Ol’ Man Levitt: The Answer to the Freakonomics Quiz

Earlier this week I posed a quiz to blog readers: what happened twice to me in the last few days that had never once happened to me in the first 45 years of my life.

Well, it turns out that the answers readers posted turned out to be a pretty interesting data for analysis.  At the time that my researcher Sara Kuse crunched the numbers, there were 280 guesses (some commenters guessed more than once, and we counted all their guesses) that fell into roughly 110 different categories. 

The most commonly made guesses were getting robbed or mugged, making a hole in one, getting recognized/asked for an autograph, winning a prize, losing something like a wallet being in a car accident, and being stung by a bee.  Over 30 percent of all the guesses were one of those items.  None of those would qualify, however, because they’ve all happened to me at least once before.  Getting robbed and a hole in one were two great guesses – both have happened to me exactly once in my life. 

In fact, of the 280 guesses, 232 have already happened to me, and thus can’t be the right answer.  (I have seen both a bald eagle and a double rainbow, stepped in dog poop, been in a fist fight, and been approached by hookers, just to name a few).

The most frequently given answers that haven’t ever happened to me are getting stuck in an elevator (5 guesses), having my car towed (3 guesses), and being hit by lightning (3 guesses).  I’ve also never fainted, administered CPR, or had a politician take my advice.  Those last three are all great guesses.

I was beginning to think that the question was too hard and no one would get the right answer, when blog reader Molly finally nailed it, two or three days after the initial post went up.  Congratulations, Molly, you’ve earned some Freakonomics swag.

The correct answer: I was given the senior discount!

The first time it happened, I thought maybe it was a mistake.  I was at Boston Market, and the person ringing me up could not have been nicer and then without saying a thing about it, handed me a receipt with a 10 percent senior discount.  Who knows, maybe it was an accident.

The second time, it was no mistake.  I was at a golf driving range – one I go to a lot – and the guy handed me back a dollar more than the amount of change I always receive.  I told him he gave me one dollar too many, and he told me the senior rate was a dollar off the posted price.  I was so busy updating my priors on how old I have become that I didn’t even think to protest.

I must really be going downhill quickly because this week, after the quiz went up, I got the senior discount for the third time!  This time in front of my wife, who asked “Did he really just give you the senior discount?”

Why shouldn’t he, everyone else does.


Great post!! Sorry for the personal trauma, but excellent survey and response! Even though I didn't play along, I really enjoyed reading it as well as all the responses.

Rob G.

I read this post to my wife and she suggested that it's a strategy to keep more customers happy with a discount (at the risk of slighting them of course). Maybe it's worth a study by some esteemed economist?


Something is not clear to me. Did Levitt get the senior's discount because the storekeeper thought he was 65? That seems nearly unbelievable given the photos of him that I have seen. Or do 45-year-olds get senior's discounts in the US? (Also seems nearly unbelievable.) Or maybe 55-year-olds get discounts and the storekeeper thought he was 55?

Joe Dokes

Couple of observations:

I never understood the concept of a senior discount, why should businesses give discounts to the wealthiest segment of society?

As someone who got his first gray hair at 18 and is often mistaken for being my children's grandfather, I eagerly await the undeserved discounts that will probably begin before I even reach 50 years old.


Joe Dokes

Steve O

@Joe & @Rob: senior discounts are given because senior citizens have more elasticity of demand--i.e., they are more sensitive to price so by charging them a lower price, a business can make more sales and more money. Reducing the price for everyone or charging seniors full price would leave money on the table.

John Doe Reader

Actually one politician (Sergio Cabral, Rio de Janeiro's governor) followed Mr. Levitt advice:


Should I have guessed that two kids actually got off your lawn?
If your wife is like mine, you're in for some merciless teasing, but enjoy growing old together, and welcome to my age cohort.


I can completely relate. Shortly after letting my hair go for a complete Race Bannon (white) look I took my wife and daughter to see a movie. I asked for three tickets to which the kid asked, 'Two adults and...', I'm thinking he's going to say and one child which is ridiculous since my daughter is clearly over 12. 'And one senior', he says-meaning me! I asked how old a senior was thinking maybe it was like AARP, 50 and I was 50. Sixty two he says. I told him no. A day later I am at a fast food place and the kid there just gives me the senior discount. I decide I am going to take it. In fact I went back there a few days later. There were two lines, one with the manager at the register and the other the same kid from the day before. I drifted over to the kid's line to get the discount. :)


To kids working as cashiers, 45 is the new 65. It's a result of the acceleration of change.

Nyayapati Gautam

While here in India there is a lot of talk about 40 being the new 20. Looks like it is better to be in India than in the US. :p


A few points:

1. To the guy saying seniors are the wealthiest segment of our society, I suspect there wasn't much of a disparity until a decade or so ago, and many are still on fixed income budgets.

2. As far as AARP, I turned 50 in March and got a membership package from them in the mail on my birthday, then I got another one two days later with my name slightly different. Two things that have never happened to me before !

3. Any sensitive business wouldn't assume a senior discount to someone who looks borderline. It is the opposite of carding a thirty something girl at a bar.

4. As far as coincidences, I was playing with a guy who got a hole-in-one on the 18th hole at my home course, then played three days later and had my partner make a double eagle on the first hole (3 wood second shot in the hole off the deck on a par five). I hadn't played in between, so that was back-to-back holes for me. Neither of these guys were single digit handicappers. They say the odds of an amateur making a hole-in-one are 1 in 12,500, and the odds of a amateur making a double eagle (aka albatross) are 1 in 2.5 million. Most pros have never seen one.



I was close!

". . . you were assumed to be old enough for AARP."

And I answered a couple of hours into the contest . . .

maureen Greenbaum

I don't get it
I checked you both out
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Levitt May 29, 1967 (age 45))
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_J._Dubner (August 26, 1963 (age 48) - interesting photo


I go to a buffet (part of a national chain) somewhat frequently. I noticed that one cashier was giving me a senior discount - before my 50th birthday. Granted, I have a fair amount of grey in my beard and mustache, but just a scattering on the top of my head.

The first time I didn't notice it until I was at my table. The second time I noticed the discount as I was paying. If there is purgatory for cheapskates, I will go there courtesy of my third senior discount - there were two cashiers, and I intentionally got in the line with the discounting cashier.


Well, look on the bright side: being mistaken for a senior citizen twice is probably a lot less painful than being struck by lightening twice!


you're working too hard.


I've received AARP mailings. I'm 26.


If something about your haircut, level of sleep, lack of summer suntan etc makes you look older than you are today , then it probably will tomorrow too.

I would not say that these events were independent of each other.


Either people are nuts for thinking you are 65, or you need to update your photo!