Yahtzee and the Black Swan Theory

I dropped by the office after my shift at my other job (the oh-so-glamorous world of parking enforcement). I wanted to print some articles to edit at home for tomorrow’s production. I bumped into Arts & Culture Editor Erick Bengel. He and I talked newspaper for awhile, shared a plate of fries, and discussed our mutual love of the Oxford comma. (Isn’t it divine?)

Then we saw it.

Hidden amongst the other treasures by the TV was a dusty, innocuous box: Yahtzee. Our respective inner-children squealing with nostalgic delight, we started playing.

The results tell an interesting story:

Please note that I have terrible luck with the upper section.
Janieve Schnabel / PSU VANGUARD
Yes, I beat Erick in two out of three rounds (you may mentally pat me on the back now), but more importantly: There were three Yahtzees in three games. Some of you are probably shrugging: What’s so fascinating about a few five-of-a-kinds?

All three were sets of sixes.

The first occurred in our second game after he told me to go for a full house when I rolled two sixes and two fives. “Statistically, you’re more likely to get it,” he advised. I conceded he was right, and I naturally did the grown-up thing. The smart thing.

“Screw statistics!” I shouted. I threw the fives and three back into the cup and flung them onto the board. And, as if to spite Erick’s mature suggestion, all three dice obediently rolled as sixes.

Naturally, I gloated over my victory. Erick and I started another game. He glanced at me and said, “I’m going to do that this time.”

I dismissed it. He threw his dice and, sure enough, produced a Yahtzee. With sixes.

We laughed about it for a few minutes. Then, as I gathered the dice into the cup, I glanced at them and pointed out how ridiculous it would be if I got another Yahtzee with sixes. Erick agreed.

Lo and behold, the ridiculous came true.

This is an example of what probability theorists call the Black Swan Theory – a statistically unlikely event will happen at the moment when it seems the most improbable. It’s like the universe has a gotcha!-like sense of humor.

We’ll probably never get those rolls again. Probably. Which is why I want to brag about them. (In all likelihood, I’ve now jinxed myself for the rest of my Yahtzee career, but I couldn’t care less.)

Behold our triumph, loyal readers!