Education

Roll the dice – answer the question

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Here again to confuse your minds because tearing out loose cobwebs keeps you awake and active. I, myself, am learning Spanish (and unlearning Italian because they confuse one another) and studying some of the improvements in math I let by while being a bureaucrat. And you are unlucky enough to hear about it.

Did you all whip out your TI-83s to solve the puzzle. I hope not, because the answer is that on any roll of the dice there are six chances in thirty-six possibilities that the number seven will emerge. Each roll of the dice is a separate event.

Now the odds of there being 101 consecutive 7s are 101 in 3.919911741×10 to the 78th power. That is a whole lot of zeroes. But is can happen. And if you keep rolling the same set of dice it tends to happen because of wear on edges or corners. And if you’re Sky Masterson, it helps to sing “Luck be a Lady,”(1) What the odds say is that in a random world it doesn’t happen very often.

The other thing you can do with the dice is to have one person roll the dice for say a half hour to 45 minutes and another record the number that shows each time. Then look at the distribution to see if it resembles the pattern. If someone did several thousand rolls it would probably work out—to find subjects who would go through that much boredom without it phasing them you need ed psych majors—sorry but there are things a lab rat would not do.(2)

If the results do not correlate to the chart, just remember that statistics has never been an exact science and that there are always random variances. Normal people realize this. In college I had a set to with my biology lab instructor because my fruit fly counts did not match the ratios in the book so I handed him my covered petri dish and told him to have at it. When you’ve matched wits with a vice principal for six years a grad student in public health is not that intimidating. General rules do not govern specific cases.

A further discussion can result in some questions of the randomness of nature.
1. Why did the microburst only take out half of the Bradford pear and nothing else on the property?
2. According to Native American lore (or possibly pioneer lore since Native Americans have not said everything they’re alleged to), the City of Topeka was protected from tornadoes by the location of Burnett’s mound in relation to the Kansas River. Why did the 1966 Tornado come over Burnett’s Mound?
3. Does lightning strike twice in the same place?

Footnotes:

1. From Guys and Dolls, a Frank Loesser musical based on some short stories by Damon Runyon. Sky Masterson is a character based on WB (Bat) Masterson, a fellow sports writer with an interesting past.
2. The terms ed psych major, law student, lawyer and lab rat can be used interchangeably.

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