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It all depends on where you look

Writing about four-leaf clovers, Steven Levitt says, “I’ve been looking my whole life and never found one.” This reminds me that when I was a kid, my sister Susie and I used to find them in the backyard all the time. We’d also occasionally find siamese dandelions (one stalk, two heads) that we’d put on our older sister’s bed to freak her out. Much later, Susie told me that our land was on some sort of former waste dump and so we (along with the clovers and dandelions) were probably being poisoned.

The New York version of this story: several years ago I was standing on the subway platform, and I offhandedly said to my companion, Hey, let’s look for rats. We looked, and, indeed, there was a rat. I mean, I knew that there were rats in the subway–I’ve occasionally even seen them on the platform–but I didn’t know they could be summoned at will in this way.


  1. John says:

    So…if you live on a former landfill you'll have good luck?

  2. C. Zorn says:

    Interestingly, the rats thing doesn't work in the DC metro. But you can do more or less the same thing by saying "Hey, let's look for Republicans." :-)

  3. minyu says:

    It reminds me of oxalis corniculata, a common plan in China taht looks like clovers. The oxalis corniculata I found were all 3-leaf. When I was a kid, I always ate the stem (which is edible and tastes a little bit bit sour), and played with the pods (the seeds will jump out with just a little press from me, very funny).

  4. ZBicyclist says:

    It depends on what you are primed to pay attention for. Try this test:

  5. Phil says:

    I knew a guy in college, Dan, who could spot four-leaf clovers while walking normally. Once, I was jogging across a field with him and he suddenly said "whoa, whoa, wait up", stopped, backtracked a bit, and picked up a four-leaf clover that he had seen while we trotted along. Must be some kind of idiot-savant kind of thing, except he wasn't an idiot (or, for that matter, a savant).

  6. John says:


    Maybe my monitor isn't top quality, 'cos I still can't see a bear. In my neighborhood, cyclists are generally easy to spot, however, if one just keeps an eye out for people trying to kill themselves by running stop lights & stop signs. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.