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Playing the Penny

Probability puzzles require you to weigh all the possibilities and pick the most likely outcome.


Puzzle ID:#9592
Fun:*** (2.61)
Difficulty:*** (2.52)
Submitted By:Marriot*




You are in a bar having a drink with an old friend when he proposes a wager.

"Want to play a game?" he asks.
"Sure, why not?" you reply.
"Ok, here's how it works. You choose three possible outcomes of a coin toss, either HHH, TTT, HHT or whatever. I will do likewise. I will then start flipping the coin continuously until either one of our combinations comes up. The person whose combination comes up first is the winner. And to prove I'm not the cheating little weasel you're always making me out to be, I'll even let you go first so you have more combinations to choose from. So how about it? Is $10.00 a fair bet?"

You know that your friend is a skilled trickster and usually has a trick or two up his sleeve but maybe he's being honest this time. Maybe this is a fair bet. While you try and think of which combination is most likely to come up first, you suddenly hit upon a strategy which will be immensely beneficial to you. What is it?


The answer is to let your friend go first. This puzzle is based on an old game/scam called Penny Ante. No matter what you picked, your friend would be able to come up with a combination which would be more likely to beat yours. For example, if you were to choose HHH, then unless HHH was the first combination to come up you would eventually lose since as soon as a Tails came up, the combination THH would inevitably come up before HHH. The basic formula you can use for working out which combination you should choose is as follows. Simply take his combination (eg. HHT) take the last term in his combination, put it at the front (in this case making THH) and your combination will be more likely to come up first. Try it on your friends!

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