The Luckiest Dessert in History

Powerball, a multi-state lottery, has unique rules.  Players pick six numbers: five which they hope will match five randomly selected white balls; plus one additional number which they hope will match a randomly selected red ball (the Powerball).  Any player who successfully predicts all six balls correctly wins the jackpot.  The odds of hitting the jackpot? One in over 195 million.  However, correctly predicting the five white balls only results in a large prize itself, currently $200,000.  The odds here?  One in 5,138,133.

But something went wrong during March 30, 2005 Powerball drawing.  One hundred and ten people hit those one-in-five million odds, winning, collectively, almost $20 million dollars.  Immediately, officials assumed rampant fraud.   They plotted the winner’s locations on a map, and, seeing no obvious patterns, dug deeper.  What they found wasn’t fraud.  It was food.  Specifically, fortune cookies.

Wonton Food, Inc., in New York, makes fortune cookies.  A lot of them, in fact, with distribution across the country.  They print up thousands of copies of each fortune, replete with lucky numbers.  And as luck would have it, one of these sets of numbers exactly matched the five white balls in that week’s Powerball drawing.  One hundred and ten people played those numbers — and finding no fraud in the end, Powerball officials concluded that these 110 lucky Chinese food fans were indeed winners.

Bonus fact: Fortune cookies aren’t Chinese desserts, historically.  They’re Japanese.

Related reading: “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food” by Jennifer 8. Lee, four and a half stars on 74 reviews.  Available on Kindle.  Also, Ms. Lee gave an absolutely incredible TEDx talk on the topics above, and a lot more.  It’s 18 minutes long but 100% amazing.

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