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Lee Pitts: The Numbers Game

I’d be willing to bet you, gentle reader, that you can’t take a single page of this publication and fold it in half eight times. Want to bet? The only reason that I know you can’t do it is because I lost a sizable bet trying.

I gave up gambling decades ago after a former friend of mine told me his unbeatable system for playing blackjack. I started out with a five dollar bet as instructed. Every time I won I pulled the initial five dollars back. If I lost I had to double up. If I lost again I had to double that bet. My friend said that I could not lose money because eventually I had to win and then I would get my original five dollars back.

On my last trip to Reno I tried the system. As usual, I was having a string of bad luck and after losing eight hands in a row my next bet had to be $1,280 dollars just to get my original five dollars back. It was then the dealer told me about the one thousand dollar table limit. But it didn’t matter because I had no money left anyway. So much for my friend’s “can’t miss” system. We haven’t spoken in years.

Numbers and figurin’ never were my best subjects. A clear illustration occurred when I had to get my horse, Gentleman, shod. Monty, my regular shoer was down with a bad back so I called up a farrier I found in the phone book. I should have known I made a mistake when I was his only appointment that day and he arrived in a shiny new rig without the slightest trace of a hunch back.

“How much will you charge to shoe my horse Gentleman?” I inquired.

“That will he $150,” he replied without a trace of guilt.

“Well, you can just load up and go back to where you came from.”

“Now wait a minute,” the replied. “If you won’t pay me a $150 how about if I just charge you one penny for the first nail and double it for every nail after that?”

This guy must have thought I just fell off a turnip truck or had an I.Q. equal to room temperature. “Mister, you got yourself a deal.”

The horseshoer slid underneath Gentleman and hammered in the first nail and just as the farrier promised the second nail was only two cents, the third one four and the fourth nail was only eight cents. Even after he added up all eight nails I got one whole hoof shod for $1.28.

I was really liking this deal but was feeling kind of guilty for ripping off the farrier. But by the time he’d finished Gentleman’s second hoof I was getting an uneasy feeling in my wallet. After doubling the price for each of the nails in the second shoe I was owing the farrier $662.40 and even Gentleman was looking at me like I was an idiot.

I said, “Whoa! Let’s think about this.” I did some back-of-the-napkin figuring and discovered that the third horseshoe would cost me $167,779.20 and by the time the horseshoer was done Gentleman’s new shoes would come to $42,949,680.00.

“Let’s just call it an even forty three million dollars,” said the farrier with a smirk on his face.

Not having that much loose change, I offered to trade Gentleman straight across in exchange for the shoeing bill. For the second time that day the farrier demonstrated superior intelligence by declining my generous offer. Next I offered the farrier a chance to double his money merely by folding a piece of paper eight times. But he knew that trick.

“Forty three million dollars!” I exclaimed. “Where would I get get that kind of money?”

The horseshoer, with a computer where his bad back should have been, replied, “If you just invest $1,000 today at eight percent in just 400 years you’ll have 23 quadrillion dollars.”

“After paying you 43 million for shoeing Gentleman where am I going to get the initial $1,000? “ I asked.

Needless to say, the next time Gentleman needed shoes I welcomed my old shoer back with a big hug and an open wallet. The minute Monty started shoeing Gentleman he asked, “How come Gentleman’s only wearing two shoes and they’re both on the same side?




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