How To Lose At Doing the Dishes

How to Lose At Doing Dishes

A Short Story by Andrew Albers

Hello. My name is Andrew, and I live in a house with three other guys. None of us particularly like doing dishes, but we all agree: they need to get done.

Our house operates under a system where the responsibility for dishes rotates on a daily basis. If you do all of the dishes for the day, you move the little silver button on the refrigerator, and it becomes the next person’s responsibility to do dishes for the next day. If you don’t do the dishes for the day, no one flogs you or beats you with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel when you fall asleep on the couch (as I often do), but the dishes do continue to pile up until you’re done them.

Now, in my spare time, I’ve been formulating a plan to lose at the dish game, operating within the rules of the system.

Of course, there are small ways to lose—such as getting dishes on a day when there’s been a house party, or someone decides to cook … a lot. This is just part of the game, however, and it’s hard to plan to lose this way.

Another great way to lose would be simply to never do the dishes. Unfortunately, this would eventually mean that, after a while, YOU wouldn’t have clean dishes to use, either. Also, the other three might get annoyed and beat you with soap the next time you fall asleep on the couch (as I often do).

But the best way to lose at doing the dishes is like this: only do 5 dishes or so per day. Assuming that everyone, all together, generates around 8 dishes per day, this ensures that 1) everyone still has some clean dishes to use and 2) you never have to do more than 5 dishes per day. On no one day are you ever required to spend more than 5 minutes doing dishes. Instead of doing 10 minutes worth of dishes, every four days, you can distribute this 10 minutes, almost indefinitely, at a rate of 5 minutes per day. This keeps the roommates happy, too—they never have to do the dishes!

This strategy does have its limitations, however: once all the dishes in the house are dirty, your roommates start to give you the stink-eye, conspire against you when you’re not around, and start stocking up on soap. THEN, you have to do not just 5 or 8 dishes, but every dish in the house, which is the ultimate lose!

After using this strategy for about three weeks, now, I can assure you: it really works! Even though I do substantially more dishes than anyone else, the kitchen is always a mess, and my roommates still complain about me not doing the dishes. If losing is the new winning … boy am I winning!

Like every game, doing the dishes has dominant strategies. I hope this short guide has been helpful. If you ever find yourself being a glutton for punishment and wanting to lose really badly at the dish game, just refer back to this guide.


In other news, grading papers (as a T.A.) can get to be monotonous after a while. Every once in a while, though, you find an answer that breaks the monotony, such as having a student list “probable liver failure” after “tuition” and “opportunity cost of not having a job” as a “cost” of attending college.

I found another particularly good one this afternoon. When asked to “provide a description of what the apartment market will be like as a result of the price ceiling,” most students responded something like “there will be a housing shortage” or “the quantity of apartments demanded will be greater than apartments supplied.” One student, however, wrote that “the market will be crazy & one huge fight between people looking & waiting for an apartment.

Boy, if that’s not a perfect description of a market shortage– I don’t know what is. =)

About Mark Egge

Transportation planner-adjacent data scientist by day. YIMBY Shoupista on a bicycle by night. Bozeman, MT. All opinions expressed here are my own.
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4 Responses to How To Lose At Doing the Dishes

  1. markegge says:

    Ha ha ha! It’s true, too!

    Andrew came home and saw the story I had written by him on the refrigerator. He said, “don’t worry! I’m going to do the dishes now!” … And then proceeded to unload the dishwasher, rearrange a few of the dishes on the counter … and then, five minutes later, he left!

  2. BrianEgge says:

    Sounds like a good opportunity to apply game theory:

    Unfortunately, most game theory is aimed at only two persons, and gets exponentially complex as you add additional people to the equation. Generally, with many situations you can align get the players into two camps or alliances, and then typical game theory can be combined. For example, tit-for-tat can often work quite well with two people. If the other person does their dishes, then you do your. If they don\\’t do their dishes, you don\\’t do any dishes.
    If a third person is added, your \\’tat may punish or reward a different player than the last person to play. For this reason, you want to align the third person with either you or the other player.

    Here\\’s a good book on game theory:

    Game theory seems to be best applied to games, as real life applications vary. For example, game theorist during the cold war basically said the best move was a preemptive, unprovoked attack, with the hope of wiping out the opponents second strike capability. However, since then, theorist have realized there are finite and infinite games. A finite game is deciding that you and a friend are going to play a prank on the last day of school. An infinite game is planning a budget in a marriage. A finite game optimizes for the single occurrence, while and infinite game is optimized so that you can play again another day.

  3. Sagar1586 says:

    Off a slight tangent Brian, I was wondering if you’d read The Game. If not, you should breeze through it over xmas, as Mark still has my copy. Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

  4. markegge says:

    I’ve actually done some game theory this fall in my Micro class.

    I’m not quite sure how I’d set that up in to a game, though. The problem is that Andrew’s disutility associated with doing dishes is so high that his dominant strat is always going to be “don’t do them.” And, unfortunately, my utility for having the dishes done is less than my cost to do the dishes every day (but is greater than doing the dishes every other day…). So, even if I apply some game theory, the Nash Eq. is at “don’t do / don’t do,” even though we would both gain more if Andrew would just do his dishes.