STRANGE BUT TRUE
Q: Can you beat the odds at the casino? Maybe, maybe not, but can you at least name ways you might try?
A: 1. Exploit the laws of nature: Since roulette wheels are mechanical instruments prone to wear and tear, unbalances arise that steer the picks, says former casino floor manager Bill Zender, as reported by Jeff Wilser, of Mental Floss magazine. “In 1873, Charles Jagger found a wonky wheel at Monte Carlo and bet on the biased numbers. He came away with $400,000 — that’s $7.8 million in today’s dough!”
2. Stick to the drab side of the room. To see where the odds are the worst, look for the flashing lights and bright colors used to make those games more attractive, like craps with its crazy bets of “the Field” and “Any 7.”
3. Practice makes perfect. Overall the house wins, but one exception is video poker, with its typical house advantage of only 0.46 percent, and even shifting in the gambler’s favor at times. The payoff is high but to cash out, you need to play at an expert level and most players simply aren’t skilled enough. So study up.
4. Know when to say when. Even with the house’s 5 percent edge at roulette, you have a decent chance of winning that first spin, and the second, and the third ... but if you were to play “forever,” eventually all your chips would belong to the house. Advice: If you are winning, stop.
5. Never, ever play Keno. At some casinos, the house edge is as high as 35 percent. “No gambler has ever matched all 20 numbers on a 20-spot ticket. The odds of it ever happening are 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,174,336. (That’s 3.5 quintillion!)”
Q: What’s the point or function of zebras’ highly distinctive patterned stripes?
A: The theories go way back as scientists have looked at the ranges and ecology of various zebras and other members of the genus “Equus,” says Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis, as reported by Susan Milius in Science News magazine. Along the way, they’ve undermined the notions that the stripes camouflage the animals in woods or dazzle big predators into misjudging prey movements. Instead Caro’s team found that “motion dazzle,” as it is called, does not prevent lions from catching an abundance of zebras. Nor did anything confirm that stripes facilitate social interactions in big zebra groups.
Most compelling is Caro’s theory that the stripes now serve to discourage blood-thirsty flies from alighting on the animals. Flies, it turns out, prefer to land on solid colors rather than contrasting stripes. Still, Caro adds, “scientists may never know how zebras first got their stripes.”
Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at firstname.lastname@example.org.