James Smart's Philadelphia
July 8, 2020
by James Smart
What’re the Odds of Understanding This?
Little items here and there in Reader’s Digest magazine are often more interesting than the long articles, digested or indigested. One that struck my fancy last month had only five lines.
It was headed “What’re the Odds.” The first entry said that the odds of finding a four-leaf clover are one in 10,000.
That bothered me right away. Is that the odds if you are diligently searching in a large grassy meadow on a warm summer day? Or the odds of finding one when you are walking down a city street in February?
I suppose the former, or something like it, is assumed. But even if a reader is expected to digest that idea, there’s a problem in the reported odds. One in one thousand what? One in one thousand attempts to see one in a place that one might not be? Or one in a search of a likely location for a four-leaf clover?
Or, perhaps finding one when strolling along, thinking of something else, and accidentally spotting one of the little weeds?
I guess it depends on how much luck you have. Finding a four-leaf clover traditionally brings good luck. Does that mean you’re lucky to find one?
A little research claims that the earliest mention of four-leaf clovers was in the year 1640. It doesn’t mention luck.
A possible first mention of good luck was from an 11-year-old girl, who wrote in an 1877 letter to St. Nicholas Magazine, a children’s publication, "Did the fairies ever whisper in your ear that a four-leaf clover brought good luck to the finder?"
My internet source didn’t make it clear whether the kid was hearing fairies, but I hope somebody referred her to a doctor or a psychiatrist.
The on-line experts (who know everything, don’t they?) say that there are approximately 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every four-leaf clover.
Somebody actually examined over five million clovers once, and found the real frequency to be closer to one four-leafer in 5,000.
Some folks with nothing better to do have tried to find as many as they can, and some collectors have reached as high as 160,000 four-leaf clovers in a lifetime. I don’t know where they collected them, or how much time they devoted to the hobby.
The world record for number collected in one hour is 166, set by an American woman in 2018.
The Reader’s Digest went on with other “What‘re the Odds” examples. It said that the odds of seeing a black cat are one in three.
I need more information about that. The statisticians involved in this explain that 33 percent of cats taken in by shelters are black.
Most of us don’t spend much time in animal shelters. Four or five neighborhood cats wander through my yard frequently, and none are black. I guess that folks in animal shelters get to view large herds of cats, which helps strike an average.
Reader’s Digest says “On average, a Friday the 13th occurs once every 212.35 days.” We’ve had one Friday the 13th this year, in March. There will be another in November.
Suppose a black cat passed by while you were picking a four leaf clover on Friday the 13th. What’re the odds of that?
Of All Things