You know the series of six “lucky numbers” on the backs of fortune cookies? Yeah, those are actually lucky.
FiveThirtyEight compared the amount of money a person could have made if they’d entered fortune cookie numbers in Powerball over the last 20 years to the amount they would’ve made with random numbers, and there was a whopping $2.7 million difference in favor of the cookies.
In fact, if a participant had used fortune cookie numbers, they could have ended up with a $172,101 profit. That would pay for three years of schooling at a top undergraduate college.
Here’s how FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers. They bought 1,035 Panda brand fortune cookies from an internet wholesaler; the cookies hosted 676 unique fortunes. Next, they compared the first letter of every fortune to the average distribution of first letters in English sentences, finding that the fortunes covered around 54 percent of that distribution. They used that percentage to estimate that the Panda brand probably makes around 1,200 to 1,600 unique fortunes in all, making FiveThirtyEight’s share a “decent sample.”
Those 1,035 paper fortunes had 556 unique combinations of the six-number series that’s supposedly “lucky.” Enter Powerball, the American lottery game that looks like this:
If a Powerball player had bought one ticket for each of those 556 number series every single game between November 1, 1997 and May 27, 2017 (that’s 2,043 games), that person would have spent about $4.2 million and won about $4.4 million. Their exact profit would come to $172,101.
On the other hand, if that person had entered a randomized series of numbers, they would have spent that same $4.2 million but only won $1.7 million. Specifically, they would have lost $2,539,520. Yikes.
Who would have thought? FiveThirtyEight certainly didn’t expect this result; they call it “weird as hell.”
Of course, these results don’t offer definite proof that all fortune cookie numbers are lucky. In fact, we can’t even definitely say that these fortune cookie numbers were lucky, since they might have been added after the winning Powerball games occurred — they could even have been added in response to those games.
Still, $2.7 million is a big difference. So you decide for yourself: Is this enough proof that we should go out for Chinese food dinners and then hit the state Powerball lottery? Or is this just some classic fortune cookie mischief?