Math Professor Says Coin Flips Not Really 50/50

There's a way to get a slight advantage, and a much bigger one if you spin it instead.

Math Professor Says Coin Flips Not Really 50/50 Photo (cc) by JaseCurtis

The Smithsonian reports…

Diaconis is a professor of mathematics and statistics at Stanford University and, formerly, a professional magician. While his claim to fame is determining how many times a deck of cards must be shuffled in order to give a mathematically random result (it’s either five or seven, depending on your criteria), he’s also dabbled in the world of coin games. What he and his fellow researchers discovered (here’s a PDF of their paper) is that most games of chance involving coins aren’t as even as you’d think. For example, even the 50/50 coin toss really isn’t 50/50 — it’s closer to 51/49, biased toward whatever side was up when the coin was thrown into the air.

But more incredibly, as reported by Science News, spinning a penny, in this case one with the Lincoln Memorial on the back, gives even more pronounced odds — the penny will land tails side up roughly 80 percent of the time.

So next time you have to settle something with a coin toss, offer to do a coin spin. (Now that you know how to win most of the time.)

Brandon Ballenger
Brandon Ballenger @btballenger
I'm a freelance journalist living in South Florida. If I'm not writing, I'm playing video games or at the beach. My favorite spice is oregano, and I thought you should know. I ... More

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