The Know-Nothing Oscar Pool

You can play here until March 4th!

Backstory: Since 2009, I’ve had an annual Oscars wager with my friend Ryan. From 2009 to 2014, Ryan always won.

Ryan’s advantage? He is much smarter than I am. (Smart friends: I don’t recommend it.) He’d go to and identify the favorite in each category. (For close races, he’d supplement with a little extra research.) While Ryan leveraged the wisdom of the crowds, I’d fall back on my own personal favorites and erratic judgment. I’d lose because I couldn’t keep myself from “clever” (read: stupid) underdog picks.

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Then, in 2015 I devised a new scoring system to neutralize Ryan’s advantage. An Oscar pool for know-nothings like me.

Picks would be scored based on their probability of winning. If prediction markets gave a film a 1-in-2 chance of winning, then its victory was worth 2 points. If they gave it a 1-in-15 chance of winning, then its victory was worth 15 points.

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This system has a simple mathematical property: it equalizes expected value. So you can follow any probabilistic strategy you like. Pick all favorites. Pick all longshots. Pick the nominees whose names make the most appealing anagrams (“Lady Bird” –> “I Dry Bald”; Phantom Thread” –> “Top Hardhat Men”; “The Post” –> “Hot Step”; “Get Out” –> “Toe Tug”).

In the long run, it will all return the same average total: 24 points a year.

Now, it didn’t matter that Ryan is a neurosurgery resident, busy saving lives by mastering the inner workings of the most complex organ in existence. None of that did him any good. What an idiot!

Anyway, this year, I am excited to open up the game to you, with the KNOW-NOTHING OSCAR POOL. Continue reading


The Math with Bad Drawings Reader Survey!

EDIT 11/27/2017: The survey is now closed. Thanks so much to the nearly 1,000 people who took it during the week. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts!

And in case you were wondering, here’s how that first question (“Thanks for taking this survey!”) turned out:

survey result

Original Post:

Today, I have a request for you: I’d like some waffles, please.

But in lieu of a crenelated syrup castle, I would gratefully accept your taking 3 minutes to fill out this quick reader survey.

I am super grateful for those who take the time to look at this blog and verify that its drawings are, indeed, bad. I would love to know more about why folks come here, what they seek, and if they’d like T-shirts.

All survey participants will be entered into a drawing for the prize of my affections, in which 100% of entrants shall win.

Link here, or you can find it embedded below:

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1.2 Trillion Ways to Play the Same Sudoku

or, Group Theory on the Puzzle Page

Last week, I visited my dad, who still gets the newspaper.

(For my younger readers: that’s a stack of cheap paper printed with a detailed description of yesterday.)

Anyway, for an ungrateful millennial like me, a print newspaper means one thing: puzzles.

Like Sudoku.

You already know the rules: nine rows, nine columns, and nine medium squares, each containing the digits 1 through 9. You’re given some; you fill in the rest. It looks something like this (by which I mean, “here’s an example lifted from the Wikipedia page”):


Now, I’m not much of a Sudoku player. (Crossword guy, to be honest.) But glancing at the puzzle, my dad and I got to wondering: How do they generate these puzzles?

We weren’t sure.

So we found a more tractable question: What if you were a lazy Sudoku maker?


That is, suppose you managed to generate a single Sudoku puzzle. (Or steal it from the Wikipedia page.) And suppose you wanted to make a few bucks selling collections of puzzles in airport bookshops. But there’s a catch: You’re not sure how to make more.

How many “different” puzzles can you get from a single Sudoku?

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Math Exams with Only One Question


According to legend, this was once the actual  final exam at my high school. But according to legend, England chose kings by sword-yanking contests, so, you know.

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