Tag Archives: Paul the Octopus

Psychic Sea Pets Live up to Statistics, Not Hype

The famous Vampire Squid predicted that Brazil would win the World Cup this year, which is kind of awkward, seeing as Germany won. Paul the octopus was much better at predicting winners.  Here’s Paul:

Vampire Squid

But as I told you here, you need a lot of wanna-be psychic sea pets in order to make a good psychic sea pet.  It’s also easier to have a psychic sea pet when you can narrow its choices to the two that are in existence (e.g. Argentina versus Germany in the finals), not any options that previous events have eliminated (e.g. Brazil in the finals). Alternatively, you could try an animal with only six arms, like Henry the Hexapus, instead of one with eight arms or a lot of ink.




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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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