Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tossing Coins on WolframAlpha

For those of you that are not familiar with WolframAlpha, it is a wonderful website that is part search engine, part super computer.   The site allows you to enter mathematical or scientific related questions on all sorts of subjects.

Take for instance, doing a search for “Coin Toss.”  The site gives you a bunch of interesting probabilities associated with tossing coins as well as other related probability questions.  One of the related items is the probability of winning the Powerball lottery.  The probability of winning the grand prize is 1 in 195 249 054.  Does this mean that it is a good bet to buy a Powerball ticket if the prize exceeds $195 million? Would it be a good financial decision to buy a ticket if the payout is $365 million, the maximum that Powerball has ever reached? 

It turns out that providing a satisfactory answer to this question needs a lot more than just probability analysis.  I will be providing some answers in the near future, but let me know your thoughts in the meantime.

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