Monday, September 25

Quiz: Your lousy chances of winning Mega Millions

The Mega Millions jackpot is over $1.1 billion, and each ticket’s odds of winning Friday’s drawing are 1 in 302.6 million.

How bad are those odds?

Take this not-terribly-serious quiz to find out.

[As Mega Millions hits $1 billion, winning doesn’t mean a happy ending]

You’re 70 times more likely to be killed by a shark

That’s a bit of a cliche, but c’mon, it’s Shark Week! To be clear, you are extremely unlikely to be killed by a shark — the odds are 1 in 4.3 million, according to Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File — yet you are 70 times more likely to be killed by a shark than to win a billion dollars.

Of course, the chance that you, specifically, are attacked by a shark depends greatly on whether you are in the water with an opportunistic shark, just like the chance that you win the lottery depends greatly on whether you buy a ticket. We are using overall odds for examples in this story; your situation will vary.

Question 1 of 5

If you’re unlucky enough to be killed by a shark, which species are the most likely culprits?

It’s not always easy to identify the shark, but when species is known, great whites have killed the most people (57 in the past 442 years), followed by tiger sharks (36) and bull sharks (26).

Wobbegongs, like Grandma Shark and Baby Shark, have not killed anyone as far as we know.

As for movie beasts, the mechanical Bruce in “Jaws” and the computer-generated megalodon together chewed up a couple dozen people — not counting sequels — according to fan sites that track such things.

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You’re at least 216 times more likely to be struck by lightning this year

According to the US National Weather Service, your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 1.2 million in a given year; the Lightning Safety Council says 1 in 1.4 million.

Question 2 of 5

In which state are you most likely to be hit?

The Tampa Bay area named its hockey team the Lightning, and not just because the Flamingos had already been used. The tropical moisture, heat and ocean air currents make the atmosphere in Florida particularly unstable and prone to generating storms.

About 25 million lightning strikes hit the ground every year, mostly in summer. Hundreds of people are hit annually, and about 20 die.

Between 2011 and 2020, 49 people were killed by lightning in Florida — more than twice as many as in any other state, according to the Lightning Safety Council’s analysis of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Storm Data. Texas was second with 22.

You are about 3,300 times less likely to be hit by space junk

Here’s a silver lining!

NASA says there are millions of pieces of old satellites, rocket parts and other debris of various sizes orbiting the Earth, and at least 27,000 of them are larger than a softball. Bits of it are constantly falling toward Earth, but estimates of the chance that one will fall on you range from 1 in several billion to 1 in a trillion.

Question 3 of 5

How many people have been hit by falling space trash?

A charred, six-inch piece of a Delta II rocket’s fuel tank fluttered into the shoulder of an Oklahoma woman named Lottie Williams in 1997, as she walked in a park with friends. It is the only confirmed case of space trash falling from orbit onto a human since the first satellite, Sputnik I, was launched in 1957.

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A Chinese boy reportedly was hurt in 2002 when a bit of rocket debris from a recent launch broke his toe.

[Debris from China rocket launch to crash-land — and no one knows where]

Don’t even dream about a perfect bracket

The Mega Millions jackpot isn’t the only big payout happening this weekend. Powerball’s grand prize is up to $170 million, and you have a similar — although slightly better — chance of winning it (1 in a little over 292.2 million).

The odds of winning both are 1 in more than 88 quadrillion. Compare that to something else with astronomical odds.

Question 4 of 5

Which is more likely: That you win both prizes or fill out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket?

If you fill out your bracket by guessing or flipping a coin, your odds that you pick all 63 games correctly are greater than 1 in 9.2 quintillionaccording to a story by Daniel Wilco on the NCAA website.

However, if you “know a little something about basketball,” your chance of perfection increases substantially, to 1 in 120.2 billion.

The person to get the closest (verifiably) was Gregg Nigl of Ohio, who correctly picked the first 49 games in 2019.

Question 5 of 5

Have you beaten crazy odds like this before?

The odds that your parents met, liked each other, had sex, and the exact sperm would fertilize the exact egg that grew into you could be as long as 1 in 400 quadrillion, according to a provocative chain of calculations by author Ali Binazir. He’s a self-described “happiness engineer,” not a scientist or mathematician, although his post describes in detail how he came to his theoretical conclusion. Suffice it to say, the odds are long.

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When he added in 150,000 generations of ancestors who also had to have all that happen to create the two people who created you, then he ended up with a number that is 10 followed by 2.7 million zeros.

Those are much longer odds than your chance of winning Mega Millions and Powerball and being attacked by a shark and being struck by lightning and being hit by space garbage and filling out that one perfect NCAA Tournament bracket.

Photo illustrations by Shelly Tan. Photos: iStock; Tom Pennington/Getty.

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