Human brains can’t handle numbers like 292 million, which is why you think you have a chance to win the Powerball lottery. (Odds of the grand prize are 292,201,338 to 1.)
Well, you don’t. To demonstrate, here’s another way to think of that number:
A week’s worth of Concord Monitor newspapers has about 1.5 million characters in the total “newshole” – which is all the newsprint, not counting the advertisements. By characters I mean letters, numbers and punctuation marks but not spaces. That number is my back-of-the-envelope calculation, so it’s inexact but hopefully not too inexact.
Picking the winning Powerball lottery is as likely as choosing one specific character out of 182 weeks of Concord Monitors.
Imagine 3.5 years worth of newspapers laid out on the floor in front of you. (It would have to be a really big floor – say, the Everett Arena.) That’s thousands and thousands of pages, each covered with thousands of words and numbers and punctuation marks. Exactly one of those marks is the winning mark. Maybe it’s the last period in the sports section’s listing of scores from Aug. 3 of the first year, or the 17th “e” in a story on page 4 from Oct. 19 of the second year, or the 100th “t” in the editorial of March 1 of the third year. Or something else.
You have to find the right paper, open it to the right page and choose the right character.
Impossible, right? Right.
Well, it’s equally impossible for you to win the Powerball grand prize.
Yes, somebody might win it – but you won’t. This is the real world, and in the real world, 292 million to one means “impossible”.