What Are the Odds?

World Snooker Championship

What are the odds I would choose this picture? (1:31, FYI) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following post is dedicated to my friend Nate.

Vegas Casinos have odds for everything. For instance, the odds of Pamela Anderson winning the next season of “Dancing With the Stars” are 40:1. The odds of Childish Gambino’s music video for his song “Heartbeat” being named best hip-hop video at the Video Music Awards are a +2500. The odds of Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the World Snooker Championship next year are 5:1.

I have no idea what any of that means (particularly the thing about snooker), but I can tell you that Childish Gambino either has a great shot or no shot at all. Or maybe somewhere in the middle.

Yes, odds are a big part of our life. We calculate them constantly. Every time you see someone applying mascara while driving, they have decided the odds of accidentally jabbing their eye out are in their favor. Asking the barista at a coffee shop what a Café Mélange is should only be done after figuring the odds of a condescending response. Whenever someone eats at Taco Bell, they are taking the chance that they will not be the one out of every two people who spend the next few hours wishing they would just die instead of being forced to live with a stomach full of mystery meat-bel-grande.

Sometimes, though, we purposefully ignore these odds. The other day, I decided to try some Nacho Cheese Corn Nuts. Now, I know that I will most likely not like Nacho Cheese Corn Nuts. Chewing a Corn Nut is like eating a little piece of gravel. Also, I very rarely care for anything Nacho Cheese flavored. Despite all of this, I went ahead and purchased the Nacho Cheese Gravel.

I should have listened to the odds. They were not that great.

The other day, I was behind a person who was even more willing to ignore odds than I am.

“I need two Powerball tickets,” he said to the gas station attendant. This man probably did not “need” the tickets, but on the off-chance he was a hostage negotiator buying them as part of a kidnapper’s demands, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

The odds of this man winning the Powerball with one ticket are 1:175,223,510. That is not terribly likely. Fortunately he doubled his chances. 1: 87,611,755 are MUCH better odds and I am sure I will soon see him on the news receiving a giant check.

When something strange happens, people will often ask “What are the odds?” Now, this is definitely a rhetorical question. No one really wants you to answer that. They just want you to say, “I KNOW, RIGHT?!”

I wish, though, that I could calculate the odds of anything. If I could change one thing about myself, that would be the thing. Imagine the fun that would be:

“Huh… the McDonald’s accidentally gave me two Egg McMuffins! What are the odds?”

“Well, the McDonald’s employee does not seem thrilled to work there, therefore is not devoted to ensuring that he is doing his job correctly. Also the restaurant looked very busy, so he was probably in a rush to make sure he was able to spit in the hash browns before his manager noticed. I would say 1:6.”

“Wow…I guess I should probably throw this hash brown away…”

Ignoring the fact that this question is completely rhetorical, though, it is not a great question. You are asking what the odds of an event that JUST HAPPENED are. If you really wanted to discuss how unlikely something is, a better question would be “What are the odds that this exact thing would happen just like this…IN SPACE!” That seems significantly less likely and your point would be much better made that the event you just witnessed was special, although not as special as it would be without gravity.

So tomorrow, when you are walking through your day and see a man in a unicorn shirt buy a snow cone, just remember that the odds of that may be small, but they would be much smaller in space.

Actually, it would have to be a unicorn space suit in that case. Without it, odds are he would die.

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