The Picayune Rules

  • Heads means left, tails means right. If it’s a four-way intersection (as you often get in Manhattan’s grid, although less reliably down in the financial district), then two heads means left, two tails means right, and one heads and one tails means keep going straight. (Turning around and backtracking is never an option, although one can easily end up going around the block and then reversing course.) Since there’s a fifty-percent chance of going straight at a four-way intersection, once I start going in a particular direction, I have a tendency to keep going in that same direction.
  • Five-way intersections are easier: I flip the coin twice for the four other options (again, never turning back). With more than that, I decide which four routes are closest, and flip among those.
  • It’s okay to go into parks, housing projects, pedestrian plazas, and other public areas. I stay out of places of business, private homes, and subway stations. If I end up in a park without clearly delineated paths, I just walk along the perimeter. I don’t deliberately go into dead ends.
  • When I cross the street, I don’t flip the coin again: I keep going in the direction that I just determined. If there’s a possible egress across the street (but there’s no crosswalk), jaywalking is not an option (unless there’s basically zero traffic).
  • I started off by carrying a pedometer and tracking the number of steps I took, but found that (a) when the pedometer worked, the distance walked in an hour was almost always about the same (b) the pedometer malfunctioned too often to be useful.
  • Some of this requires judgment calls (what counts as an entrance to a playground?); I just try to stay reasonably consistent.