Mission Impossible: In Search of Strangers in New York City

ByABC News
March 15, 2006, 9:58 PM

March 16, 2006 — -- New York City is a colossal urban beehive, and the perfect setting for a fascinating game about human behavior.

"Primetime" set up a seemingly impossible challenge for six pairs of people in different locations all over Manhattan: Try to find the other couples -- all complete strangers -- with no clues or additional information, just $100 to spend as they wished.

As daunting as the game appears, Yale economics professor Barry Nalebuff doesn't think the players are on a fool's errand. In his classes, he teaches game theory, which uses math to describe and even predict how people will behave in a whole range of situations.

"It [game theory] is the science of strategy. It's recognizing that the success of what you do depends on what other people do," Nalebuff said.

John Nash, the mathematician featured in the movie "A Beautiful Mind," won the Nobel Prize for his work in game theory, proving there's a way for everyone in a group to be happy with the outcome.

Nalebuff says "Primetime's" challenge is an experiment in common perceptions. "Can I think about what you are thinking that I'll do? Can I put myself in your shoes as you are trying to put yourself in my shoes?"

The 12 people, divided into pairs, were set down in different parts of the city.

The teams are initially stumped, but then they start brainstorming, trying to think of common ground. All six teams begin thinking of landmarks and transportation hubs: the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, Penn Station, Times Square.

David and Anthony hit the nail on the head: "They're trying to think of what we would do, and we are trying to think of what they would do," said David.