My son and I went to see the Cubs last week as we do every Spring.

The Cubs won 8-0 and Matt Garza was one out away from throwing a complete game shutout, a rarity for a Cub. The crowd was on its feet with full count to the would-be final batter who rolled the ball back to the mound for Garza to scoop up and throw him out. We were all ready to give a big congratulatory cheer and then this happened. This is a guy who was throwing flawless pitches to the plate for nine innings and here with all the pressure gone and an easy lob to first he made what could be the worst throw in the history of baseball and then headed for the showers. Cubs win!

But this Spring we weren’t so interested in the baseball out on the field as we were in the strategery down in the toilet. Remember a while back when I wrote about the urinal game? It seems like it was just last week (fuzzy vertical lines pixellating then unpixellating the screen to reveal the flashback:)

Consider a wall lined with 5 urinals. The subgame perfect equilibrium has the first gentleman take urinal 2 and the second caballero take urinal 5. These strategies are pre-emptive moves that induce subsequent monsieurs to opt for a stall instead out of privacy concerns. Thus urinals 1, 3, and 4 go unused.

So naturally we turn our attention to The Trough.

A continuous action space. Will the trough induce a more efficient outcome in equilibrium than the fixed array of separate urinals? This is what you come Cheap Talk to find out.

Let’s maintain the same basic parameters. Assume that the distance between the center of two adjacent urinals is d and let’s consider a trough of length 5d, i.e. the same length as a 5 side-by-side urinals (now with invincible pink mystery ice located invitingly at positions d/2 + kd for k = 1, 2, 3, 4.) The assumption in the original problem was that a gentleman pees if and only if there is nobody in a urinal adjacent to him. We need to parametrize that assumption for the continuos trough. It means that there is a constant r such that he refuses to pee in a spot in which someone is currently peeing less than a distance r from him. The assumption from before implies that d < r < 2d. Moreover the greater the distance to the nearest reliever the better.

The first thing to notice is that the equilibrium spacing from the original urinal game is no longer a subgame-perfect equilibrium. In our continuous trough model that spacing corresponds to gentlemen 1 and 2 locating themselves at positions d/2 and 7d/2 measured from the left boundary of the trough. Suppose r <= 3d/2. Then the third man can now utilize the convex action space and locate himself at position 2d where he will be a comfortable distance 3d/2>= r away from the other two. If instead r > 3d/2, then the third man is strictly deterred from intervening but this means that gentleman number 2 would increase his personal space by locating slightly farther to the right whilst still maintaining that deterrence.

So what does happen in equilibrium? I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news first. Suppose that r < 5d/4. Then in equilibrium 3 guys use the trough whereas only 2 of the arrayed urinals were used in the original equilibrium. In equilibrium the first guy parks at d/2 (to be consistent with the original setup we assume that he cannot squeeze himself any closer than that to the left edge of the trough without risking a splash on the shoes) the second guy at 9d/2 and the third guy right in the middle at 5d/2. They are a distance of 2d> r from one another, and there is no room for anybody else because anybody who came next would have to be standing at most a distance d< r from two of the incumbents. This is a subgame perfect equilibrium because the second guy knows that the third guy will pick the midpoint and so to keep a maximal distance he should move to the right edge. And foreseeing all of this the first guy moves to the left edge.

Note well that this is not a Pareto improvement. The increased usage is offset by reduced privacy.They are only 2d away from each other whereas the two urinal users were 3d away from each other.

Now the bad news when r >5d/4. In this case it is possible for the first two to keep the third out. For example suppose that 1 is at 5d/4 and 2 is at 15d/4. Then there is no place the third guy can stand and be more than 5d/4 away hence more than r from the others. In this case the equilibrium has the first two guys positioning themselves with a distance between them equal to exactly 2r, thus maximizing their privacy subject to the constraint that the third guy is deterred. (One such equilibrium is for the first two to be an equal distance from their respective edges, but there are other equilibria.)

The really bad news is that when r is not too large, the two guys even have less privacy than with the urinals. For example if r is just above 5d/4 then they are only 10d/4 away from each other which is less than the 3d distance from before. What’s happening is that the continuous trough gives more flexibility for the third guy to squeeze between so the first two must stand closer to one another to keep him away.

Instant honors thesis for any NU undergrad who can generalize the analysis to a trough of arbitrary length.

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April 17, 2012 at 1:38 am

afinetheoremClearly the best Cheap Talk post of all time. My only worry is that Jeff will take his family camping, and afterwards we will need to solve this problem on a two dimensional surface – the lake, of course, being the continuous action space, and the woods being the discrete/discreet locations represented by bushes.

April 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm

A game theoretic approach to pissing in a trough « Economics Info[…] Source […]

July 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

The Urinal Game As An Introduction To Sociology « Cheap Talk[…] wrote about the urinal game here and the trough variant here. talk cheaply Top […]