What are the odds of a perfect March Madness bracket? Nobody knows.
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The Madness is upon us.
The NCAA Tournament, which approaches with much anticipation and annually flushes the experts from the woodwork, officially has begun.
Thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, everyone in your office has the means by which to tell you about their expertly crafted bracket -- even after you've left the water cooler. Another added element of buzz this season is the Quicken Loans bracket challenge, insured by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, which promises a cool billion-dollar reward for a perfect bracket.
That sent people scrambling to fill out their bracket in hopes of achieving longer-than-lottery odds. It's still fun, even if it's highly improbable. It also sent people scrambling to figure out the odds of such an event.
So, what are the odds?
I've often seen the figure, 1 in 9.2 quintillion. (One quintillion is a 1 followed by 18 zeroes.)
That number assumes each game is a 50-50 proposition, which of course isn't true. A No. 1 seed beats a 16 seed literally every time. With information like that coloring our decisions in the first round, it improves the odds well beyond randomly guessing every game.
The Regressing blog on Deadspin.com points out the odds of a perfect bracket could be as low -- relatively speaking -- as 1 in 128 billion. That's according to DePaul mathematician Jeffrey Bergen, but is more like an estimate, because it's very complicated if not impossible to calculate odds when it involves objective and subjective information.
Buffet himself is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying "Einstein himself could not figure out the odds."
Einstein was bright and all, but a theoretical physicist might not be much help in calculating odds for our annual festival celebrating men's college basketball.
For my (play) money, I would trust projections from a guy like Nate Silver, who does this sort of thing for a living.
Here's an interesting excerpt from the Regressing blog (which you can read in full here). How long of odds are 1 in 128 billion?
128 billion is still an enormous number-nobody's about to win Buffett's money-but it's not an astronomical one. If all seven billion people on Earth filled out a somewhat informed bracket with these odds, over the course of 13 years, chances would be greater than not (51 percent) that someone would nail it. If everyone filled out a coin-flip bracket, that break-even would come over the course of 911 million years.