Beating the Lottery
Remember Voltaire...the French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher (1694-1778)? Here is a related fun story...
Needing to raise some money, the French government ran a lottery from 1728 to 1730. At this time, a lottery involved a fixed number of tickets for purchase.
But, the French government made a bad miscalculation, essentially offering a lottery prize that exceded the total amount possibly raised by lottery ticket sales.
Voltaire and his friend Charles-Marie de La Condamine, a statistician, noticed this financial error and knew that it gave them a mathematical advantage. Thus, the two (and some friends) bought up all of the remaining lottery tickets (the majority).
As expected, Voltaire's "syndicate" won. Voltaire’s share alone was over a million francs and Voltaire never had to work for his living again.
But, between his writings (e.g. Candide, a satire on Leibniz), Voltaire did have time to have a 15-year affair with Émilie du Châtelet, a mathematician and wife of the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatelet (who oddly sanctioned the affair!).
Meanwhile, Voltaire's statistician friend became a geographer and used his lottery portion to fund an exploration of the Amazon. The result: he was able to disprove the theory that the earth was round but rather had a flat spot at the poles.
In today's lotteries, how much money would be needed to turn the odds "significantly" in your favor? Is it worth it? Is it possible?