2554: Gift Exchange
Title text: In addition to having all their budgets in a spreadsheet with consistent formatting, they just love expressing preferences on a well-calibrated numerical scale.
In December, white elephant gift exchange parties are popular, in which party-goers bring and exchange presents, via a variety of procedures which often involve individuals taking turns to pick a present. Usually they can either pick a wrapped present and open it, or take a present that someone else has opened already.
Many political scientists think that creating a fair gift exchange is a really tricky problem, since it involves different valuation of various goods (one person might like socks while another person would not), a possible incentive to misrepresent how much you value things ("You're going to have to offer me a LOT to give up these socks, because I really like them"), arbitrary order effects (who goes first matters), and more. These problems have a lot of political analogues in the political science topics of social choice theory and mechanism design, and many political scientists dedicate years of their life to figuring out the best solutions. Therefore, a political scientist would enjoy the challenge of creating a fair gift exchange; it is the best gift that Ponytail could have given them.
The scenario Ponytail presents is formally known as a fair item allocation problem, for which there are various approaches to how to define fair, and various proposed allocation algorithms, some of which are computationally intractable even for small numbers of participants.
The fact that the family loves surveys implies that a favourite method of political scientists, surveying the electorate, would be greatly appreciated. The "It's okay if it's complicated" line is funny because many of the theoretically best solutions a political scientist might come up with would be very complicated--far more so than the typical person would want to think about.
In the title text, having well-formatted budgets makes a scientist's job much easier since it is better for data manipulation. In the same way, expressing preferences on a well-calibrated numerical scale makes data manipulation simple and straightforward. Therefore, Ponytail's scenario is an excellent gift for the political scientist. It also extends the humorous scenario of the nerdy family who enjoy filling in complex surveys - the same family would be likely to enjoy a well-formatted budget spreadsheet.
- [Ponytail is talking to Cueball.]
- Ponytail: Ugh, I have to organize a fair gift exchange for my survey-loving family.
- Ponytail: Do you want to help?
- Ponytail: They said it's "okay if it's complicated."
- [Caption below the panel:]
- The perfect gift for a political scientist