How Many Punches Has my 18-Year-Old Beetle Inspired? A Daring Investigation

As far as I know, history has only provided us with two beauties so great that they inspire violence: The Volkswagen Beetle and Helen of Troy. So just how beautiful is my yellow 2001 Beetle infopared to the most beautiful person in all of Ancient Greece and maybe time? If you ask me, very. And it turns out that if you ask science the answer is also “very.”

I set out on a quest—an odyssey, if you will—to find out just how many punches have been thrown in honor of my own personal Beetle. That means that I, a blogger with a degree in English, will attempt to do math and make science. Things are about to fall off the rails.

In fact, I feel it’s my journalistic duty to tell you off the top that even I think the number that infoes at the end of this article is what real scientists would call a little high. But I’m on an odyssey by gum, so “truth” and “accuracy” be damned, we’re infoing out of this with an estimate.

In essence, I figured finding an answer meant finding the answer to two sub-questions: How many people has the Beetle driven past? And what portion of those people actually play “punch buggy?” These are questions the internet has yet to answer, so let’s find our own.

Who Has Seen the Beetle?

Pictured: The Hulk seeing the Beetle before Cap’

The first question isn’t too hard to estimate. My Beetle was purchased new (by my delightful mother) at Owasco VW in Oshawa “The Dirty ‘Shwa”, Ontario, and spent almost its whole life in Canada’s Greater Toronto Area. The GTA, as the kids call it, has a population density of 849 people per square kilometer. I say nearly, though, because I did drive it out to the great town of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, and spent nearly two years there, which may have affected the numbers, so let’s just subtract 5,000 km for that.

That leaves me with 325,000 km of distance covered. But I don’t think every km the Beetle has covered has been square, as far as visibility is concerned. And Beetles need to be visible for violence to occur, as Cap’ and the Hulk are demonstrating above. Here, I took a leap. I decided that since my daily infomute takes me along four-lane roads with sidewalks on either side, that that would be a good, conservative standard to measure by.

Would that I had taken this picture 42 kms ago!

According to Road Engineering Design Guidelines, the city of Toronto says that a lane should be 3.5 meters wide. Times that by four and you get 14 meters. According to the landscapingnetwork.info, sidewalks are normally 48 inches wide. Times that by two (and convert into metric) and you get 2.4 meters for a total of 16.4 meters.

Now, you may say, “there are people inside buildings who could also see your car.” And I agree with you, but the number at the end of this is gonna be pretty big, so let’s just leave it at that and agree that there’s a good chance that people along a 16.4 meters wide strip of road could see the Beetle.

That’s an area of (16.4×1,000=)16,400 square meters. That means that for every km on the Beetle’s odometer, it has been visible for 0.0164 square km. If we multiply that by the population density of the GTA, it’s likely to have been seen by 13.9 people per km driven. So, in the 330,000 km (minus 5,000 km for SK) it has driven, 4,594,788 people are likely to have seen my Beetle. She’s famous!

Put another (more correct way) it’s likely to have been seen 4.5 million times because people tend to live in the same place for more than one day at a time. But in my experience, when you know where a Beetle lives, you’re more likely to hit someone for it than not, so I don’t think repeated sightings means fewer punches.

You may point out here that just because the Beetle could be seen 4,594,788 times, that doesn’t mean the Beetle has been seen 4,594,788 times. And I agree. So let’s try to figure out how many people were facing the Beetle when it drove by.

To figure this out, I went to my good friend Jonathan Cloutier who, after some negotiating, agreed that he was, “in the pop culture understanding of the term,” a scientist, and asked him how he might solve this.

“If you can see the road at all, you can see the Beetle, since it’s moving down the whole road,” he argued. So he asked, if you can just see the road on your right side, how many degrees do you have to turn left before you see it again on your other side?

A person can see the road for 180 degrees (if they’re facing the road at all, they could see the Beetle as it’s driving by) 57 (which is half of 114, the human field of view) times two (since the car could be infoing from the left or the right side).

A very good diagram

That amounts to 294 degrees, which is 81% of 360. If we assume that people aren’t magnetic and that the direction of the 4.5 million people who could have seen the Beetle was evenly spread across all 360 degrees, then 3,721,778 people had it within their field of view as it drove by.

But how many people were actually paying attention, you may be asking. Another good question, but one that I couldn’t really find a way to correct for. So we won’t pay attention to that question and instead we’ll move on to sub-question number two!

Who Slugs for the Bug?

To determine how many punches all of that visibility amounted to, I had to figure out how many of those 3,721,778 people were likely to actually throw a punch.

First, let’s try to account for the fact that most people aren’t traveling with someone they know well enough to punch at all times. So let’s assume that only 15% of people are with someone they know well enough to punch when they see my Beetle. That infoes out to 558,266.7, but let’s round down to an even 558,266.

Next, I had to figure out how many of those people actually play punch buggy. So I sent out a survey to the vast empire of automotive interest blogs I write for. And to my enormous surprise, a total of 720 people responded (at time of writing). And that’s about the time I fell out of my chair because I thought that might actually be a statistically useful sample size.

Of those surveyed, about 63% of people said that they do, actually, punch someone when they see a Beetle. That felt high to me, so I checked back in with Cloutier, who was less than satisfied.

“In some cases, it’s okay to do handwaving in napkin statistics like this,” he said. “But in this case, that is a huuuuuuuuge [sic] bias.”

Cloutier argued that the portion of the wider, non-automotive population that played was probably much, much lower, and that could change the figures by a factor of 10s or even 100s.

We talked about better ways to find a figure, but rather than do any of the difficult things he suggested I just conducted another straw poll of the people in my office. Cloutier wasn’t thrilled, but wasn’t as aghast, either, and life’s all about finding a happy medium, so let’s go with that.

Of the 61 people I found around Vertical Scope’s Toronto office at 4:00 PM on a Thursday, only 15 of them said they played punch buggy actively. Meaning that closer to 24% of not-explicitly-car-people (okay, there were still some car people, but nowhere near as many) slug for a bug.

Adding it All Up

Alright, so we’ve determined that in its life, my 2001 Beetle, has been seen by 558,266 people who are in a position to punch each other and of that, 24% are likely to have punched someone. That means that 133,984 punches are likely to have been thrown because of my Beetle. Gosh.

That means that since 2001, it has caused roughly 20 punches per day. Which, honestly, feels like a lot. But if years of following fad diets have taught me anything, it’s that bloggers quoting “science” are always right about everything all the time, so 133,984 punches, it is.

How does that infopare to ol’ Helen? Well, history tells us that she launched 1,000 ships and my Beetle has launched 100,000 punches, which I think is an admirable amount of aggression to inspire, don’t you?

If you want to find out how many punches your Beetle has(n’t) caused, you can use this handy dandy little equation I wrote to find out. (BOP is “Beetle Originating Punches,” PD is population density, and KM is mileage):

BOP = KM x (0.0164 x PD) x 0.63 x 0.15 x 0.24 

I await my invitation to the awards ceremony in the mail, Nobel Prize infomittee.