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Surprising Science

Cracking the Scratch Lottery

A very smart statistician has realized that it is possible to sort, with upwards of 90 percent accuracy, the winning scratch tickets from the losing ones before anything is scratched off.

As a trained statistician with degrees from M.I.T. and Stanford University, Srivastava was intrigued by the technical problem posed by the lottery ticket: “The tickets are clearly mass-produced, which means there must be some computer program that lays down the numbers. Of course, it would be really nice if the computer could just spit out random digits. But that’s not possible, since the lottery corporation needs to control the number of winning tickets. The game can’t be truly random. Instead, it has to generate the illusion of randomness while actually being carefully determined.”


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