Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, November 13, 2009

Google and manhole covers

This will be old news to some of you, but: today I came across an article listing "15 Google interview questions that will make you feel stupid," and among them was an old chestnut: Why are manhole covers round? The official Business Insider answer: "So it [sic] doesn't fall through the manhole." Apparently these people are not as familiar as they ought to be with imagined conversations with Richard Feynman.


  • The proposed answers to most of them, not just the manhole one, are pretty stupid. The Seattle window-washing one (#2) just seems like intellectual laziness -- $10 per window? What about trying to work out the transaction costs of negotiation with every single window-owner, to see what a competitive bid with city government for a localized window washing utility monopoly would be? Or alternatively, what you'd have to charge to recoup the costs of buying out all the existing window washing firms' contracts? And why assume that charging on a per-window basis is a rational pricing scheme, since it's way more expensive to wash the windows on the Space Needle than to do a one-story house?

    But hey, at least the basketball one was a legit rational problem, and I'm happy to say that I solved it.

    And I had fun devising an ontological reason why it is impossible to ever fit any golf balls onto a school bus.

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