It may have centered on NYC, or just mentioned it. This also may be from older than 1970. It went roughly like: one morning, the laws of probability collapse. The highway system, which is scaled for 'normal' traffic patterns, can't handle it when EVERYONE on Brooklyn suddenly each for their own very individual reason decides to drive to Ocean Beach. That kind of thing.

If there was a longer arc with a real story and resolution, I don't recall it.

Ring any bells?

  • I THINK I remember this one -- does the city take palliative measures like defining what days of the week people with names beginning with specific letters can go to the beach/park/etc., in an attempt to combat it?
    – K-H-W
    Feb 23, 2017 at 23:09
  • Oh gosh... maybe? I have no specific memory of that aspect...
    – verbalobe
    Feb 23, 2017 at 23:11
  • 2
    Well I just reread the story here and it does indeed have the letters-by-days-of-week gambit. Well done and thanks.
    – verbalobe
    Feb 23, 2017 at 23:27

1 Answer 1


This is The Law by Robert M. Coates, first published in The New Yorker in 1947.

It starts out with a failure of the Law of Averages, especially with traffic, as you say. Proceeds with theaters being empty one night, full the next, for no apparent reason.

The federal government passes a law which divides the population up by the first letter of their last names and regulates when they can do things, to return to the old pattern of life.

But at the end of the story, the Law of Diminishing Returns appears to be failing....

  • 1
    I've read it before, and I remembered the general plot, but I couldn't remember the author or title.
    – Lorendiac
    Feb 24, 2017 at 0:33
  • 2
    I only remembered because it's in one of my favorite anthologies, "The Mathematical Magpie" Feb 24, 2017 at 1:23

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