Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Quick Draw

Every year on Thanksgiving, after our annual football game, the male Haggertys head on down to Jody’s Club Forest to grab a drink, choose an MVP and generally congregate with the other players who left it all out on the Wagner College football field. Or in more recent years, Walker Park. Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is the bar.

The Jody in Jody’s Club Forest is my uncle Jody. A few years back, maybe even 12 years ago at this point, my uncle Jody installed a lottery game called Quick Draw. Quick Draw is shown on a closed-circuit television. I’m not exactly sure how you submit your numbers, as I’ve never seen anyone actually play it. But here’s what happens, near as I can tell:

A field of eighty numbers is shown, ten across, eight up and down, 1-80. An animated ping-pong ball is released and hits a number. That number changes color. The process repeats 19 times, selecting 20 out of the 80 numbers. Those are the winning numbers. I think, according to the game card, you only choose 10 numbers maximum…of course, you have to pay more to choose that many numbers, I assume. But you also have a greater chance of winning (there are payoffs for as few as two correct numbers, I believe), and a greater chance of winning big. So that’s the trade-off.

I have never played Quick Draw. I hate losing money and that’s what gambling seems like to me: an easy way to lose money.

What I have done is watch Quick Draw incessantly. Ever since my Uncle Jody put that Quick Draw up, I have had a predilection toward that screen. You might even say I’m Quick Drawn to it. Ha! Anyway, I can’t take my eyes off it. It’s a problem I have in bars: if there’s a TV on, I am either very distracted or just out-and-out watching it. But that’s another story, for another, sadder day.

When I started working at my current job, an unfortunate side-effect was that my main lunch spot has a big old Quick Draw staring down at me. So I watch it. Sure, I bring a book or a paper or some writing, but I still glance up at the screen every four minutes, when there’s a new drawing. If I don’t actually play, why do I do this? For one very specific reason:

I have never, ever seen a Quick Draw drawing without consecutive numbers.

Before I started my job, this really didn’t mean anything to me. I watched Quick Draw once a year, maximum 15 cycles per Thanksgiving. Over the course of a decade that’s a lot of drawings observed, to be sure, but not enough to really be impressed by the fact that I had not not seen consecutive numbers. But once I started seeing Quick Draw nearly every day without consecutive numbers, I began to wonder if the fix was in.

If I were to play Quick Draw, I would pick zero consecutive numbers, I reasoned. Why bunch my numbers together when I can spread them out, increase my chances of winning? Statistically unsound reasoning, sure, but natural human instinct. And perhaps the New York State Lottery was taking advantage of said instinct by including a predilection toward consecutive numbers. Nice, tidy, inconsequential conspiracy I had uncovered.

I decided to check my work. When? 12 years after the fact, of course. On Monday I started randomly calling people on my cell phone and asking them to pick a number from 1-80. Then I would awkwardly explain I was doing a math experiment, chat as long as I deemed socially appropriate and hang up.

The results were stunning.

Series 1 lasted five calls. The fifth respondent gave a 73, which, as you know, is subsequent to the second respondent’s 72.

Series 2 was a bit more promising…until the ninth call. A 7, matching the previous caller’s 6.

Since all I was trying to do was do a quick and dirty proof that consecutive numbers weren’t that likely, I think it’s safe to say my hypothesis failed pretty spectacularly. Conclusion: The Lotto is the most honest, upstanding enterprise in human history.

Other interesting notes:

-The matching pair of series 1 was Mr. Chris Principe and Mr. Alexander Zalben, co-EL’ers.

-The matching pair of series 2 was Ms. Mary Burke and Ms. Marni Sussman, ex-roommates. They are also the only two people to select single digit numbers.

-Across series, Mr. Kevin Haggerty and Mrs. Barbara Haggerty gave consecutive numbers (43 and 44). They are co-married people who are married to each other.

-The number 72 was picked three times out of fifteen numbers (one respondent was asked to re-select, since 72 was already taken in series 2)

-Numbers in the 70’s were picked 7/15 times, well above expected. Hypothesis: lots of people didn’t want to feel cheated, thusly picked one of the highest numbers available to them.

-no numbers in the 10’s or 50’s were selected. This is less notable, as each was mathematically predicted to be selected only twice.

Epilogue: I conducted this experiment in the restaurant with the Quick Draw in the heart of Crown Heights. Just as I finished, I decided to look up and observe one last Quick Draw before packing it in. The first 19 numbers dropped, none consecutive…number number 20 was number 72, right next to 73.


Andrew Missel said...

So the probability that there will be no consecutive numbers when 20 numbers are drawn randomly from 80 is less than 4%. I'm too lazy to figure out the exact figure, but 4% is an upper limit; the actual value is probably significantly less, thus explaining why you've never seen it happen. If and when you do see it, I'll buy you a beer.

Ian said...

I picked #75 because I was thinking of Barry Zito...

Murchie said...

"You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming
here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot.
And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate
ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the
state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!"

- Richard Feynman

Stefan said...

I love Richard Feynman. For real. I read his two "laymen" books of stories and anecdotes and they're awesome. But lacking any specific examples or additional information, I'm just going to leave it at that.

Nice quote, Colin. :)