The Efficiency of Filing into a Lecture Hall

I love doing short little thought experiments and trying to solve problems that seem not important, but are interesting nonetheless. This problem has arisen from sitting in many lecture halls at USC and noticing how labor intensive finding a seat is. Just imagine, you walk into the hall, where the back row of seats are aligned and you beginning walking forward. You find your friend in the middle of all the seats, maybe five rows from the front. They have already reserved a spot for you, and so you feel obligated to sit there, but between you and the seat are loads of people already seated. Your only option is to force everyone in that row to uncomfortably stand up so that you can wiggle yourself through to your friend.

While the system we have naturally gravitated towards leads itself to little brain power, I’ve gotten too fed up to see that it is inefficient. The conventional system is a time-consuming mess that favors entropy over organization. While the system that I will propose is nothing more than a simple gesture towards a more utilitarian society, I believe it would reduce the time required to fill a lecture hall. However, before I will delve into my solution, I would like to recognize the fact that efficiently filling a lecture hall has already been attempted. Usually, a single file line is formed and people fill up the row in the front, then when that row is completely filled, the second row funnels in, until the whole lecture hall is filled. Now, this “Single-Filing” system does seem to add organization and reduces time, but it is better by just a little.

Usually a lecture hall consists of one massive block of seats in the center, bordered by walkways and on its sides reside smaller flanks of seats. If it’s hard to picture a normal lecture hall, here is a diagram:lecture-hall-1


Now, the traditional way of filling up the lecture hall starts at the front and fills up until the back is full. The diagram below, illustrates this.lecture-hall-2

But my proposal, is that lecture halls be filled from the center outward, putting favorability in the first rows, until they fill up. It basically looks like a semi-circle with its center at in the middle of the first row. What is interesting about this set-up, is that there is more than one entry point to grab a seat. If this is hard to visualize, below is a diagram.lecture-hall-3

The colors represent what seats should be designated first priority to be filled, meaning that the redder a color is, the faster it should be taken. The flanks should be filled, but in accordance to a quarter of a circle, with its center at the corner seats. This design would be crucial in filling up a lecture hall efficiently because, as opposed to the “Single File” method, there ae multiple entry points. In the photo above, there are actually 16 entry points, whereas the other method has only 4. That’s at least four times more entry points, and that’s a big thing to note. I believe that the single file forces a slow drip of people sitting down one by one. That’s what takes time, but since this takes into account that at any one point 16 people are sitting down. This naturally forces the line to increase its speed.

What’s important to realize is how easy this method would be to implement. To organize, all you would have to place is the “Seed” student, the one in the center of the semi-circle. Then you would just tell your students to sit as close to that person as possible. Naturally, everyone would congregate in a semi-circle fashion, as every point on a circle is its closest point.

It would work very well if the only goal is to fill the hall as quickly as possible. However, this method doesn’t take into account friends sitting next to each other, nor does it account for the best possible seat for students’ view. If the hall were only partially filled, there would be seats open that are closer to the front of the hall, and thus unfortunate for the people placed on the outer radius of the semi-circle.

As opposed to the random scattering of seats being filled, this method would be far superior and take little effort to implement. While, I haven’t taken any measurements on exact numbers, I do believe it would fare well under practical testing.

Just something to think about.


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