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Crack the Code, Win the Lottery

Although not directly related to ISEB or ISTQB software testing information, I just read an excellent article from Wired Magazine that I just had to share.  The article focuses on the fact that the numbers on scratch-off lottery tickets are not as random as they seem.  In fact, they are not random at all.  Huh?

A trained statistician from MIT and Stanford looked into the randomness of lottery tickets, and concluded that it would be impossible to achieve perfect randomness.  The reason is that the tickets are mass-produced, which requires some computer program to print the numbers.  And because the lottery commissions need to keep track of the number of winning tickets, it cannot be 100% random.  As such, with the right mathematics, the lottery could actually be solved.

And that is exactly what he did regarding a scratch-off tic-tac-toe lottery game.  He actually discovered a defect in the game whereby the visible numbers (the ones you need to try and match by scratching off the squares) actually revealed information about the hidden numbers!  Yes, the code was cracked!

I won’t go into the details of how the code was cracked, but you can read the entire article to find out (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/01/ff_lottery/all/1).  The article even has pictures and diagrams showing the code-cracking tactics. 

The bottom line is that his technique proved correct a whopping 90% of the time on the tic-tac-toe game, allowing him to pick the winning tickets before anything was scratched off!  Although he figured he could earn $600 a day using his technique, instead he went to the lottery commission and ultimately they pulled the game off the shelves.

The article also touches on some history around the lottery, specific examples of others who may have capitalized from similar techniques, code-cracking methods for other types of lottery games, the possibility of an organized “lottery-cracking” ring, and more.  It’s a pretty long article but worth a read; very interesting stuff!

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