If you attend a Super Bowl party this Sunday, expect to run into a sheet of paper with 100 boxes on it and be asked to pay to put your initials in one or many of them.
But how do you pick?
Super Bowl squares have been a staple of parties dedicated to the National Football League’s championship game for decades. Participants choose squares, and once the grid is filled with initials or names, numbers between 0 and 9 are randomly chosen and put across the grid horizontally and vertically, tied to each of the two teams playing. At the end of each quarter, the final digit in the two teams’ scores matches one square, and the person who claimed that square wins part of the pot.
While certain numbers tend to win more — 0, 3 and 7 are the best, based on historical studies — players don’t know where those numbers will be when they are choosing their squares. In the absence of that knowledge, players have developed two simple but opposing strategies for choosing their squares.
Many players purchasing multiple squares will avoid choosing them in the same row or column, which increases the odds of landing on one of the better numbers. Conversely, some players will choose multiple squares in the same row or column in hopes that a good number lands there, which would increase their odds of pairing that number with another good one on the other axis.
While those two approaches could appeal to certain types of gamblers — do you like putting all your eggs in one basket or spreading them out, effectively — neither is actually going to increase your odds of winning. According to Dr. Aaron Montgomery, an associate producer of mathematics and probability at Baldwin Wallace University, the only thing that will increase your odds of winning is buying more squares.
“All the probability perfectly washes out,” he said. “The overall probability is exactly the same as if you just sort of randomly let your toddler point and pick the squares that you’re going to pick. It really does not matter.”
Each square has the same probability — basically, 1 in 100 — before the numbers are assigned, Montgomery said in an interview. He likened it to games like Keno or roulette, where all the numbers have the same odds to win, but noted that doesn’t stop players from insisting that they have successful strategies.
“You can say, ‘Oh, it’s just like a roulette wheel, it doesn’t matter which square you pick,’ but [roulette players] are going to go ‘Nuh-uh, 37 is magic!’”
Montgomery even offered a third option for a Super Bowl squares strategy that would have just as strong a chance to pay off as the two outlined above: Draw a smiley face with a few in boxes in parallel rows and a “U” of squares underneath.
“My strategy for these sorts of things is you should do whatever’s gonna give you a little bit of joy or fun,” he said. “If drawing a smiley face on the thing makes you happy, that’s awesome. That’s something you get to keep, even if you horribly lose the Super Bowl squares.”
Do you have a strategy for Super Bowl squares? Share them with Jeremy by email at email@example.com.
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