How Mega Millions changed the game so everyone gets rich — except you

[A] recent rule change has made it harder for anyone to win the estimated $450 million jackpot (or $281 million if you opt for the cash buyout).

Mega Millions (and Powerball, whose Saturday-night jackpot now stands at $570 million) discovered that when the jackpot grows to an absurdly high figure, even skeptical players will buy tickets (New York Lottery’s commission tagline: “Hey, You Never Know”). Kelly Tabor, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Lottery, called them “jackpot chasers” in August.

Tabor also said customers wanted more chances to win smaller prizes. In response, both Powerball and Mega Millions tweaked their formulas.

Reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize. But raising the number of Mega balls makes it harder to win the jackpot.

“Starting jackpots will more than double from $15 million to $40 million, and jackpots will grow faster overall. There will be better odds to win $1 million prizes and higher secondary prizes,” the multi-state lottery said in a release.

Alex Horton, Washington Post, January 5, 2018

Luck is real. And it shapes your worldview in a powerful way.

In his new book What the Luck? The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives, Smith, a professor of economics at Pomona College in southern California, explains that once you grasp what regression to the mean is and stop underestimating the role of luck in your life, you’ll look at things in an entirely new light.

“People tend to overreact to things because they think they’re permanent, when in fact they are temporary,” Smith said.

It happens in business, too: People overreact to the stock market when a good earnings report is announced and a company’s stock price jumps up — and when the price falls after one bad quarter.

“You have to find out for sure if it’s a fluke,” Smith said. “The more data we have, the better idea we have.”

The key is not to overreact — to anything, really. Everything that happens is just one more data point. 

Catherine Garcia, The Week, October 19, 2016

How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket

For anyone who has ever had to stand in line (or if you are a New Yorker, you stand on line) at a supermarket, retailer, bank or anywhere else, here are some tips from experts for picking the line that will move the fastest.

Get behind a shopper who has a full cart

Go left for faster service

Study the customers ahead and what they are buying

Choose a single line that leads to several cashiers

Christopher Mele, New York Times, September 7, 2016

Minor leaguer hits grand slam, breaks his own windshield

Want To Make Better Predictions? Researchers Explore How

She divided volunteers at random into groups. She gave both groups the track records of teams, and she asked one group to simply predict who won the next game. Then she asked people in the other group to think about the details of game. What’s the final score? How’s the pitcher going to perform? And then, who’s going to win? People who focused on the details were less likely to call the correct winner than those who didn’t think about all the details involved in the prediction.

People are not very good at weighing different details in a prediction.

Rather than try to think about all the circumstances surrounding this present attempt to complete the assignment, I’ll just say, well, how long has it taken me to complete similar assignments in the past? In general, that’s a better way to make predictions because there’s all kinds of reasons why thinking through the details of the case at hand can lead you astray.

Shankar Vedantum, NPR, September 1, 2016

Brookville Middle Students play egg roulette to learn probability

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) Brookville Middle school teachers taught their students a lesson in probability they won’t forgeT by getting raw eggs smashed on their heads!

In order to teach independent and dependent probability, the teachers used a carton of eggs. some were hard-boiled and others, raw.

In a game of egg roulette, students got to choose eggs to smash on the teachers’ heads while doing an exercise to determine the probability if the egg would be raw or hard boiled.

As they went through the game, they determined the changing probability.

The first teacher to have two raw eggs on their head lost.

“We want our kids to really internalize this so when they’re facing a situation where probability is key, they don’t only remember it but they also understand it,” said Math Teacher Stephanie Belotte.

Katie Brooke,, April 14, 2016

Random things that correlate

Divorce rate in Maine vs margarine

This is fun. Tyler Vigen wrote a program that attempts to automatically find things that correlate. As of writing this, 4,000 correlations were found so far (and actually over 100 more when I finished). Some of the gems include: the divorce rate in Maine versus per capita consumption of margarine, marriage rate in Alabama versus whole milk consumption per capita, and honey produced in bee colonies versus labor political action committees. Many things correlate with cheese consumption.

Nathan Yau,, May 12, 2014

Behind The Numbers: How to Calculate Odds

In the Powerball lottery, five numbers are chosen from a drum with 69 options. These are the white balls included in the winning combination. The numbers are not repeated, so for the first selection, there are 69 options, for the second selection, there are 68 options and so on until five numbers ​have been chosen.

To figure out the number of possible permutations, you multiply th​os​e numbers.

69 x 68 x 67 x 66 x 65 = 1,348,621,560

So, the odds of choosing five white balls and one red ball that match the winning lottery numbers are 1 in 292 million.

Jo Craven McGinty, Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2016

What is the likelihood that you exist?

Probability in Science, Probability Problems –

There are currently over 7.3 billion people on Earth, and only one of them is you. If that makes you feel extremely small and insignificant, don’t worry – the odds of you existing at all are even tinier.

The infographic from below crunches the numbers and shows you exactly how small those odds actually are. To start with, the odds of your dad meeting your mum – about 1 in 20,000 – then has to be multiplied by the odds of them talking, dating, and then staying together long enough to have kids.

Things get even deeper, with the probability of your mother’s egg and your father’s sperm having all the right DNA to make you you – and not a slightly different person, like your sibling – being 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000.

And things get a whole lot more complicated if you consider that those odds need to happen every generation all the way back until you reach single celled organisms – the actual beginning of your timeline. The probability of that happening comes out at about 1 in 102,685,000, or 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros. For comparison, the Universe only has 1080 atoms.

Jacinta Bowler,, December 17, 2015

Experimental probability

Probability in Gambling, Probability Problems –

One way to find out how to win, or at least the probability of winning, is to sit and watch people and count how many times they win out of the times that they play. This is the basis of simple Experimental Probability. Experimental probability is the observed probability of an event occurring. In most cases, this is found by observing the event (a game, for example) and seeing how many times the player wins (the number of “Successes”) or the player loses (the number of “Failures”).