that's what I've read about him elsewhere.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:02 AM on October 1 [52 favorites]


We share a first name.

Every single God damn person I met between about 1972 and 1978, upon learning my name, would say either, "Come on down!" or "Let's make a deal!" as if they were just fucking DELIGHTED to be able to share a joke with me that I had NEVER HEARD BEFORE.

I'm still sore about it, but I guess it wasn't his fault.

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posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:09 AM on October 1 [12 favorites]


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posted by marimeko at 7:15 AM on October 1


He seems to be an exception to the oddity that game show hosts are mostly far right wingers.
🐐 .
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:16 AM on October 1 [6 favorites]


The story the show sold you was that audience members wore costumes to attract Hall's attention β€” but everyone was dressed as a chicken, or a clown, or a cowboy. . .

Hall would, for example, offer a woman a small amount of cash for the contents of her purse in exchange for the chance to receive what waited for her behind Door Number One, Door Number Two or Door Number Three. (Invariably, a brace of chickens, or a donkey, or some other booby prize awaited behind the wrong door...)
As someone whose entire knowledge of the show is based on the one sentence explanations offered by physics instructors thirty years my senior, this sounds a lot more interesting than I would have expected. Costumed contestants and donkeys would make any game show or basic probability exercise more fun. (Though, I'm not entirely sure I understand the purse-buying part.)

Sounds like he made many people happy and wasn't a jerk. Not a bad life.
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posted by eotvos at 7:17 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


πŸšͺπŸšͺ .

Years and years before 9/11 and the TSA I went through security at Burbank Airport. I put my purse through the x-ray machine and the guard stopped the conveyer belt and then asked me about a few random objects, including the single brass fireplace screen handle I was toting around. When I explained what the objects were he laughed and said, "It looks like you're going to be on Lets Make A Deal." I think of Monty Hall every time I empty my purse.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:19 AM on October 1 [21 favorites]


I just want to know where Monty got all the goats.

So, when two goats reeaaally love one another...
posted by 7segment at 7:20 AM on October 1 [9 favorites]


(Apologies for the derail on an obituary thread, but as delfin says the correct answer seems deeply counter-intuitive, and it's interesting why that is.)

The Monty Hall problem becomes more intuitive if you think about there being a much larger number of doors and goats.

Imagine that there are 100 doors, and you're told that behind 99 of them is a goat, and behind one is a car. You pick a door, and your host opens all but one of the other doors, all of which prove to have a goat behind them.

Do you stick with the door you picked first, or do you switch to the door that the host has carefully avoided opening?

If you switch, your reasoning is probably (and correctly) like this:

1. The chance I picked the door with a car behind it first time around is 1 in 100.
2. Therefore the chance the car is behind one of the 99 doors I didn't pick is 99 in 100.
3. The host has just shown me that the car isn't behind 98 of those 99 doors...
4. ...so there's a 99% chance it's behind the one the host avoided opening!

The classic Monty Hall problem just reduces the numbers from 100/99/98 to 3/2/1 - 3 doors, 2 of which you don't pick, and one that the host opens. The host is still opening all but one of the remaining doors, except that 'all but one' is just one door if you only had three doors to start with.
posted by Major Clanger at 7:24 AM on October 1 [30 favorites]


I'm not entirely sure I understand the purse-buying part.

The premise of the show is that the contestants trade various prizes for progressively more valuable prizes until they either win the big prize or get zonked (zonk=joke prize, such as the aforementioned goats) along the way. To get started they have to trade something they brought for a relatively low value prize, thus the purse thing. According to Wikipedia the producers didn't always insist on trading for something to get started, and the contestants often got their item returned:
"Technically, traders are supposed to bring something to trade in, but this rule has seldom been enforced. On several occasions, a trader is actually asked to trade in an item such as their shoes or purse, only to receive the item back at the end of the deal as a "prize". On at least one occasion, the purse was taken backstage and a high-valued prize was placed inside of it."

Anyway, he was one of those celebrities that I didn't realize was still around, but he sounded like a good guy, and certainly gave me something entertaining to watch when I wasn't in school growing up.

Maybe they should bury him in one of three side-by-side plots and let the mourners guess which one he is in. (tasteless I know, but couldn't resist).

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posted by TedW at 7:29 AM on October 1 [19 favorites]


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posted by solotoro at 7:31 AM on October 1


Major Clanger, I've used the exact same method (including, I believe, here on MeFi) to make the point. My go-to is usually to use a deck of cards.

I tell them the goal is to get the Ace of Spades, then direct them to shuffle, then pull one of the 52 cards out but not look at it. Then I look at the remaining 51, remove one, and flip the other 50 over so they're visible, making it immediately apparent the Ace of Spades is not among the 50.

I tell them to consider the chances that they picked the right card the first time, versus the chances that my deliberate weeding out of cards has left me with the card. Then I ask if they want to switch. It almost always works.
posted by mystyk at 7:32 AM on October 1 [15 favorites]


"I just want to know where Monty got all the goats."

"It's yours. You won the goat. His name is William. Here's your complementary fruit basket. Thanks for being on the show! Oops, haha, well he does like bananas."

"Apologies for the derail on an obituary thread..."

I mean, it's true that my MHP site has been up for 23 years now and I still regularly correspond with people about the problem, and I do still find it interesting...but we've discussed the MHP here many times and the threads always kind of recapitulate the same arguments.

I'd be much more interested in learning about Monty Hall and the show in his obituary thread. I'm just sayin'.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:34 AM on October 1 [9 favorites]


Quite understood - mods, if you think my comment is inappropriate, please delete it.
posted by Major Clanger at 7:39 AM on October 1


Of all the Chanukah presents I ever repeatedly asked (for multiple years!) for but didn't get, one of the hardest to get over was the Let's Make A Deal board game With REAL Zonks [!]

I've occasionally considered buying myself one on ebay, but then I look at the pictures and what goes through my head is almost certainly what went through my parents' heads at the time: If there's no actual goat inside, it's not REAL Zonks.

Sigh.

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posted by Mchelly at 7:40 AM on October 1 [3 favorites]


Monty's responses are more in keeping with the true nature of the show -- the mathematics remain interesting but Monty was an avatar of Loki and could screw around with any part of it on a whim.
posted by delfin at 7:49 AM on October 1 [12 favorites]


Interesting fellow. From his wiki bio:
Hall graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba, where he majored in chemistry and zoology. He had hoped to go on to medical school but was unable to be admitted due to secret quotas limiting the number of Jewish students
And this is kind of sweet:
On September 28, 1947, Hall married a distant cousin, Marilyn Doreen Plottel (May 17, 1927 – June 5, 2017); the two had been introduced by a mutual cousin, Norman Shnier, the previous year. They later became United States citizens. They had three children: Tony Award-winning actress Joanna Gleason; Sharon Hall Kessler, president of Endemol Shine Studios; and Richard Hall, an Emmy Award-winning television producer. Monte and Marilyn lived in Beverly Hills, California, from 1962 until their deaths; Marilyn predeceased her husband by four months.
I am not an afterlife kind of guy, but if there is one, I hope he gets the chance to puzzle over which of the remaining gates to choose (and hopefully without any zonks).
posted by maxwelton at 7:50 AM on October 1 [7 favorites]


As someone whose entire knowledge of the show is based on the one sentence explanations offered by physics instructors thirty years my senior, this sounds a lot more interesting than I would have expected. Costumed contestants and donkeys would make any game show or basic probability exercise more fun.

You used to be able to find them on Game Show Network, and grown-up(ish) me thought they still held up. There was a spirit of anarchy that ran through it which made every show surprising - sometimes the costumes were puns, sometimes he'd ask for something completely random like a socket wrench, and some lady would actually have one in her purse, and when you got a zonk, it would sometimes involve silly sets or costumes. And Hall always seemed like a fun guy.

I had the chance to meet Monty Hall when I was a kid - he played gold once at the course across the street from our house and we all got autographs. I'll see if my mom can drudge up the picture.
posted by Mchelly at 8:00 AM on October 1 [4 favorites]


In considering the question of whether the final door will open to reveal a BRAND NEW CAR or worthless goat, let us recall what our departed friend Lemurrhea had to say on the subject.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:22 AM on October 1 [4 favorites]


. . 🐐
posted by strixus at 8:28 AM on October 1 [4 favorites]


"Quite understood - mods, if you think my comment is inappropriate, please delete it."

Hey, I apologise for for giving you the impression that I was calling for a deletion or something. I shouldn't have said anything at all -- it's perfectly natural people would want to discuss the MHP in this thread. It's just that there really have been many prior discussions of it and I was just sort of fearing it would consume the thread.

IIRC, when Monty was first told there was a lot of agitated discussion about a math problem based on his show, he was a bit puzzled that the problem doesn't accurately reflect what he actually did on the show. I think he was more interested in the psychology of escalating risk/reward. That the underlying, pared-down theoretical problem is counterintuitive is icing on the cake.

When discussing the problem, it's probably important to stress that what makes the counter-intuitive result true is entirely dependent upon the fact that the formal problem has explicit, initial constraints that (usually) completely determines what the host can do -- this wasn't at all the case with Monty and the show. On the show, Monty had a wide variety of choices, which means the MHP analysis doesn't apply. And if people want to understand the MHP, the key component is understanding that 2/3 of the time, the host has no choice about what to do at all -- his choice in opening a door is entirely determined by the rules of the scenario and the player's initial choice. So it's helpful to contemplate how the reality of the show was unlike the MHP.

Monty was interested in the psychology of tempting people with immediate rewards, not unlike the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment (which has been replicated many times). But for me, what's most interesting about the MHP is a) what is and isn't intuitive, and b) how people learn and comprehend (or miscomprehend) counterintuitive things.

So, really, the show and the abstracted MHP offer a plethora of opportunities to consider human psychology, as well as math. (I'd argue that probability itself deeply intersects issues of human psychology.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:55 AM on October 1 [12 favorites]


For many years I've counseled friends in questionable relationships that "Life's like Let's Make a Deal. You choose Door 1, you win a washer/dryer. Monty offers the chance to change doors. Could be a new car, could be 24 cans of tuna fish. You just don't know. (And still, you have to choose.)"
posted by anshuman at 8:56 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but I was always sad when some poor schmuck picked the door with Officer O'Malley.

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posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 8:59 AM on October 1


Being British I only knew of him in the pre-internet years because of the role-playing term 'Monty Haul' for a dungeon or campaign that was overstuffed with loot and other player rewards. Brit role playing magazines would have to explain the pun with reference to the game-show host. The Monty Hall problem would appear in nerdy maths puzzles books and I remember the mathemtician Ian Stewart giving a good explanation on one of the Christmas Lectures.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:03 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


where he majored in chemistry and zoology

Well, this explains where he got all the goats. He just took solutions, then swapped the cations for goations.

The next question is, of course, what he did with all the extra cats....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:04 AM on October 1 [3 favorites]


He also lent his name to the mistake Game masters can make in awarding too much loot: the Monty "Haul" campaign.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 9:14 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


(Invariably, a brace of chickens, or a donkey, or some other booby prize awaited behind the wrong door. If she chose the wrong door, the audience would exult. The show served up public humiliation as a consequence of pure chance.)

I watched Let's Make a Deal faithfully when I was growing up--my siblings even managed to create our own "home version" of the game to play among the five of us. And this is definitely how I remember it. My recollection is that there was a collective groan when a contestant was revealed to have chosen the wrong door.

I hope others who watched the show will weigh in--has my optimistic view of human nature colored my memories, or has Glen Weldon created an account of the show that misrepresents who's side the audience was on?
posted by layceepee at 9:53 AM on October 1


I'm sure they were instructed to groan with a sign.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:29 AM on October 1


TIL Joanna Gleason is Monty Hall's daughter.

That's... not what I expected.

(So, if you got zonked, did you get to keep the goat?)
posted by tzikeh at 10:43 AM on October 1 [5 favorites]


[Pops up]

He was from Winnipeg!

[Respectfully pops back down]
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:49 AM on October 1 [8 favorites]


Interesting three part interview with Monty Hall.
posted by eye of newt at 10:53 AM on October 1 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid, maybe seven years old or so, I used to think that winning a goat or a camel was basically the coolest prize ever and I couldn't understand for the life of me why everyone seemed so disappointed at picking that door.
posted by holborne at 10:55 AM on October 1 [12 favorites]


For that matter, did you HAVE to keep the goat? Were you ALLOWED to keep the goat?

(I'm sure most of the Zonks were more symbolic than binding.)
posted by delfin at 10:56 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


in 99 percent of the cases, we would offer them something after the show - a washer and dryer or a color TV or something, instead of that very valuable zonk, and they would take it. In 1 percent of the cases, they didn't.

There was a time when a farmer won five calves and he wanted the calves. That cost me a fortune because when you rent them from the animal place, they're expensive.


That's interesting--it sounds like taking the goat was often the better decision.
posted by eye of newt at 10:57 AM on October 1 [12 favorites]


I was truly surprised to learn that Joanna Gleason, one of the great character actors of our current era, is his daughter.

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posted by rhizome at 11:07 AM on October 1 [4 favorites]


Man, Saint Peter's going to have fun with this one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:15 AM on October 1 [8 favorites]


My favorite Let's Make A Deal-related anecdote was at local minor league hockey games. In between periods, some fan would be offered a small prize or Whatever's In The Box. The fans, of course, always screamed out to take the box, and that was typically the smart play.

One day, a couple of fans were getting married at center ice during a game. The minister asked the groom "Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?" and our entire section roared out TAKE THE BOX! TAKE THE BOX! It took a while to restore order.
posted by delfin at 11:26 AM on October 1 [19 favorites]


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posted by Splunge at 11:30 AM on October 1


MetaFilter: being a much larger number of doors and goats.
posted by Splunge at 11:32 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]


About that Saint Peter thing...

As a Jewish teen growing up in the 70s, one of the obscure facts I learned was that not only was Monty Hall Jewish, he was a past member of the same Jewish teen organization I belonged to at the time, Aleph Zadik Aleph. He was even a past Aleph Godol (chapter president) of his AZA chapter, of Winnipeg #138. (citation).

This fit into my odd list of Jewish factoids (others: the Germans on Hogan's Heroes were played by Jewish actors; both Shatner and Nimoy were Jewish; so was Geddy Lee (aka Gary Lee Weinrib), etc.

Good to know he lived a good life, was a good father and husband, and was regarded in all accounts as a pretty decent guy. He lived a nice, long life - may he rest in peace.

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posted by mosk at 11:36 AM on October 1 [9 favorites]


I just want to know where Monty got all the goats

Mickey Kaus.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on October 1


I love the idea of a farmer being on Let's Make a Deal and opening a booby prize door with five calves behind it and thinking he'd just won the goddamn lottery because cattle are frigging expensive.
posted by 256 at 11:51 AM on October 1 [24 favorites]


Well, that made me curious. According to Beef Magazine calf prices are currently $135 per hundredweight. I guess that's for calves destined to be hamburger. Assuming a 550 pound calves, that's $3,375. Better than a goat.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:04 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


My best friend in high school had a cow he took care of and sold. He made a bunch of money. Our senior year, his dad gave him a couple of acres to farm and he'd be up at 6AM to set up the irrigation. He made a bunch of money from that, too.

Looking back, I realize how lazy and un-enterprising I was in contrast. Also, broke. I worked as a dishwasher for a month or so before being fired and then my parents took my car away.

But, yeah, (healthy) farm animals are worth a lot of money. People should have taken the zonks!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:47 PM on October 1


so was Geddy Lee (aka Gary Lee Weinrib), etc.

He got the nickname Geddy, because his bubbe couldn't pronounce the R in his first name.
posted by jonp72 at 1:15 PM on October 1 [5 favorites]


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posted by Joey Michaels at 4:08 PM on October 1


For that matter, did you HAVE to keep the goat? Were you ALLOWED to keep the goat?

As far as I know, if you offer something as a prize in any contest/raffle/game show and someone wins it, you have to give it to them.

According to this interview, the people at Let's Make a Deal were kind enough to offer a trade for a legitimate prize to people who got zonked. But it also references the story I was sure was an urban legend, where a farmer won a Zonk prize of livestock and was THRILLED to keep it.
posted by davros42 at 4:42 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:50 PM on October 1


I was truly surprised to learn that Joanna Gleason, one of the great character actors of our current era, is his daughter.

I'm not sure why, but I find this fascinating!

If you go back and watch the old shows, it's like in the 70s, everything in the supermarket cost between 20Β’ - 39Β’
posted by Room 641-A at 6:26 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


Marc Maron is the grim reaper of insightful and disarming interviewers.
Your demise is his day off.
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:15 PM on October 1


Man, no mention of Monty Hall's other nominative claim to fame?

That's he's the patron diety of the greatest of all D&D campaign genres - the Monty Haul campaign.

RIP Monty.
posted by GuyZero at 9:02 PM on October 1


The Monty Hall problem is inevitably phrased as involving a goat, a car, and "should you switch".

Knowing that some purebred goats sell for more than some new cars, and knowing that while tax will be owed on the sticker price of the car I would not be able to sell it for anywhere near that, there could be good reasons for sticking with the goat.

Especially if Monty Hall had a junked car behind that door. I like to imagine that he started doing this after the MH problem became known.
posted by yohko at 8:07 AM on October 6


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