Today is the first day of my statistics classes, so it seemed appropriate to engage in a statistically-themed deception. The classes are for graduate students, and consist of twelve, three hour long lessons, with the last hour or so intended to be practical. Unfortunately, Tokyo University doesn’t have a shared computer room (at least not in my faculty) so we have to use a normal lecture theatre, and all the students have to bring their own computers. This has been troubling me for some time, because it’s really obvious that someone is going to trip over and die when there are 22 cables lying around. Now, you may laugh at my occupational health and safety instincts, but anyone who has ever seen someone trip over at work due to a cable and lose their front teeth, as I have, is aware that not all OH&S concerns constitute meddling madness. As if it’s not enough that I have to learn the correct procedure for handling serious earthquakes during class time, I may have to revisit basic first aid.

So, I was having lunch with a colleague today – let’s call him “Dr. Liverpool” –  and he asked me if I was going to use computers in my class. I started complaining about the lack of a proper computer-equipped facility, and he said to me, “so how are you going to do the practical work – hand calculations?”

The chance was too good to be true, and I took it. “No,” I said, “We’ll be using abacuses[1].” I expected him to see through this straightaway, but he didn’t, so I gave him a few more chances. First I embellished my lie by telling him about the OH&S concerns – I even claimed a student had tripped over last year, in opposition to his objections that last year everyone was doing it – but then to make my lie more obvious, I told him that not only had I spent all of last week teaching myself how to use an abacus[2], but many of my students had been going to “soroban school” (soroban is Japanese for abacus) to prepare for my class. Now, soroban schools exist, but they are mainly for primary school students (and weirdos). I even told him this, to try and evoke the image of my students learning soroban with 10 year olds, but he still couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Then we had a long conversation about lack of communication between the departments who wanted the course to be run, and how you can do anything on an abacus. Finally I disabused him of the notion, rather than leave him thinking that the Tokyo University Medical School graduate stats course was being conducted on abacusciscci.

So, shall we grade my work? If you were the Professor of Cunning at Oxford University and I were your student, how would you rate me?

Degree of Difficulty: This was an academic I was talking to, an educated man skilled in seeing through the fog of misinformation to find the truth at the heart of any problem, no matter how complex. A grown man, to boot, who has traveled the world. Furthermore, a man who does statistical analysis in his own research. So, you’d think that fooling him would be a little challenging. Especially on something as basic as modern teaching procedure. So I rate this a 5 [depending on your view of academics, you might want to rate it a 1, or less, of course...]

Degree of Preposterousness: Anyone who doubts this task is preposterous should go away and try to do a generalized linear model on anything that isn’t an advanced computer. In the days of yore, the original statisticians had whole teams of young women (called “calculators”) whose job was to do the calculations required for basic multiple analysis of variance. The idea of constructing anything beyond a mean on an abacus is madness. So I give this a 4.5.

Degree of Success: Pretty close to perfect, so I give it a 4. I relented at the last though, and revealed the truth.

Overall rating: 21.25

fn1: is the plural of abacus abacuds? abaci? abacudipods?

fn2: This is a blatant lie too – abacudipods are hard to learn by oneself.

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, so I put up a fake report on a campaign I never ran using the Game That Shall Not Be Named. I appear to have fooled one otherwise quite perspicacious individual, so I figure I fooled a few other readers too.

So, how does this lie rate?

Degree of Difficulty: I think it should be quite difficult to fool your readers on April Fool’s Day on a blog with an ongoing series about how good a liar you are. So I’m giving this a 4.5.

Degree of Preposterousness: In this report I claimed to have played F.A.T.A.L. That’s pretty preposterous. Also I claimed to have played the Date Rape Game with a radical feminist, which is doubly preposterous – radical feminists don’t role play (that should be a badge!) and certainly not in this system. Furthermore I’m occasionally accused of being left-wing, so that should have rung some bells too. But then, on the other hand, I am known for a bit of infernalism, human sacrifice, etc. so maybe people thought this was consistent with such a gaming style. If so, I should hang my head in shame. But it was F.A.T.A.L., and I claimed to have GMd it – that’s preposterous. I’m giving this a 4.

Degree of Success: To be fair, only one person commented, so I can only assume that I fooled one person. But that’s still one more than should have, and it can safely be said that he left the scene fooled. However, my main aim was to get a few outraged comments that I could then deflate with this follow up post, so I think, sadly, I failed. I didn’t outrage enough people, which pretty much means I lost the internet. I’m giving this a 2.

Overall Rating:13.5 out of 25. Barely a pass. Better luck next year…

Could you lie to this little guy?

On Thursday night I had my farewell party, primarily filled with my partner’s co-workers, who have been good companions for the past year. Most of them know that I’m an inveterate liar, so I nevertheless considered announcing to them at the party that actually “the job in Tokyo was a lie and I’m not going, and this dinner party was held to reveal the secret to you.” This would have been doubly brilliant, since I would have used my reputation for deception-jokes to pull the mother of all deception jokes. Unfortunately I didn’t think my skills were up to it and anyway, if I succeeded they probably would have lynched me.

However, during dinner one of my partner’s colleagues, a Japanese-American “half” who speaks perfect English and Japanese – let’s call her Miss Accomplished for the purposes of this story – told me I look like a horse. Unable to let this pass, I responded by pointing out her resemblance to a puffer fish (in Japanese, fugu). This led, naturally, to a discussion of how I quite like puffer fish because I used to keep them. Miss Accomplished asked me where I kept them, and I told her that I kept them when I lived in Shimane Prefecture, three years ago. This is true – I had two very cute little freshwater puffer fish when I lived in Shimane prefecture, and they were cute.

So, then Miss Accomplished made the mistake of indicating surprise at this – presumably because I was in Shimane for only a year and a half, though I don’t know for sure – and asking me why?

To which I responded that Shimane Prefecture has a rule that all male residents under a certain age are required to keep puffer fish, in order to preserve a rare species of local puffer fish that is endangered. Miss Accomplished was stunned at this revelation, and asked me for more details about the law, whether all men have to keep them, etc. My partner watched all of this with mild amusement, since it was patently obvious what I was doing. Eventually, once I’d led Miss Accomplished far enough up the garden path to have her up to her neck in fertilizer, I revealed that the whole thing was a lie and Miss Accomplished, up until then thoroughly and completely taken in, slapped me.

It was worth it. So how do I rate this lie?

Degree of Difficulty: Given we had just been talking about how I’m a liar, and were surrounded by people who should know better, Miss Accomplishment herself knows I’m a liar, and was sober, and I was doing this in Japanese, I would give this a degree of difficulty of 4.5. However, I think Miss Accomplished might be religious, which indicates a natural susceptibility to bullshit, so I’m downgrading it to a 4.

Degree of Preposterousness: I think this is actually a pretty preposterous lie. It’s inconceivable that a government would try and pass such a law, could if they did, or would get anyone to follow it. But it’s particularly preposterous that it would only apply to men. So I rate this a 4.5.

Degree of Success: Completely believed, but she didn’t leave the scene unaware of the lie, so 4 out of 5.

Overall Rating: 17 out of 25. A good effort.

Gullible girls like drunken whales

In  a recent game report I mentioned that I have a singular talent for convincing people of the truth of outrageous lies, and gave the example there in a footnote of the time I convinced a friend that a hawk had carried off a baby at Matsue castle. This got me to thinking that I should start a new irregular series on this blog, in which I catalogue some of my more ridiculous lies. I manage to pull off a doozy on Wednesday, which is particularly admirable for having been conducted in Japanese, with a friend who already knows my reputation for outrageous fibs. So, without further ado, here is the lie of the Drunken Whale.

The Drunken Whale

So I was at a cute little izakaya with my friend Yumiko, and decided to have a single glass of sake (Japanese rice wine, that the Japanese call nihonshu). Perusing the menu I found they were selling suigei, 酔鯨, which happens to be a favourite of mine[1]. So I said to her, all innocent-like, “ooo, I’ll have the Drunken Whale!” Yumiko is an expert on sho-chu (Japanese vodka-like drinks) not nihonshu, so for some reason I can’t fathom she asked me “Is it special?”

Well … and that was all the encouragement I needed. I could have said “no, but I like it.” Instead I told her the story of how it is made, and she, silly sho-chu drinker, listened attentively and believed the lot…

Basically, when nihonshu is made it gets to a half-way point where the original rice ingredients have been reduced to a kind of mash[2]. It is at this point that suigei becomes special. Instead of simply pressing the juice from this mash into the next stage of the fermentation process, the suigei brewer does a special thing. Sheets of whale baleen[3] are laid over the barrels that the mash is to be filtered into, and then the mash is spooned on top and allowed to drip through the baleen into the barrels. As it passes through the hairs of the baleen it acquires a slight salty taste, and thus when you drink the final product you feel you can actually taste the sea.

The Response

Yumiko was amazed by the production process and said to me “Really! Can you taste the sea?!” When I began laughing at her gullibility, she threw her hand towel at me. The joy of this lie is that there is no such thing as a salty or sea-flavoured nihonshu (they’re classified in terms of sweet or dryness, like wine). So even a rudimentary objective assessment would have been suffiicent to show I was lying (not to mention – how valuable must baleen be??!!)

My Assessment

The main trick I used here was to weave together things we both know are true – the mash stage of the nihonshu process, the baleen of whales – to form a stupid, unbelievable whole. I further impressed Yumiko with my honesty by going off briefly on a tangent while we tried to work out what the word for baleen is – these sorts of tangents convince the listener of your honest intentions, since if you were just trying to tell a bald-faced lie you wouldn’t spend several minutes arguing over a word, would you? Then of course I finished it off with a credible but completely wrong culinary trick (“you can taste the sea”) which on one level adds to the believability (there was a reason for all this baleen-filtering) but on another completely undermines the story. So there are multiple tips that the story is false, but told earnestly on the spur of the moment, in connection with a drink I appear to know about, the lie comes together naturally and powerfully.

Degree of difficulty: I’d give it a 4.2 out of 5, because Yumiko was sober, she knows a bit about alcohol, she knows I’m a liar, and I was doing the whole thing in Japanese. But Yumiko is not naturally suspicious, so it wasn’t impossible.

Degree of preposterousness: I’d say it’s a 3.8 out of 5. Sure it’s stupid, but who knows what goes on in the making of craft beers and the like? If people can eat moldy cheese as a delicacy, than filtering wine through baleen isn’t completely beyond the pale.

Degree of success: Thoroughly believed, so 4 out 5. This rating gets a 4.5 if the victim is able to leave the scene of the lie still believing the story, and a 5 if next time you see them they still believe it.

Overall rating[4]: 16 out of 25

fn1: Yes, I’ve become the kind of wanker who is beginning to understand differences in taste between brands of nihonshu, and has favourites, and calls it nihonshu rather than sake. You’ll find me at the end of the bar, without a girl.

fn2: I learnt this from reading a wall at the town of Hita when I visited there for a lantern festival.

fn3: Neither Yumiko nor I know the Japanese for this, and for good reason – the characters for it are very weird, but I think it basically means “whale beard.” And baleen whales are classed as “beard whales.”

fn4: Calculated as the average of difficulty and preposterousness, multiplied by outcome. Scores over 20 are going to be extremely hard to achieve.

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