What are the Odds?

Today we have a lesson in statistics. I can tell when I’m having a bout of long term mild depression whenever lottery tickets start looking like a good idea. When the insurmountable odds against me simply don’t register and all I can see is a longshot chance to solving all of life’s problems.

Not just for me, mind you, but everyone I know. I’m a man of simple needs, so if I won, say, 30 million, you can bet that 25 million of it is going to other people [lawyer’s note – in the event of winning the lottery this statement does not constitute a legally binding contract to Mr. Chinn or any of his associates]. But when my head is on straight I avoid the lottery or any other paid contest like the plague.

On the way home the other day, Gillian and I stopped off at the nearby Safeway. It’s probably the closest major supermarket to us so we expect to go there fairly regularly. We picked up a club card and bought some essentials, including something I haven’t bought in nearly a decade – frozen perogies. Oh man, just the thought of boiling then frying those up with some butter and onion… with some sour cream on the side… I might drown in my own drool.

But I digress. Yummy, yummy digression…

At the checkout counter the girl was very friendly and helpful. The store was having a contest, one of those things where you get a pull-tab ticket with every purchase. Match three symbols and win that prize.
“You want a bunch of these?” she asked. “The contest closes tomorrow.” She gives Gillian a huge pack of playing cards. I’m stunned. There has to be at least fifty there, maybe a hundred.

I’m feeling a bit confident so I say, “Well, if you’re getting rid of them anyway, we’d be happy to take more.” She smiles and gives me another pack, twice as big as the first. Between the two of us we have two hundred cards, easy.

Yikes. At this point I’m thinking, “Who knows? Maybe we’ll win something. Stranger things have happened.” And I figured even if we didn’t it would serve as a powerful reminder of the futility of buying lottery tickets.

Still, it would be nice to win a new car…

We sit down at a nearby bench and start pulling tabs. Car-car-coffee maker. Stereo-stereo-addidas. Addidas-Sharper Image-coffee maker. You get the idea. Dozens of cards fly by. Nothing. Nope. Nada. Zip.

“I won something!”

I look at Gillian in disbelief. Sure enough, three matching symbols. Addidas. Well, either one of us could do with a new pair of shoes. That’s something.

We keep pulling tabs, but that’s the only winner in the lot. Two hundred cards. One win. Still, if they’re expensive shoes that would count for something. Maybe it’s a gift certificate. I go up to customer service to find out what Gillian’s won and how to claim it.

I come back five minute later with Gillian’s prize.

A hat.

While waiting for this wondrous gift of the gods, I had a chance to look at the prize list and associated odds of winning. The hat was by far the most common prize, the odds of winning – 1 in 997. Since we opened about 200 cards, that meant our odds of getting the hat were about 1 in 5.

Oh well. At least Gillian can’t say she never wins anything.

That’s right, you wear that hat with pride!


2 thoughts on “What are the Odds?

  1. Hey your previous blog was all about hats. What are the odds of that???

    And last week I had perogies for the first time in about 5 years. What are the odds of that???

    I can’t give you a number but they are in fact surprisingly high. Read L. Sprague DeCamp’s “You too can be a Nostradamus” If your language is sufficiently vague you can predict ANYTHING 100%. Even if your language is less vague English has so many shades of meaning that you can read a coincidence into many occurrences.

    Statistics as a branch of mathematics and as a result, a science, is very precise even as it seeks to define imprecision.

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