Tag Archives: octopodes

Inky, the Houdini-esque Cephalopoda

Inky the Octopus escaped from his enclosure in the National Aquarium of New Zealand by sneaking out via a hole in his tank, then fortuitously finding a drain pipe that leads to the ocean.  (Story.)

Octopodes are famously adept at being able to escape through tiny holes – anything over the size of a quarter is fair game.  They play games, use tools, and predict the results of sporting matches (okay, not so much to the last one).


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Paul the Octopus, the Vampire Squid, and Getting Your Very Own Psychic Sea Pet

Paul the Octopus (may his eight-legged soul rest in peace) was famous for correctly predicting all of the 2010 World Cup matches involving Germany. Now the Vampire Squid, who predicted the medal order of the top four countries at the London Olympics, has “bet” that Brazil will win the World Cup. Goldman Sachs’ team of numbers-crunchers have been left in the dust by sea life that is often eaten at finer Japanese restaurants.

So what’s a non-slimy, non-seafaring statistician to do? Rather than admit defeat, may I suggest crunching a few numbers on the probability of getting sea life to correctly predict the outcome of sporting events?

Neil explains the general idea as it applies to scams, but the same math works for squids and cephalopods, too.  Walk into your local aquarium and collect a few starfish, penguins, seals, sea lions, octopodes, and squid. (The stingrays  might not work well for this experiment.) Devise a way that each animal can “pick” a winner of a match and give all of the animals a chance to predict the first match.

One that match has been played, kick out all of the animals who got it wrong. Send the penguin who picked the loser back to the penguin enclosure, toss the starfish at a sea anemone, and send the octopus down to the Japanese restaurant. Then, with the new match-ups in hand, give all of the remaining animals a chance to pick the next winner.  Repeat procedure – losers go back to the tank, and the winners get more fish. Repeat until you have at least one sea creature that has correctly predicted a nice, long streak of winners. Announce it to the press.

If there are, say, six games, there is a 1 in 64 chance that someone will randomly pick all of the winners. But if there are 100 “someones,” even if that someone likes to hit a pill bottle around its tank, the chance that at least one of those sea creatures will randomly choose the winner is quite high (about 79.3%). Make sure you stock up on penguins and starfish before performing this statistical sleight-of-hand and you’re ready to have your very own psychic sea pet.


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