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Walter Reich wrote in a column from Washington: I’m a man of bad habits, one of which is reading the newspaper while eating. Since I don’t have time for either activity, each one provides a good excuse for the other. The result is that I eat too much, and probably read too much, with the deep pollution of mind and body that those excesses cause.


The other day, spreading my newspaper across the empty counter at the local Drug Fair, I asked the waitress for a cup of coffee. Large, I specified. The company had recently supplied cups that were larger than the old ones, but kept the price of a cup the same. I like coffee (another bad habit) and had learned to ask for the larger cup. Otherwise, I’d be given the smaller one, which was in greater supply.


The waitress, who was not the usual one serving my favorite counter bay, said that there was no point specifying the larger cup. “They’re both the same,” she said. “They hold the same amount of coffee.” She seemed annoyed; others customers, too, had been rejecting her small coffee cups.


Now, I respect experts, and that waitress was certainly an expert in coffee and cups. And I remember how many times I’ve been fooled by optical illusions. So, responsible scientist that I am, I proposed a test. “Could you fill the large cup with water?” I asked the waitress.


She complied but filled it only three-quarters full. I poured the water into a small cup, quickly filling it to the brim. I tipped the large cup to show her the water remaining at its bottom. She made no effort to look.


“They’re not the same,” I said triumphantly. “They are to me,” she replied.


Stubborn man that I am (another bad habit), I proceeded to pour the rest of the large cup’s water into the already-full small cup, flooding her counter and my newspaper. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” “What do you mean, nothing? You’re pouring water all over the place!”


“No, I’m not,” I said, continuing to pour. “There’s no water coming out. It all went into the small cup. Unless you’re wrong; unless the cups aren’t the same.” ‘They are to me,” she said, glowering, as she wiped up the spill and reality with it.

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