Mom, the Wizard of Oz and Popcorn

Saundra wrote:

I texted my sister to tell her that the Wizard of Oz was on television.  She responded to me by saying she remembered that when we were younger, my mother would fix popcorn and sit with us to watch the movie.  I told her that I remembered that as well.

My sister was at my dad’s house and had ordered Chinese food for dinner.

While we were having the conversation via text, she opened her fortune cookie and that is when she discovered the word “popcorn”.  She then posted it on Facebook and made the comment about our experience and said “we miss you” referring to my mother.


The random fortune cookie message crossed Saundra’s sister’s mind while Saundra was watching the Wizard of Oz. Saundra and her sister were surprised and grateful. Something special had just happened.

How do we begin to understand this coincidence? Let’s start with base rate.

Base rate refers to the frequency of a certain event. Base rate questions for this coincidence include:

How often did Saundra’s sister open fortune cookies? How many fortune cookie messages have “popcorn” on them?  How often did Saundra and her sister watch other movies and eat popcorn with their mother? How often do Saundra and her sister text each other? (Without texting, the coincidence would not have been recognized because Saundra texted her sister about the Wizard of Oz being on.)

The more often each of these events took place, the more probable the coincidence.

But base rates only set up the likelihood of coincidences. They do not fully explain them.

The two meanings of this coincidence (effect and explanation):

The effect on Saundra and her sister was a feeling of connection with their mother.

Their explanation seemed to be that their mother had something to do with creating the coincidence.

How you explain this coincidence may depend on your favorite theory.  The explanation would have to include why the two sisters were texting at that time.

Can a coincidence happen and nobody notices?

This story shows us that a coincidence can happen without anyone noticing. Saundra was watching the Wizard of Oz and her sister was staring at the popcorn message. If they had not been texting, neither would have noticed the coincidence. Their texting put the key elements of the coincidence together: Mom, the Wizard of Oz and Popcorn

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