The lottery and the laughing shopkeeper
Royal Institution
101

I did similar once. A friend always mocked me for not doing the lottery and, for many months, I felt his philosophy was simply “you have to be in it to win it”. One day, however, it became obvious that he viewed his chances of winning rather optimistically (and clearly wrong!). He actually felt I just didn’t understand the probabilities properly.

He said the first number was only 1 in 49 chance but that wasn’t so hard, and each successive number was easier (the next being 1 in 48, then 1 in 47). He clearly viewed it as his chances that each number could be picked on their own. He completely missed the point of them being picked together making those odds significantly less.

So the following lottery, I told him I had bought a ticket after all his nagging! He briefly felt rather smug as though he had made me see the error of my ways. Then I showed him the ticket: 1,2,3,4,5,6. “well that won’t win!“ he exclaimed.

I then showed him how this set of numbers has the same chance as any others and you saw the realisation of what that meant on his face. He finally understood his chances a little more realistically!

I felt a little bad about shattering his illusions but it stopped him nagging me as though I just didn’t get it.