Apple-Pie Game Theory


We recently presented you with a game-theory puzzle for Beauty and the Geek. Now here’s a real-life story concerning apple pie, a historical example that is admittedly not very complex, but still quite interesting. It’s via Jim Romenesko, citing an article on

Medill’s Peck Recalls Giving Pies to Chicago Police in 1968

Abe Peck, who was editor of the Chicago Seed underground paper in 1968, says his staff gave apple pies to police “to really try to say, hey, we’re not antagonistic. It was more than an olive branch. I mean we genuinely, and it all sounds very fragile and dafodilish now, but more than an olive branch I think it was a statement of principle on our part.” Peck, now a Medill professor emeritus-in-service, says the police were suspicious of what might be in the pies so they gave them to a Catholic charity.

Assuming the story is true, you have to wonder:

1. How badly did the police want to eat the pies?

2. Did they tell the charity where the pies came from?

3. Were the cops Catholic?

4. Did the pies actually get eaten by anyone, Catholic or otherwise?

I assume that if the answer to No. 4 is yes, nothing happened to them or we would have heard about it — nor would Peck be telling this funny story today.

M Todd

The story sounds made up.

Most public figures do not eat food from individuals giving them food. I do not blame them, but if the story is true, why would they give them to a charity if they considered them unsafe to eat?

Think about it if a group who you did not know presented you with food would you eat it? I wouldn't.


Did the cops suspect the pies, or did Peck, the editor of an underground newspaper that would traditionally be at odds with the police, merely *suspect* that the cops were suspicious?

For all we know, there was a firm department policy against accepting gifts, so the cops simply donated the pies. Peck may very well have drawn the conclusion he wanted.


What if the charity gave the pies to the police?


1) What chicago cop in the 60s d/n like apple pie? (silly Q)

2) of course not. although they got more lenient penances the next time that they went to confession.

3) what chicago cop was NOT Catholic in the 60s? (very silly question)

4) Pies eaten by the catholic priests; of course.(extremely silly Q)


What action could the police have taken that would not make them look bad?


Were the police officially allowed to accept gifts? I would suspect not, for the sake of conflicts of interest (but I have no idea if this was practice). If this were the case, there is no suspicion, there is protocol.


Perhaps the cops are not willing or able to accept gifts for the reason of needing to avoid any appearance of impropriety. So, rather than accept the gift, they passed it along to an organization that was able to accept and put to a good use.


In working for a medium-sized town with it's own police force, I witnesses a batch of cookies being thrown in the trash. The officers explained to me that they never eat anything given to them by citizens - especially if homemade - due to concerns about poisoning and mischief.

I imagine this is a universal policy among police forces. It is amusing, if true, that they gave them to charity, though. I wonder if they pull unidentified tubs of leftovers out of the back of their fridge and give those to charity too.


What a great story.

It doesn't say anything good about the police, of course.


To comment on the last question first, I think that IF the charity served the pies at a free meal, they were probably eaten in their entirety. Who would pass up a delicious apple pie that was served by a church?

Of course, the church would most likely accept any donation from the local police, if the well was not poisoned, so to speak. The course of events here depends entirely on trust and percieved trustworthiness.

How many pies were delivered to the police and in what manner? Did the editor show up in person with three or four pies and a heartfelt explanation, or were two dozen pies delivered with a gift tag that said, "Hey Fuzz, no hard feelings"? Either way, it is not surprising that such a gesture, standing alone in its innocuity amidst what I would imagine was some heavy criticism, was viewed with suspicion by the police.

In response to the first question, if the police liked delicious apple pie as much as I do, they probably would have taken their chances.



So consider this from the cops' perspective: you're given pies of which you're suspicious, but which has the premise of being a gift of good-will.

If you were to throw them out, you risk looking like you're not appreciative and overly suspicious of the group. The group will of course claim they were legitimate.

If you were to eat them, you put yourselves at risk. While razor blades are unlikely, a small amount of a narcotic drug or laxative would be difficult to prove but inconvenient for the officers.

Their solution was perfect-- publicly, receive the pies as good faith, and pass them on to the community that would appreciate them more. If they're clean pies, you've graciously accepted and distributed a gift. If they're not, you've acted in good faith, and the renegade group is responsible for poisoning a charity.


The real question: Is Dubner secretly obsessed with pastries, or is it mere coincidence?

a ? lover

My Answers:

1: The cops were doughnut guys. Hard to eat pie in a cruiser.

2: They told the charity the pies were from the Chicago PD.

3: To a large extent.

4: Yes, although if I am wrong about #2 and the cops were honest, then the pies likely ended up at Temple Beth-El's Shabbat dinner.

Abhishek Upadhya

Question 1 is redundant if police were indeed suspicious, as Mr.Peck says.

And if they were indeed suspicious, ideally they wouldn't have given it to anyone [ Good Cop assumption].

A sensible deduction would be that they didn't want it, and gave it to the charity.

[But, then that wouldn't make it a Game theory problem, would it?]


? Lover(#5):

I attend Temple Beth-El. If it wasn't baked in our kitchen, or didn't have a heksher that somebody somewhere thought was OK, we didn't eat it. We might have given it to the shabbos goy, though.


invite them to have a piece of the pie with you. it's probably not a princess bride moment.

Bob Whiteman

"To Protect [themselves] and Serve [pie]."

Gordon Williams

Let me get this straight. The cops gave pies they were afraid to eat to charity? Wow, somehow that's not what I thought was meant by "Serve and Protect!"

Doug B

The obvious question is why, if they didn't trust the contents, would they give the pies to charity? Not very charitable! I would guess that some portion of the story is fiction, possibly created by the paper staff (because it amuses the counterculture crowd) or by the police (too boost their own image).

Stories I would find more believable:

1. Some low-level officer was told to give the pies to charity, but ate them or gave them to friends on the force. Chief tells story that pies were given to charity.

2. Some low-level officer was told to throw the pies away, but ate them or gave them to friends on the force. Chief tells story that pies were given to charity to boost the public image of the police department.

3. Police did suspect "questionable" ingredients (marijuana, ex-lax?), and threw pies away. Again, chief tells story that pies were given to charity to boost the public image of the police department.



Police keep the pies: 1) police get hurt eating pies or, 2) police accept "bribe"

If they give to the charity: 1) donaters feel guilty and announce what they did and nobody gets hurt, 2) pies are fine and noteworthy press for all involved, or 3) pies hurt innocent homeless people in the streets of Chicago.

Assign your own probabilities and do the math.