Walking the streets by the WTC, using a coin-toss as your guide

Gavin sez, "I just finished a project that I think might interest you: living a block away from the World Trade Center site after 9/11, I re-explored lower Manhattan by leaving my house, flipping a coin at every intersection to determine my route. After exactly one hour, I would stop and take a photograph of where I was. I did 48 of these walks. The '48 Hours from Ground Zero' project resided at an interesting intersection of emotion and binary options; I found that through randomness, I was rewiring my memories. Much later, I found out that other people call what I was doing 'psychogeography.'"

48 Hours from Ground Zero (Thanks, Gavin!)


  1. I let a coin flip guide me around DC on my first trip there back in the 80’s – it is a great way to explore, wish I had thought to take photos

  2. Interesting how randomness can get you into interesting places. In numerical mathematics this is called a Monte Carlo method. Luke Rheinhart wrote The Dice Man a novel about a man who would let the roll of a dice determine every decision for him. In a similar vein, I’m convinced that this is why the I-Ching is so effective. Nothing mystical, just a random piece out of 64 pieces of good advice mixed with your own thoughts helps to keep your thoughts about the matter at hand original.

    1. Psychogeography it most definitely is! I recommend Michel de Certau’s The Practice of Everyday Life for you and others interested in these concepts: it’s one of the best theoretical and practical books ever, an epochal text that any maker or aspiring technogeek needs to read, or at least consult.

      The photo above is quite beautiful and haunting, BTW. Good stuff, Gavin person!

  3. Ok, I’m obviously missing something, but when I come to an intersection, there seem to be 3 possibilities: turn left, right or go straight ahead (or even 4, if you count turning around and going back the way you came). So how does a single coin flip let you decide? Or is going gaily forward not an option?

    1. how does a single coin flip let you decide

      The author explains:

      Heads means left, tails means right. If it’s a four-way intersection, then two heads means left, two tails means right, and one heads and one tails means keep going straight.

      My personal favourite method is to pick a person (or vehicle) ahead of me, and turn in the opposite direction to them/it.

  4. I’ve done the same thing when a group of co-workers can’t come up with a decision about where to eat. one flip for straight or turn, one flip for left or right if you turn.

    eventually you narrow your options to the point that a decision becomes easier.

  5. Sorry, wrong thread. Somewhere, though, I have an old Mac Powerbook with a program called Walking Bigi,” written by someone inspired by bolo’bolo, a Swiss description of a utopia of communities no bigger than 400 people. It would make a good app now for psychogeographers with iPhones.

  6. In the old days, we called this a “penny hike”, and it was a nice way to get a troop of urban girl scouts out and about. We stuck with a simple left/right choice at every intersection, though.

  7. Gavin, you should check out the annual Conflux Festival in NYC, the “art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space”. I think you’d really be into it. If you wanted to submit to re-walk this project with a group, it would fit the festival perfectly.

  8. I explored Geenwich Village in New York City with some friends by following the walk signals on the crosswalks. If the sign said walk, we walked. we had no idea where we were. It was awesome. And we saw some great cafés and shops…

    Thumbs up for randomness.

  9. So this is a biased random walk in 2-D, where the probabilities are not all equal.

    In 1-D, a random walker will eventually (probability 1) return to his starting point. In 3-D, there is a probability that he never will, even if he takes infinitely many steps. I don’t know the answer for 2-D though. If this walker walked forever, not just an hour, would he be certain of eventually getting home?

  10. My wife and I did coin-flip walks sometimes years ago, when we lived in San Francisco. However, we enjoyed it more when we constrained the game: at each intersection, each of us would pick a direction, and we’d take the path chosen by the coin flip winner.

  11. I love the “literature received” portion of his log. :) Wish there were more pictures.

    jasoneppink, this totally sounds like a Conflux project.

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