1 in 1,592,937

I use my husband and kids as guinea pigs.  That’s what I was doing one evening during dinner when I handed everyone a post-it note.  I was practicing a lesson I was planning on teaching the next day to a group of fifth graders.

“Write down five numbers from 1 to 47 on your post-it.  You can use your favorite numbers or simply choose random ones.  It doesn’t matter.  If you match any of the five I write down, I’ll buy you a soda the next time we’re out.    If you match all six, I’ll give you a $50 gift card for itunes.”

I was pretty sure no-one would match all five numbers, but I didn’t want to clue them in by saying something like I’d take them on an all-expenses trip to Hawaii.

My family loves competition.  All it takes to get them 100% involved is to throw in an incentive.  So they got busy writing down their numbers.  That actually took a while because my oldest, Nathan, is such a deliberate worker.  He has to know that each one of the six numbers he was about to choose was carefully thought through.  Not that it would make a difference.

So when we revealed our numbers and they saw that I had written the consecutive numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, Nathan about had a tissy fit.

“No-one ever chooses those numbers!” he said.

“I did,” I countered.

“Yes, but no-one else does.  It’s silly to choose the numbers one through five.”

“Really?” I asked.  “Don’t I have the exact same chance of winning as you do with your five numbers?”

He knew I was right.  That’s why it really bothered him.

My lesson the next day had to do with unwise things to do with our money.  I put buying lottery tickets near the top.  Not that buying an occasional ticket is bad.  But a lot of people do it a lot, and they’re the ones who shouldn’t be doing it, at all.

When I was researching the lesson (since I don’t buy lottery tickets I had to read about how the whole thing worked) I discovered a popular lottery game in California is called Lucky Lotto.  Players get to choose five numbers from 1 – 47 and then a mega number from 1 – 27.  I decided to have the students only go for five numbers because it would make the lesson easier to teach.  (Believe me, I’ve been doing this for a while.  The probability of there being at least one kid in the class that would choose a number greater than 27 for the mega number was pretty high.  I wasn’t going there.)

The probability of matching all five (and not necessarily in the same order) is 1 in 1,592,937.  By the way, to match all five and the mega number:  1 in 41,416,353.

Sure people win.  But most don’t.

Isn’t it wiser to put that money in an investment that, over time, would earn ridiculous amounts of money?

The problem is, people don’t want to wait for 20, 30, 40 years.  They want it now.  Which means in 20, 30, and 40 years, they’ll still be playing the lottery.  Someone needs to make them pick the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  Then maybe they’ll understand how silly the lottery is.

And as for my husband and kids?  No-one matched a single number.

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