It is a truth universally acknowledged that people dislike peeing next to each other.
Ok, maybe it’s just a Western thing. Or an American thing. Or a thing for people with large senses of personal space. But no matter what, there is a little dance you do when you go into a multi-stall bathroom. You casually glance (no bending over to check, that’s rude) to see if other stalls are occupied, and if so, how many. If no other stalls are occupied, you pick your favorite stall, maybe because it’s the one that always has toilet paper, maybe it’s the one with a slower automatic flush, maybe it’s got interesting graffiti. Do your thing, come out and all is well (please don’t forget to wash your hands!).
However, what if other stalls are occupied? Then, quick math takes over. You need to pick the stall that is the furthest from other people’s pooping. Sometimes this is easy and you can pick a stall two over, with a single stall barrier in between you and your peeing partner. Sometimes it’s harder. Of course when it reaches maximum capacity you just take whichever one is free, but that mid-capacity occupation is a delicate balance.
And it’s about this time that you begin to wonder…what is the POINT of all this. Most bathrooms are tile, so it’s not like whatever sounds you make will be muffled in any particular stall. Unless you are master of the silent pee, someone will know you’re peeing. And…why does that even MATTER? You’re in the BATHROOM!! What else would you be doing?! (Don’t answer that…).
And of course, I’m a GIRL. Apparently this problem is magnified for men. I have been informed via Twitter that it’s more than just an issue of homophobia or space…
So there you have it. Homophobia, personal space, and “splashback”. Yep. Suffice it to say the Twitter hilarity continued, but we’ve got science to get to.
Anyway, it turns out that men will go to great lengths in partially occupied restrooms to make sure there is adequate urinal spacing between peeing patrons. They will do this SO carefully…that some guys wrote a paper about it. With algorithms and models.
(From XKCD, who basically covered this paper…only with less complicated math. Check it out. It’s AWESOME)
Kranakis and Krizanc. “The Urinal Problem” Proceedings of the 5th international conference on Fun with algorithms, 2010.