Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Grab Bag of Minor Obsessions

As a bit of belated post-script to my review of Seconds from earlier this week, I should probably have offered the following in full disclosure: when I was in college some of the girls I hung out with got me addicted to Days of Our Lives, which at the time (the early-to-mid 90's) featured the redoubtable Frances Reid front and center as saintly matriarch Alice Horton. Ms. Reid made an indelible impression on me as the quintessential white-haired grandma type; I liked the old broad. So strong was said impression that when I watched seconds and Frances Reid appeared on-screen as Mrs. Emily Hamilton, despite the movie being shot in black and white approximately thirty years before my Days of Our Lives habit began, I immediately said to myself, "Why, hello, Alice!" At any rate, I admit I may have been influenced in my assessment of the overall importance of Mrs. Hamilton's monologue by my fondness for Ms. Reid. And now you know.


Jason Segel To Play David Foster Wallace


I like Segel a lot, and my tragic mancrush on DFW is well-documented. I am somewhere between cautiously optimistic and fully geeked on this one.


So how about that Mega Millions jackpot that nobody won last night? I bought 5 tickets, which increases the chances of winning negligibly compared to buying one ticket, but then again, 5 dollars versus 1 dollar is kind of negligible as well. I overheard the clerk at the 7-11 saying that some people had come in that day and bought $100 worth of tickets, and I can only hope those people were representing office pools or something where every individual only had to kick in 5 bucks. Otherwise that old saw about the tax on people bad at math would have to be invoked.

I actually saw a story online yesterday about how they recently (right around the time the current jackpot started building, said growth due to nobody was winning) changed the structure of the Mega Millions drawing. Used to be you (or the machine program) picked five numbers between 1 and 56, plus a Megaball number between 1 and 46, and you had to match all six to win the grand prize. But this fall they expanded the field of numbers for the first five up to 75, while at the same time limiting the Megaball possibilities to 15. It basically raises the odds of winning from astronomical to hyperastronomical.

On the one hand, I'm impressed by this maneuver by the gaming commission. By making it far less likely that anyone wins the top prize in any given week, it makes it that much more likely that jackpots will accumulate and reach the critical mass where people go insane and buy more tickets, or people who don't normally play decide this time they will, and so on. More revenue, more success, &c. &c. Again, not really weighing in on whether this is a good thing, or one of society's more nefarious state-sponsored evils, but from a pure game theory standpoint (or my layman's understanding thereof) it's gold.

And on the other hand, you do win one crisp US dollar if you happen to match the Megaball alone, and by reducing that field it becomes vastly more likely that those lower-level winnings will be more frequent. Which in turn also makes the game more appealing, as the breakeven outcome will be more common. Here's the problem for me, though: I almost always buy 5 tickets, and let the machine pick all the numbers. Back when there were 56/46 possibilities, that generally meant a pleasingly random assortment of numbers. Now that it's 75/15, it's more likely that via random machine programming I will actually have the same Megaball on two or more lines, which just strikes me as dumb strategy, as opposed to maxing out the chances of catching the Megaball to 1 in 3. I can't think of a way around this other than picking my own random-non-duplicative numbers and filling out the paper and pencil ticket, which seems like an inordinate amount of extra effort. Or possibly (as always) I am overthinking things.

(Incidentally I did win $1 and $1 only in last night's drawing. Cha-ching!)

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