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N.Y. Lottery Draws 9-1-1 on 9/11
September 11, 2002 9:19 PM   Subscribe

N.Y. Lottery Draws 9-1-1 on 9/11 This is a pretty strange coincidence. Some people find coincidences everywhere. But, others say the world would be more surprising if coincidences didn't occur. Still, this is pretty odd. What coincidences have you experienced? Do you see meaning in them?
posted by popvulture (51 comments total)

Wow, I was just getting ready to post this. Weird.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:23 PM on September 11, 2002

On top of Tuesday's S&P. Very weird.
posted by merlinmann at 9:25 PM on September 11, 2002

Wow. This could be trouble. Better Call 911.
posted by jonmc at 9:27 PM on September 11, 2002

Hmm. A 1-in-1000 chance that the correct three numbers would be drawn on any particular date (of which only a subset fit the 3-digit format, allowing a middle 0). The cumulative probability over a year ... hmm ... probably about a 1/3 or 1/4 chance that this will happen to some date in a given year.
posted by dhartung at 9:29 PM on September 11, 2002

All kidding aside a character in Jim Dodge's novel Stone Junction says:
"Hasn't it ever occured to you that coincidence is the natural state of affairs? 'As above, so below' Only time I worry about coincidence is when it quits happening. That's when your ass goes up for grabs"
I'm with that dude.
posted by jonmc at 9:32 PM on September 11, 2002

And meanwhile, in orbit, a spacecraft silently speeds away, its Infinate Improbability drive working flawlessly.

Seriously though. Either this is fixed, or the universe is getting WAY less subtle at screwing with our minds.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:49 PM on September 11, 2002

Actually, I have an odometer on my bike, and that passed 911 today (I ride about 3 miles a day, so the coinciding numbers will probably never happen again). That was kinda weird.
posted by statusquo at 10:09 PM on September 11, 2002

This might be a good time to read again for the first time the excellent article on probability featured in the NY Times magazine last month. I'm sure it was posted on metafilter as well, but I can't find it just now...
posted by whatzit at 10:30 PM on September 11, 2002

Yes, that is weird. We must be witnessing some cosmic convergence of improbabilities around 911. Or more likely, someone rigged the New York lottery for a day. The chances that "911" would be picked on this significant day, the first anniversary of the attacks, in the state where the WTC collapsed... I'm not a statistician, but it's more than 1/1000.

If it were rigged, I can't say I disapprove, since in the absence of religion, coincidence has emerged as the one transcendent factor in atheist life. I suppose the effect of rigging the lottery would be to provide some solace to people who were affected by the tragedy. I suppose they see the hand of our famously reclusive God at work. God is with us.

Importantly, the only time in my life I've tried to guess someone's middle name, I was successful--Whittaker.
posted by mert at 10:31 PM on September 11, 2002

The chances that "911" would be picked on this significant day, the first anniversary of the attacks, in the state where the WTC collapsed... I'm not a statistician, but it's more than 1/1000.

It is in fact exactly 1 in 1000. The balls they use for drawing the numbers don't know the date or what happened a year ago.
posted by kindall at 10:40 PM on September 11, 2002

seems this could have happened on 8/12, but no one would have noticed is the thing. and i'm no statistician, but there is a chunk of the set of possibles that can't be a date, so that should be factored in.

can someone please design and publish a homepage on the information super-highway clearly detailing the probabilities of this occurance, and post the exit number here.
posted by folktrash at 10:42 PM on September 11, 2002

upon re-read, perhaps dhartung's "subset" was meant to disclude (is that a word?) the possibles that aren't dates. the exit number request still stands/
posted by folktrash at 10:44 PM on September 11, 2002

Were they in order? Because if not, they could have actually been 1-9-1 or 1-1-9, and then it would be 3/1000.
posted by transona5 at 10:47 PM on September 11, 2002

transona5 - i'd say they'd have to be in order for it to be as significant*

i was thinking about this while smoking, and it made me wish i could remember all the probability shite i seem to remember learning in calculus.

there are many factors tho. how many lottery's per day are there in ny? (if you want to know the probability that it would happen IN ny) plus there are possible dates (any with two two-digit pairs) half of november and december, that are days with no possible drawing match. plus the set of possible numbers that aren't possible dates (approx n32-n99 and n00).

an interesting little puzzle. time for voyager.

*of course, they're just numbers. no significance.
posted by folktrash at 11:01 PM on September 11, 2002

The cumulative probability over a year ... hmm ... probably about a 1/3 or 1/4 chance that this will happen to some date in a given year.

Incorrect. You're assuming that it's possible to come up with a number that would reflect the date every day of the year. But take December 13th....1213 isn't a possible number.

So there's a 1/1000 chance of drawing in a particular number....but there are only 273 days on which this can occur. (But do we count the dates like October 8th, which can be written as 10/8?)

Hmmm, indeed.
posted by jennak at 11:05 PM on September 11, 2002

"(But do we count the dates like October 8th, which can be written as 10/8?)"

which is *my* it's gettin' wierd!
posted by darkpony at 11:12 PM on September 11, 2002

So who's side is the lotto on?

Personally I find state-run lotteries to be abhorant. Otherwise, this is really cool.
posted by joemaller at 11:16 PM on September 11, 2002

So there's a 1/1000 chance of drawing in a particular number....but there are only 273 days on which this can occur.

Then there's a 1 - .999^273 = .24 chance of it happening at least once during a year.

Incidentally, if you estimate that each date, like 9-11, has three permutations (not always true, 12/3 has 6 and 11/1 has 1), then there's a 1 - .997^273 = .56 probability of getting the right numbers for the date in some order at least once.
posted by transona5 at 11:25 PM on September 11, 2002

If the Dow Jones would have finished 8579.11 people would have thought it was just as significant. It's meaningless.
posted by greasepig at 11:34 PM on September 11, 2002

mert said [...] in the absence of religion, coincidence has emerged as the one transcendent factor in atheist life.

WTF? Um, no, sorry. I've never heard of an atheist who put any special value, transcendent or otherwise, on coincidence.

And gee, what a coincidence, I'm an atheist! But I don't consider it all that transcendent.

Sorry, but if some atheists also harbor silly, childish beliefs about coincidence that does not make for any correlation (though it may make them more like theists).
posted by Ayn Marx at 12:24 AM on September 12, 2002

I suppose atheists don't have a pope that speaks on their behalf... Whether you believe in religion or mathematics, I think it's human to look for meaning and connection in things like this. Coincidence, synchronicity, chance might all be mathematical probabilities, then again they might be indicators of the interconnectedness of all things.

Or, maybe they rigged it. :-)
posted by Dok Millennium at 1:49 AM on September 12, 2002

Actually the loterry balls intended November 9, but we silly people know better than that.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:08 AM on September 12, 2002

Very odd ... folktrash the word you're looking for (instead of disclude) is preclude, just fyi.

Anyone else still having a hard time with 9/11? I'm not done mourning or being outraged. Not even close. I'm surprised at how raw those feelings still are.
posted by KiloHeavy at 2:16 AM on September 12, 2002

As an atheist, it makes me feel like I've fucked up.

Rigged perhaps. The need for people to think unrationally in these ~~~dark~~~ and ~~~confusing~~~ days is paramount to us accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior and also He who directs the hand of the black gold crusaders. We best believe in them.

I've said it before, I don't know nuthin' 'bout 'nuthin, but it's purty fishy, insofar as the mandateless Bush admin is concerned. Not only that, but think of all the superstionist rabble who chose 9-1-1 for their numbers on the 9/11 drawing. Coincidence? They all won. Spirits move in the most mysterious of ways. Why not Kansas' drawing or North Carolina? But it was New York.

My Skepticism leads me to think this is too coincidental. Gods and spirits be damned, the outcome of such a marginally profitable (pick three) apparition is good for spirit-thought and superstitious rumor for years. While we skeptics haggle over the unlikelihood of any kind of meaning, those who won and spread the fable make the news and we are further marginalized.

9-1-1 showing up on 9/11 a year after is a good thing for those who wish to control minds.

Ha ha ha ha. I'm psycho. But dear Lord, this is further proof that god loves America.
posted by crasspastor at 2:37 AM on September 12, 2002

I prefer to believe that the subconscious force of everyone's will (going around all "9/11-9/11-9/11" all day) caused trading to finish and the little lottery balls to fall as they did. My irrational superstition of choice allows me to believe in the untapped powers of the human mind, which will someday allow me to overcome the diabolical forces of gravity which have held me back for so long.
posted by hilatron at 4:26 AM on September 12, 2002

We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.
Stay in your homes.
posted by pekar wood at 5:18 AM on September 12, 2002

Jay Leno:

"Here's something to think about: How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?"
posted by *JazZ* at 5:25 AM on September 12, 2002

Add up all the times today one-in-a-million (or in this case thousand) chances fail to happen. I think we get our fair share...
posted by monkey closet at 5:42 AM on September 12, 2002

Something similar happened when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in New York back in November. The same number came up in the NJ state lottery that night.
posted by MediaMan at 6:31 AM on September 12, 2002

Anyway, does anybody know how many people played that number? I'm sure it was quite many, and since each winner typically gets paid some $500 for that type of game, I'm sure it was a rather large payout from the coffers of the state.

If just 100,000 people played that number, total payout would be $50,000,000.
posted by eas98 at 6:46 AM on September 12, 2002

MediaMan: American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on November 12, 2001. The winning numbers in the New York state lottery that day were 0, 9, and 6.

However, the winning numbers in that night's New Jersey pick 3 lottery were 5, 8, and 7.

The plane crashed in Queen's, not New Jersey. So how far do we get to stretch it and still call it a coincidence?
posted by mrmcsurly at 6:50 AM on September 12, 2002

My Skepticism leads me to think this is too coincidental

"Too coincidental" That's an amusing concept. My skepticism leads me to believe that mysterious forces aren't trying to send us a message through lottery balls.

Taken in a large enough context, everything that happens is essentially impossible. Consider the actual probability of you existing at all. Millions of your ancestors had to escape death from countless causes through the ages.
posted by quirked at 6:54 AM on September 12, 2002

There are two numbers a day (evening and midday) in the "Numbers" drawing, so that changes the odds.
posted by smackfu at 6:58 AM on September 12, 2002

I argued this all morning with a coworker. For some reason, she was convinced, and still is, that this was a message from God.
I told her the odds of that were pretty slim. I mean, what is God trying to say, exactly? "Sorry I didn't stop the towers from falling..... here's some magic ping pong balls."
There's about as much logic to that as reasoning that crop circles are the product of alien intelligence. Yeah, right.... aliens have nothing better to do than sit around drawing "purty pitchers" in a cornfield and sticking probes up the anal passages of humans.
Fixed? I don't really think so, although it could have been Jerry Falwell.
posted by bradth27 at 7:43 AM on September 12, 2002

posted by bondcliff at 7:54 AM on September 12, 2002

He hath given His only begotten Plate-o-Shrimp for us!
posted by Kafkaesque at 8:39 AM on September 12, 2002

As of 9/11 I had watched exactly 911 hours of television commemorating 9/11. Weird. (And I'm posting this at 9:11!)
posted by mrhappy at 9:10 AM on September 12, 2002

mrhappy: missed it by a minute.

A similar thing happened here a couple months ago, where the Pick 3 Lottery was the same as the current date. Mind you, it wasn't a significant day in any regard, so it wasn't given a second thought. Just because something did happen on 9-11, it doesn't mean anything.

Apparently, the lotteries don't like it when the dates and lottery numbers are identical, as people tend to just play the current date... and pay-offs are usually larger on those kind of days.
posted by mkn at 9:29 AM on September 12, 2002

Douglas Adams once posed a rationale in one of his books that the universe has absolutely no population. The argument was that since the universe is infinite, and there are only a finite number of populated worlds, then there must be an infinite number of unpopulated worlds. Therefore, the ratio of populated worlds to unpopulated worlds being (x/infinity) gives a sum as close to nothing as can be rationally established.

Obviously, much like the famous Achilles and the Tortoise concept, this idea in theory is blatantly untrue, (or, as Adams put it, "This is all, of course, completely impossible") but the same logic can still apply in one's mentality to coincidences like this lottery ticket.

There are a finite number of possible coincidences that actually came into play yesterday against an infinite number of possible coincidences that didn't. The ratio of a coincidence like the lottery ticket being 911 is merely considered interesting because none of the unsuccessful possible coincidences are identified (they can't be, obviously, having never happened.)

In other words, this is just that, a coincidence. The only reason that a random number generator produced 911 on 9/11 is considered "interesting" is because a random number generator producing any other number isn't. QED.

The idea that some "cosmic force" has mandated this is merely a refusal to observe the same "cosmic force" as having mandated the infinite number of things that happened today that aren't considered relevant in any way. To actually compare the ratio of interesting things against the infinite number of uninteresting things would produce a result so close to nothing that any organic entity would have to conclude that nothing interesting ever happens, ever.

If YOU'VE done six impossible things this morning, why not top it off with breakfast as Millyway's, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2002

it's like pi! spirals, happy spirals :)
posted by kliuless at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2002

I'm just cynical enough to suggest a set-up. And anyways, the numbers 911 have been so stamped and branded into our consciousness anymore that we're apt to notice it anywhere and attach meaning to it, even where there is no meaning to be had. My coworkers today were talking about how they would refuse to fly in an airplane on Friday the 13th (heads up, that's tomorrow)....anything bad that happens to them tomorrow, no matter how large or how trivial, they will probably attribute it to the fact that its Friday the 13th. Any other day when that large or small catastrophe occured, it would be just another day, but Friday the 13th is it is with September 11th. We are all finding meaning where there is none.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2002

My feeble attempt at the math: The probability that the lottery will be any date is the number of outcomes that are dates divided by the total number of lottery outcomes. Someone said that the outcomes won't have a leading or ending zero (is that true - couldn't find this documented on the NY lotto webpage). Then there's 1000 outcomes.

The number that are dates: There are 365 days, and the ones that have a two digit month and day are out. This disqualifies Oct 10-31, Nov 10-31, and Dec 10-31. So there's 301 days left. This results in a 301/1000 = 30% chance that the number picked will be a date.

We're looking for the probability of the number picked to be today's date. Laws of conditional probability state: P(lottery is today's date) = P(lottery is a date AND date is today) = P(date is today | lottery is a date) * P(lottery is a date). We already computed P(lottery is a date). The prob that a given date is today is 1/365. Therefore, the probability that the lottery pick is today's date ends up being .000825, or a one in 1213 chance.
posted by kelperoni at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2002

To actually compare the ratio of interesting things against the infinite number of uninteresting things would produce a result so close to nothing that any organic entity would have to conclude that nothing interesting ever happens, ever.

Interestin', ain't it? %^)

Still... of all the possible things that can happen in the universe, we are HERE, on this particular path, where 911 has meaning. What's the significance? Mathematics, religion, destiny?
posted by Dok Millennium at 1:00 PM on September 12, 2002

Thanks for those who did the math, and showed my estimate to be roughly correct. I always forget the exact equations to use for given situations.

jenn: as I said, I allowed for a "subset that fit the 3-digit format", which without figuring I estimated at from 250 to 300 days of the year. I think that was close enough. Accumulate a 1:1200 chance across that many dates, and you get a little less than one-quarter chance that sometime during a given year there will be a match. If you allow a four-year window, the probability rises to 1:1 that there will at some point be a match. So this game probably sees one roughly every four years, though each individual daily game remains at around a 1:1200 chance. Most of them simply go unnoticed, which leaves people freaking out when it does get noticed as some kind of 1-in-a-million coincidence, which it certainly isn't. The chance for ANY day is never more than the chances of the game's limitations. (Think of a quarter flipped heads or tails to match an even or odd day. It's never more rare than 50%, even if you do it on George Washington's birthday. His head came up! Well, it was 50/50.)

eas98: to answer your question, it looks like there were 15000 winners of some type in the numbers game, which is about 4-8 times the usual; the last time it was this big was 8/24, when the game drew 222. Usually about 500-1000 winners guess all three numbers; yesterday, over 5000 did. So, a little more expensive for them than usual, but not outside of existing extremes, either.
posted by dhartung at 1:47 PM on September 12, 2002

kelperoni, don't forget doubles: 109 could be both 10/9 and 1/09, and so on.

However, dhartung's last post gives the idea in which people believe the odds of something increasing depending on the previous outcome: this is known as "Gambler's Fallacy," which is what you are using in your logic.

There are no odds to what day it is to factor because the day is a constant. There was a 100% chance that yesterday was going to be September 11, not a 1/356 chance. What you were calculating would be the equivalent of the odds of randomly selecting a date AND randomly selecting a number and the odds they match. And even so, given the double-date possibilities, certain results will therefore have different odds, much as how there are different odds for dice roll outcomes because of multiple addition combinations.

These figures are under the assumption of a "neutral condition environment." In other words, there is of course a microscopic probability that some events could actually affect the probability of outcome, anywhere the wind blowing a certain ball in the chamber to the insanely low probability that the earth will suddenly change orbit and alter the actual time thus preventing it from actually being September 11th. These are all factors that are assumed so insignificant that they are not addressed as possible, using the probability theory I said in my previous post. Your Gambler's Fallacy comes in the form of the belief that in some possible way yesterday could not have been September 11th.

The randomizer has no knowledge of the date, which in the real-life case is a constant. There was no probabilty that yesterday wasn't 9/11, the day being 9/11 was already happening at the time the drawing was made. It is a given the date is 911, the only odds we are calculating are if the number drawn that day is 911, of which the odds are 1 in 1000, no more, no less.

The difference in examples made easier: flipping two coins. Your math was like flipping two coins at the same time and getting the odds that a heads comes up... in that case the odds are 75% (25% chance of 2H + 50% chance of 1H/1T.) The lottery's equivalent was that one coin has already been flipped, and came up heads. Now you are calculating the odds that the next flip will match the previous... in this case, you are simply determining the odds that this flip will match the previously established constant: the odds are now 50% the coin will come up heads, i.e. matching the last flip.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:29 PM on September 12, 2002

The probability that the lottery number will be today's date is zero on dates that can't be lottery numbers. So on average, the probability that the lottery number is today's date (for a randomly-chosen date) is substantially less than 1 in 1000. Kelperoni's 1 in 1213 sounds about right if you allow zero to be used for dates that would otherwise be two digits. (I personally would disallow this, since dates do not include leading zeroes, but undoubtedly people do play dates like 1/5 as "105," so it seems better to go with what people actually play.)

The fact that some numbers could represent multiple dates (105 could be either 1/05 or 10/5), while true, is not relevant for the calculations, since for each date that can be represented as a three-digit number, there is only one such three-digit number, which means that the odds for that day are still 1 in 1000. So it's 1 in 1000 for the 301 dates that can be represented as there-digit numbers, and 0 in 1000 for the 64 days that can't. Average it together and you should get the same result kelperoni got, just from a different angle.
posted by kindall at 4:07 PM on September 12, 2002

XQUZYPHYR - we are actually trying to answer different questions. You're focusing on the probability of drawing a 911 on 9/11, I computed the probability of drawing the date on any day in the year. So we're both right, for the question that we are answering.

You're also right about the doubles thing, I didn't even think about that. So I guess you're more right than I am...
posted by kelperoni at 6:00 PM on September 12, 2002

This from here
And let me juxtapose to that the utter spookywookiness of the New York Lottery number being 9-1-1 yesterday. If that doesn't make you stop and think, you need to SERVICE ENGINE SOON. Today's Daily News piece on this "eerie coincidence"--boy, they can say that again--quoted some regular guy saying, "I think somebody's trying to tell us to look on the bright side." They didn't cap the S, but still, isn't that a nice thought to leave everybody with?
posted by goethean at 6:16 PM on September 12, 2002

The paper said today this was the first time that a date was drawn on said date in three years. Was this one of those drawings that they show on television? I would LOVE, LOVE to see that tape. WOW. The cute "ball girl" must have freaked out or something.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:04 AM on September 13, 2002

Paris: I'm not sure the ball girls on state lotteries are required to be cute. Or, for that matter, girls.

Here's a link that breaks down the probability.
posted by blueshammer at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2002

And here's a link that seems to point to deeper forces at work...
posted by dash_slot- at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2002

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