Stan the Statistician <<Last | Next>> | Current Stan | Archive Stan
Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 85: How to win the lottery May 2006

Life is based, as all good statisticians and quantum physicists know, on probability and we can expect that events will fall within a given range at any given confidence level. So when claims for the Powerball Multi-State lottery in Tennessee started pouring in, fraud was suspected according to Chuck Strutt. "They were all getting the same five out of six numbers right - 22, 28, 32, 33 and 39 entitling each of them to $500,000. How could 110 players from 29 states all become second-prize winners in exactly the same way when statistically there should have been only four or five? We didn't get a lot of sleep that night, I can tell you", said Chuck. "Someone was obviously trying to cheat the system. Over the next few days, we looked at everything to do with human behaviour to try and find an explanation. But none of the newspaper forecast columns had printed those numbers. And although there was a winning ticket in a recent episode of the soap opera, 'The Young and the Restless', that didn't match either. But when the winners started arriving at our offices to collect their prizes, we finally found out what had happened. They'd all eaten in Chinese restaurants all over America, and had all chosen their numbers from a fortune cookie. And all those fortune cookies came from the same factory, Wonton Food in Long Island City."

Derek Wong of Wonton Foods later admitted that, "we make four million fortune cookies each day and sell them to restaurants all over the Country but we don't change the numbers very often. It's nice that 110 people won the lottery because of our cookies, but from now on we've been told to use a computer to make sure that the numbers are random because it will be more efficient." This report comes via Private Eye from the Kansas City Star of 12 May 2005.

ERNIE, the computer that selects the random numbers for the National Savings Premium Bond scheme, is now in its fourth generation and takes 2 ½ hours to produce the 1m+ random numbers that complete a draw. If the first generation ERNIE were used, it would take 52 days. If all the Premium Bond certificates were placed end to end, they would go round the World 13 times. In 2004/5, the luckiest town was Oldham, Lancs, England, the luckiest name was Matthew and the luckiest day for buying Premium Bonds was Wednesday. So, if you are called Matthew and live in Oldham.... Oh, if only it were that easy, but then again, if it were.....

The UK Office for National Statistics has released figures which show that men who live in East Dorset live for an average of 80.1 years whereas those who live in Glasgow City manage only 69.1 years. I doubt we'll see an exodus though because, of course, the Glaswegians will bring the lifestyle that causes their truncated lives with them. Oddly, the most popular spirit in Glasgow is vodka.

Before 1834, the Bank of England observed about 33 saints' days and religious festivals as holidays but in 1834, this was drastically reduced to just four. They must have had a department dedicated to finding obscure saints to celebrate and they got rumbled.

Check in again at my desk soon!

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