## Similar Soldiers

I joined the Royal Australian Air force in 1972. During the ’70s recruitment was high, so it was not uncommon to have  flights of 20(ish) trainees graduating each week or so. On my first pay parade (we all got paid in cash after a lengthy line up) we all stood at-ease awaiting our name to be called out.

When the paymaster shouted out our names, family name first, first name last, we would then snap to attention and march forward for our pay.

This is how it went:

“Wilson, Robert”…. two of us stepped forward!

No problem thinks the paymaster as he glances down at the pay slip and announces, “Wilson, Robert, William”

The both of us stood firm!

He then read out the 6 digit ID number, and we were separated by less than 100 numbers if memory serves (numbers are issued sequentially which just means we joined about the same time).

So, what are the odd of having identical names, and joining the air force within weeks of each other?

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 200. Take a look and leave your comments below.

It’s not easy for me to put numbers on the probability of this happening because name frequencies in Australia were hard to find. However, I did find that the names “Robert” and “William” were as popular there in the 1960s (I assume that the author was between 17 and 25 when he joined) as the were in the U.S., where they took the 5th and 7th spots, respectively. As we’ve seen in past episodes, “Robert” is an enduring name; it was the #1 name for baby boys for decades and has not left the top 100 in more than a century. In the 1960s, “Robert” was the first name in 14,000 boys for every million born and “William” in every 10,000. There is no readily-available source to determine the probability that “William” would be chosen for a middle name, so the first name frequency will have to serve.

The surname name of “Wilson” is also a very common one, but it is difficult to determine just how common it was in Australia at that time. Today, “Wilson” is ranked 5th, occurring in 5,037.98 of every million people. This has probably changed a bit since the 1960s, but it’s our best estimate.
So, 140 of every million boys with the first name of “Robert” will have the last name of “Wilson”, and 1.4 of those will have the middle name “William”. This means that, for every 10 million men this author will meet around his age, 15 will probably share his full name.
The probability of joining the Air Force so close together adds a degree of complexity and to do it justice would require more accurate information about the distributions of these names across ethnic groups and as well as the distribution of ethnic groups in the military. Without that information, my best guess is the probability that another man in a selection of 100 will have this name, given that the author does, which is about 1 in a million.

## Trio of Traveling Tales

We’ve got a special three-story set for you guys this time. Enjoy. Or don’t. We’re not going to force you.

In 1972 I was driving along a major street in Dallas, TX. and saw two young girls, maybe 17 or 18, hitchhiking (a rather common sight in those days) and stopped to give them a ride.

They were headed to one of the girls’ homes, and said it wasn’t too far from where we were. Having grown up in that area of Dallas myself, I said “Well where is it, because I know this neighborhood?” But the one giving me directions didn’t really know the street names, so she just kept saying “Turn left here, now go a block…take a right” etc. etc.

Well, amazingly, where she ended up directing me to, was the house that I had grown up in for the first 10 years of my life! My family had moved from that house some 11 years earlier.

Of course I was completely blown away by the coincidence, and excitedly was telling them how I had once lived there, and how crazy that was, but they totally thought I was full of it, and that I was making up some wild tale to somehow impress them.

Maybe one of them will read this, and say “Hey! That was me! That is so amazing!” Of course, no one will believe her ; ) …But crazier things have been known to happen.

I grew up in Moses Lake, WA on the eastern desert side of the state. A couple blocks from us lived one of my best friends Adam. Our families were also close as his dad was our family doctor.

When I was about 5 years old Adam moved away out of state, and shortly after my dad got a job in state government and we moved to the capital Olympia on the other side of the state. Several years later we moved into a new house and I started going to a new school. When I entered my new fifth grade class I recognized a kid but I couldn’t place him. We found out we live a couple blocks away from each other so we started hanging out.

It wasn’t until our parents met and remembered each other that we found out that Adam and his family had settled in a new house the same distance from ours as our houses were back in Moses Lake!  What are the odds?

(Submitted by reader R L Fletcher)

I was driving my grandchildren back home to Birmingham, AL after a week long visit at our home in a suburb of Dallas, TX.  About 200 miles into the 650 mile journey, we stopped at a Starbucks in Shreveport so the grandson and granddaughter could use the restroom and I could grab a cup of joe.

As we were walking back to my car, someone yelled out my grandson’s name. It was my wife’s brother and his wife! Unbeknownst to me they were driving from their home south of Dallas to Chattanooga, TN, and we just happened to cross paths at that Starbucks!

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 189. Take a look and leave your comments below.

I don’t find the first story remarkable at all, although I am sure it felt that way to the author. While a lot of houses fit in a reasonable radius for hitchhiking, they number in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands and the author probably frequented the area.
The second story is eerie, but it would be more impressive if the distance both families moved was much greater.
The third story seems less coincidental, given that there are a limited number of routes between major cities, but there is an additional element which makes it much less likely to occur: timing. A Starbucks pit stop is very short, so crossing paths there is indeed crazy odds.