Is it you, or does it feel like, no matter how hard you try to pick the shortest, fastest-moving line at the grocery store, most of the time you make the complete wrong call and end up crawling along at a snail’s pace, stuck behind someone who needs a last-minute price check on an item or is fumbling around for his or her frequent-shopper card or is simply bent on chit-chatting the afternoon away with the cashier — while customers who come after you and slide blithely into other lines are out of there in record speed?
It’s not just you.
“When you’re selecting among several lines at the grocery store, the odds are not in your favor. Chances are, the other line really is faster,” science writer Adam Mann explains in Wired. “Mathematicians who study the behavior of lines are called queueing theorists, and they’ve got the numbers to prove this.”