Skepticism

So, what IS in my lunch box?

So, wow — there were more than 90 psychic guesses from people hoping to win the grand prize of taking me out on a date (or alternately, if the winner was too far from Boston or just not that into me, he or she could just mail me a sandwich and a milkshake). There were a multitude of ways for people to figure out the item, including remote viewing, seeing into the future when I opened the lid, seeing into the past when I placed the item, reading my mind, astral projection, breaking and entering, praying for Jesus to reveal the answer, dream interpretation, careful analysis of my known personality traits to deduce what the object might be, or outright guessing. I believe the latter two were the most popular tactics.

Guesses made in comments on this blog, on the MySpace blog, and mailed in to me included:

Don Knotts doll
Playing card(s)
Shrunken head (cute, Stella)
Naked photo of Perry Deangelis
Potato
Amazing Randi doll
Pony
Snowball
Dildo/vibrator/porn/butt plug/gag/handcuffs/drugs
Air
Thermos
Book
Calendar
Troll doll
Tiny statue
Rosary
PomPon Thing
Bacon
Mirror
Letter
Moebius strip
Klein bottle

And a lot of other great ideas. There were a few creative intangibles guessed such as “truth” and “Schroedinger’s cat.” My favorite guess was probably an appletini-drinking woodchuck named Phineus the Skepchuck. That appeared to be the joint effort of N.R. Miller, GreenNeck2, and Expatria (who apparently shares a birthday with my brother).

There was quite a lot of serious investigative work going on in the comments thread. I found this entertaining in part because you were all doing exactly what a “psychic” would do in the same situation — searching out even the tiniest clue to help zero in on what the object could be.

In the past I’ve discussed the cold reading tactics that psychics such as Sylvia Browne use, in which generalities are tossed out until the person being read offers some feedback. Cold reading in a case like this Lunch Box Experiment is difficult — you could all throw out generalities, but I offered very little feedback. People did, however, seize upon what feedback I did offer (telling you that one person was rather close to guessing the item). There are also two other forms of reading, known as “warm reading” and “hot reading.” With a hot reading, the “psychic” knows the key information beforehand. If you had visited my apartment and happened to take a peek inside the lunch box when I wasn’t paying attention, you could do a really great hot reading.

“Warm readings” occur when the “psychic” knows a little bit of key information beforehand, using it as a launching point. That’s what most of you were doing. You already know some things about me — Skyelight figured that I would probably choose something quirky, and a lot of people guessed skeptical or science-related objects. One of you, exarch, has even been in my apartment, giving him an even “warmer” starting point.

All of that hard detective work, though, failed to produce an accurate guess. As I mentioned in the thread, one person did come eerily close. That person is Blake Stacey, who wrote:

Ooh ooh, I know! It’s the squid you’re going to use in PZ Myers’s skepdude calendar photo!

It is not a squid, and I did not have any plans to incorporate the object into PZ’s photo. However, the object is . . .

A stuffed octopus bathtub scrubbie.

I would have accepted “octopus” or “bathtub scrubbie” (or some very similar variant). “Squid” is damned close, but alas, not close enough. Still, Blake deserves something for being so very nearly psychic-like. So, here is Blake’s prize:

The Blasphemy Challenge video made me realize that it’s really quite easy to do a video blog, so I’d like to do some more. However, I am indecisive and unable to choose a suitable topic. Blake can choose any skeptical or science-y theme — it could be something in the news, a question he has, a blog entry he’d like me to expand upon, just about anything — and I will film a short video on it and upload it to YouTube, probably next week. Blake, feel free to solicit ideas from other readers in the comments section and then let me know your decision by posting here. Congratulations Blake!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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32 Comments

  1. This made my day in more ways than I had ever anticipated!

    Like I said in the original thread, I'm still perfectly willing to buy you a milkshake without any stipulations that the purchase constitutes a "date". Romance is one thing, solidarity among skeptics quite another. Alternatively, I could make milkshakes for everybody at our housewarming party — Saturday the 20th, 22:22 o'clock, Somerville, Mass. Pester me at bstacey(at)alum.removethis.mit.andthis.edu if you're interested. . . .

    OK, what would people like Rebecca to video-blog about?

  2. Congratulations Blake! I think Rebecca should do a video-blog miniseries on "The Making of the Skepchick/Skepdude Calendar". You know, a reality TV/docusoap type thing with interviews with participants, behind the scenes scandals, etc. I also think that the octopus should be used in the PZ Myers Skepdude shot.

  3. Judging by the responses, anyway, the public apparently really want to see Rebecca video blog about sex toys. Like… a lot. Enough to mention them at least a dozen times. Me, I think there's a glut of that sort of thing as it is, although it's a bit like the video game journalism industry. Just a lot of, er, gushing enthusiasm.

  4. I bet that Rebecca uses the Octopus to drown the pony in china if you know what I mean.

    A behind the scenes about either the Skepchick magazine (more issues!) or possibly what's involved in the podcast could be interesting. Actually neither of those is as interesting as astrogirls suggestion!

  5. See I knew it was a octopus thingy but see I couldn't say anything for fear of screwing up the time space whatchamacallit. But I discoverd what it really was using Bahlaqueem and traveling to this time than went back and waited for you to post this.

  6. Ha! Blake's guess was one of the two I thought might have been the close-calls! The other was about Houdini, which I admit I was more inclined to think was 'close' than a squid. Shows how good of a psychic I am.

    But, that being said, I DID hint in my first post that it was 'in water,' and as it is both a marine creature AND a bath-related item, CLEARLY I was very close.

    Man, it's AMAZING to me that Rebecca's got Pete and Pete…a friend of mine and I were just last week discussing how being a fan of that show is a 'tell,' if you will, that a member of the opposite sex is going to be quite worth the time to get to know. We also included 'Are You Afraid of the Dark' in our assessment, so I guess we had a bit of a early-mid nineties Nick thing going…

    Oh, and Rebecca's brother MUST be cool, since he and I share a birthday and, therefore, a star sign. And, since as we all know, astrology is a REAL science, given that I am pretty awesome, Rebecca's bro must be the same. It's SCIENCE, people.

  7. Wow! You have Pete and Pete on DVD. You might be my second favorite person on the planet. If you ever find yourself in Pullman Washington let's hang out and discuss the joy that is Nickelodeon in the mid-90's.

  8. That was a dirty trick using a yellow lunchbox, yellow being well known to cause transmutations in the phase shift of the space time paralaxes. This caused me to see a sandwhich that had been in the luchbox some time in the past, or will be in the future. So clearly I still won.

    However, since the flavor photons in the sandwhich will have been contaminated by the silver lining, there's no point in sending me the sandwhich, so you'll just have to go out with me.

    Just as soon as I've mastered the spacial guidance in my spacial transcendental transportation abilities enough to accurately shift to Boston. When I attempted it this morning I phased to someplace called Njarvik.

  9. My new unsolicited idea is that you all in Boston should go to Blake's house for his milkshake party (whenever that could happen) and do a group video on some skeptical or science subject then post it. Blake is awfully smart, so I'm sure he could come up with some creative ideas. Then it would be a fun video that would include everybody, or at least skeptical people in Boston. It could be hilarious or serious, but it would be fun to watch. (My first "date" idea involved the Boston Science Museum using video.)

    Really, Blake might have said "octopus" if PZ used "octopus" more often than "squid," but squid seems to be more popular. I prefer octopuses (or octopi), but whatever. Seems like he should be involved in the prize. But hey, I'm just a lurker who bought a calendar of naked skeptics… ;-)

    Astrogirl had a good idea to do at any time: interviewing your skepchicks/dudes. Seems like you could get some good clips in at TAM. Cheers! :-)

  10. I'm going to second Melusine's idea for a skeptic's video meeting. My only complaint is that it is yet ANOTHER reason why I am sad to no longer be in the Boston area! I would have loved to participate :(

    Oh, and Blake:

    If I only had a dollar for every time I lost a date on account of two tentacles…And people tell me I should have them removed…sheesh, why can't they accept me for who I am?? :-P

  11. Okay, a few points.

    1.) I would certainly be up for a group outing some time after TAM.

    2.) I could do a "day in the life" style video about the things I did/do for the calendar and the site, though if you want calendar model interviews it would take a lot longer since I don't see them that often. That is a very good idea for the future, though.

    3.) Squids are not octopuses/pi, Blake did not win, all you Blake-apologists!

  12. "Blake-apologists!"…lol.

    I admire you for sticking by your tentacles, but he was sooo close. Oh well – I suppose he still gets his booby prize of deciding what subject you have to video blog about…alone…sans milkshake…with an octopus scrubbie…

    ;-)

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