I’ve always wondered if those numbers on the back of the fortune in fortune cookie were worth anything. I usually eat the cookie, mull over the fortune and complain about how it’s total bullshit, then look over the random numbers to see if I could fit meaning into them somehow. I’ve sometimes wondered if I should play the Lotto with them, but then I get too lazy (and discouraged) to try.
But of course, there’s always someone out there playing those numbers. The New York Daily News reports that Ernesto Sorzano of Huntersville, North Carolina, played his cookie’s numbers after a meal of shrimp fried rice. His $3 ticket matched four of the required numbers, which netted him a cool $500,000. Post-tax, he took home $353,751, and he’s putting the money towards a new house, which is exactly what I’d do. Just kidding, I’d spend all of it building the biggest ball pit in the world.
Winning the lottery using fortune cookie numbers seems to work at least once a year, to varying degrees. If you think Sorzano’s windfall was good, wait until you find out what Charles W. Jackson, also from North Carolina, won after playing numbers from a fortune cookie: $344.6 million. Post-tax, that’s $223 million.
FiveThirtyEight did some math fun at one point to figure out how likely it is to win the lottery from a fortune cookie number. After cracking open 1,035 fortune cookies, writer Walt Hickey found 556 unique number combinations inside.
I took all the lucky numbers from the fortunes and compared them to the Powerball numbers stretching from Nov. 1, 1997, to May 27, 2017, and calculated what the winnings would be if a degenerate gambler bought one Powerball ticket for every single one of the allegedly lucky number combinations over all 2,043 drawings. Such an individual — buying one ticket for each batch of numbers, including repeats — would make $4.4 million on $4.2 million in ticket purchases. The expected value of that investment using “unlucky” randomized digits and assuming an average jackpot at each drawing? $1.7 million in winnings on $4.2 million in ticket purchases, based on multiplying the current probabilities of each event by the current prizes for each event across 2,043 drawings.
In short, this was an unusual finding, but amazing nonetheless.
It’s mainly thanks to several $1 million prize-winning jackpots with the numbers 19, 30, 55, 18 and 53 with the Powerball number 21. There are certainly logical explanations for this. Maybe the lucky numbers were added into the fortune cookies after those Powerball wins. Or, according to Occam’s razor, play several thousand lotteries with several thousand combinations, and you’ll hit a winner eventually.
Suddenly I have a great urge to buy some Chinese takeout for lunch. In the meantime I’ll start planning that giant ball pit. There’s no way I can lose now.