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Math Geek Mom: Trick or Treat!
October 28, 2011 - 3:00am

In statistics one finds the experiment of flipping a coin and observing if the coin lands with heads facing up or with tails facing up. This is the central idea behind probability distributions that can be applied to many different situations involving uncertainty. I thought of the idea of a two sided coin recently when I realized that I am somewhat ambivalent about the coming holiday of Halloween.

I am not always sure of what to make of the holiday of Halloween. On the one hand, it is a chance to dress up in silly costumes and spend time with your neighbors. On the other hand (I am, after all, an economist with two hands…), it is a holiday that can be disturbing in its celebration of some of the elements of life that we normally like to ignore. For example, I find myself driving by lawn ornaments shaped like tombstones that read "R.I.P.", and as my mind makes a quick visit back to "research in progress" seminars from graduate school, I find myself shouting from my heart that I am not ready to surrender anyone I love to such graves. Such decorations are similar to the fireworks on the 4th of July that take bombs from war and turn them into a means to celebrate. This Halloween I find myself concentrating on the fun aspect of the holiday, especially the various costumes that are part of the celebration.

When I think back over my life, I realize that I have had encountered a few very cool costumes over the years. There is a picture of me as a little girl dressed up as a soup can, thanks to my mother’s ingenuity. I remember my sister dressing up as Snoopy one year, with my mom going as his dog house. In the 1980s, when the phrase “gag me with a spoon” became popular, a friend expanded it to “gag me with a Metrobus” ( I suppose that if a spoon would make one gag, a huge Metrobus would do an even  better job of it), and so, that year, I dressed up as one of the busses that run through our nation’s capital. And it was 1979, at the height of his fame, when I took an old mask, some cardboard and gold spray paint and, with the help of some toilet paper, dressed up as "King Tut."  I think that only one person asked if I could really be King Tut, or if I needed to be "Queen Tut" instead.

I recall a costume party in graduate school in which a woman came dressed as a Christmas tree. The costume was made from an old green bridesmaid dress (80s style, with big skirt and sleeves) on which she had hung blinking lights, hooked up to a battery pack on her back. As much as we all liked the costume, those of us who had ever spent a chunk of money to be in a wedding couldn’t help but be most impressed with the fact that, as I am sure the bride had promised her, she actually got to wear the dress again!

In our family we have the tradition of my daughter going with my husband each year to pick out a costume. This allows him to set some limits on what she can dress up as, while letting them spend some quality daddy-daughter time together. And I am always very impressed with what they come home with. One year it was a costume right out of the musical "Grease," while last year it was a pink race car driver’s outfit, with the words “Fastcar” replacing what I assume is the patented name of "Nascar." As they like to watch car shows together, it was very appropriate. This year, my daughter is going as a "jailbird," with a costume in pink stripes that looks like a uniform a prisoner would wear. I had to laugh at the name tag sewn onto it. It said, appropriately, "Miss Behaved."

I heard of a costume a few years ago in which a girl dressed up as a pig with wings. She was the "swine flu." And I understand that one of this year’s favorite costumes is "angry birds." I would love to hear about other good costume ideas, either from today or years ago.

Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween!

 

 

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