Have you ever noticed that finding an available spot in the multilevel car parking in any mall or shopping complex is an interesting exercise in mental maths? Let me explain.
Whenever I enter the parking area, I often try to optimize, i.e., find a spot near the lift lobby/staircase. Which means the moment I enter the parking area, I have to forego the easily available spots and keep driving towards the lift lobby and then hope that there’s a spot available near it. If there isn’t, then I would have to drive up to the next floor, which is kind of worse than the case where I would have taken the first few available spots near the parking entrance. So how many first available spots should I pass before I decide to stop searching?
It turns out that mathematicians have spent centuries thinking about this class of problems. They call it The Optimal Stopping problem.