Tim is, as he puts it, cut from the same cloth as his uncle, insofar as they both enjoy entertaining. They also live in a four-storey house, which is perfect for such a thing.
So every Sunday, people come together for a casual pot luck brunch, where guests are invited to bring food, the idea being that it’s be easier to bring a dish somewhere and share with everyone than sit at home and make breakfast for yourself. Last time, I got to try fancy smoked bacon, and a pancake-batter-cooked-in-bacon-grease experiment.
At this point, enough people know about it that no one has to mention ahead of time whether they’ll be coming, but there’s enough food for all.
Tim described this pretty well in a recent e‑mail:
I’m fascinated by coordination problems.
Coordination problems are situations where all the actors involved are more or less on the same side, but there is imperfect information. Everyone wants the same general outcome but isn’t sure how everyone else is going to get at it.
Driving is a solved coordination problem. No one wants an accident so we all want to drive on the same side of the road, but there is nothing special about choosing the left or the right side. How do people pick?
In 1958, Thomas Schelling ran this experiment on a group of university students in Connecticut: “Imagine that you are to meet someone in New York City at noon, but you don’t know where and you can’t get in touch with them in advance. Where do you go?”
Without consulting one another, the majority of them picked the same location. I wonder if you can guess what it was (where would you go?).
Every week, we solve and re-solve a coordination problem with brunch. Everyone wants a good and varied brunch spread. Different people come every week and no one RSVPs, so you can never be sure what other people will bring. We don’t consult in advance, I don’t assign dishes or types of dishes. The only information we have is what was at brunch the previous week and my written suggestion about fruits, which is mercifully ignored by most of you.
Yet every week brunch has a wide range of delicious foods. Isn’t that amazing?
I think it’s amazing.
Hope to see you on Sunday,
If I was participating in Schelling’s experiment, I would have chosen to meet at the clock in Grand Central Station; it’s always stood out to me because of the way it was prominently featured in the fantasy waltz sequence done by Terry Gilliam in The Fisher King. I had no idea that this was also the information booth, and it’s this place exactly that most students chose.
And it goes with the people at brunch as well. When one person eats, another will get up to cook. When everyone is done eating, the dishes are all put away, the pans are all cleaned. With the wisdom of crowds, nothing needs to be said.
I think it’s amazing too.