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The Evil Gas Pump

Can you spot the deceit in the following picture of a gas pump?

Picture of gas pump with numbers confusingly switched around

The expectation of the user is that the three grades of gas will be arranged from least expensive to most expensive; the middle button should be the middle price. The order is jumbled, however: 89 87 93, with the least expensive option misleadingly placed in the middle. If you meant to buy the least expensive gas and you press the button farthest to the left, you've actually selected a more expensive grade. (Would you be comfortable if the controls in a nuclear power plant or an airplane cockpit were arranged this way?)

Notice also that the two grades at the ends are marked with brighter colors to catch your eye, while the cheapest one is in a subdued black which doesn't attract attention. You take a glance and perceive something like 89 XX 93; then you mentally fill in the missing parts of the pattern to think "cheaper prices are to the left." Obviously, somebody doesn't want you to notice that middle price and catch on to the ruse. Not surprisingly, the big sign out by the road has the prices in the proper order, with the cheapest price prominently placed at the top.

As you pay at the pump with your credit card, the LCD display asks "CAR WASH? [YES] [NO]". The order of the buttons, however, is [NO] [YES]. If you mean to press NO, you might easily accidentally press YES because of the reversed order, thus paying for a car wash which you didn't mean to order.

There ought to be a law.

Last updated 31 May 2010