18 November 2010

Fill in the blanks: [place] on $[number] a day

Arthur Frommer didn't just give travelers a strategy for cheap travel. He also inadvertently gave travel writers and other journalists a strategy for cheap headlines. It's not quite as ubiquitous as, say, "land of contrasts" and "off the beaten path," but it's still pretty common. Just last week, the New York Times ran a travel article titled "Los Angeles on $100 a Day."

And a few days before that, when certain conservative politicians and pundits (who apparently hate math as much as they hate President Obama . . .) leveled the charge that the president's trip to Asia was costing $200 million a day, the debunking headlines practically wrote themselves, like this from the Times' Caucus blog: "India on $200 million a day? Not!"

I wondered how common this was, so I put my research assistant, Mr. Google, on the case and was quickly presented with a list of other examples. Like:
  • A few years back, the Times had a series called "High & Low" (retitled in 2009, in a slight nod to the economic times,"Save or Splurge"). Each entry featured pairs of articles about visiting a particular place on two different budgets: "____ on $250 a Day" and "____ on $1,000 a Day."
  • From a Space Daily article on the Mars Rover: "Mars on One Million Dollars a Day." 
I was also curious, in light of Monday's post about the evolution of the dollar amount in the guidebook titles, to see what amounts people most often plugged into the "on $___ a day" construction. I checked both Google overall and Google News specifically (going back to 1980). Here's a graphic representation of what I found, with the X axis listing the various dollar amounts:  

Some notes for the pedants/sticklers/genuinely-curious: 
(1) Most of the amounts I looked at were actual amounts used in Frommer's book titles. I added in some other nice, round numbers (e.g. $100, $500) that seemed like logical ones for people to plug into the dollars-a-day construction. One thing that's interesting about this, for example, is that there are considerably more articles that discuss something on $100 a day (14 results) than $95 a day (4), even though the latter was an actual Frommer's guidebook, the last one to have an amount listed in the title, in 2007. 
(2) I did several variations of each search, using different phrasing (e.g. 5 dollars, five dollars, $5) and I searched for exact phrases, so that it was always "____ on $_____ a day." 
(3) Even so, the link between many of these results and Frommer's guidebook titles is, of course, only coincidental and in passing, having nothing to do with travel, e.g. "even today, many impoverished Martians live on $5 a day." 
(4) Still, most of the news results, at least, are indeed clearly intended as a play on Europe on $5 a Day
(5) Seriously, if you're still reading this, you deserve a prize. Tell you what: let me know you made it this far and I'll write you a haiku. 


  1. $100 showing up more often than $95 is a pretty common psychological rounding effect -- it shows up in all sorts of census and other survey data as well. E.g., a bunch of people report driving 200 miles per week, but no one reports driving 189 miles per week. What's interesting in your data is that $50 doesn't seem to benefit from this effect, showing up less than both $40 and $60. Maybe because those are multiples of $20, and $20 bills are used way more than $50 bills? How can we test this?

    Like I said a couple of weeks ago, my stats class has been the most surprisingly enjoyable :)

    And I would like my haiku now, thank you.

  2. Huh--that's interesting, Andrew. Makes sense, though. I wonder how people tend to round if they bought something for, say, $39.99. Is it $40?

    And a haiku for you:

    He crunches numbers
    Runs 'em over with his bike
    And reads all footnotes.

  3. Wait, we really get a haiku for reading all the way? Cause I totally did. I love footnotes. And graphs.

  4. But of course! A haiku for you, Erin:

    Hey, thanks for reading!
    And props on the great blog name
    Let There Be Chaos

  5. This writer has consulted his colleague,
    But don't fear mathematical fatigue--
    I doubt a few graphs
    Will displace all the laughs;
    He just ate too many doughnuts with Teague.

  6. No such thing, LJ, no such thing.


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