The 9-11 Lottery Coincidence

Everything's connected: the attacks on America last year, the New York State lottery, the collapse of WorldCom, the Bush Administration's proposed war against Iraq, the death of quarterback Johnny Unitas, and many other private events. To top this off, Arthur C. Clarke anticipated some of these incidents decades ago.

Let me back up a bit. On Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002 — 9/11/02 — the New York State lottery numbers were 911, an eerie coincidence that set many people to thinking or, perhaps more accurately, to not thinking.

A natural question comes to mind: How likely is this? After all, the lottery took place in New York state on the anniversary of the mass murder exactly one year before.

These factors are not relevant, however. On any given day, each of the 1,000 possiblities — 000, 001, ... 233, ..., 714, ..., 998, 999 — is as likely to come up as any other. This is true of Sept. 11 as well, so the probability that 911 would come up on that date is simply 1 in a 1,000. This probability is small, but not minuscule.

A Better Question

The broader question that should come to mind, however, is: What is the probability that some event of this general sort — something that is resonant with the date or likely to stimulate us to think of it — would occur on Sept. 11? The answer is impossible to say with any precision, but it is, I argue, quite high.

First off, there are two daily drawings in the New York State lottery so there were two chances for 911 to come up that day, increasing the probability to (a bit under) 1 in 500. More importantly, there were innumerable other ways for an uncanny coincidence to occur.

How many addresses or license plates, for example, have 911 in them? At each of these addresses and for each of these vehicles, something could have occurred that caused people to think of Sept. 11. Possibilities include an accident, murder, or arrest of someone suspected of terrorism, related to a victim of the attack, or otherwise associated with it.

Or consider sports scores and statistics. There are countless ways for 911 to occur here. One coincidence that I personally noted involved the death of Johnny Unitas, the former Baltimore Colts star, on Sept. 11th. Arguably the best quarterback in history, he might be ranked No. 1 among NFL quarterbacks. Combine this ranking with his jersey number 19 and you have yet another instance of 911, albeit in a different order, on Sept. 11.

You might say that there is no message associated with Unitas' death, but even those people believing in the significance of the 911 drawing can't say what its message was.

Stocks, War, and Arthur C. Clarke

The stock market is also a major producer of numbers, many of them, it seems, totally fictional.

This brings to mind WorldCom, whose collapse dwarfed Enron's and whose stock was selling a bit under $64 per share a couple of years ago. The 3 billion or so outstanding shares are now worthless, so $191 billion in investors' wealth has disappeared. Those same three digits again! Oddly, $191 billion is very close to the Pentagon's estimated cost for the proposed war in Iraq, which, some claim, is sheltering al Qaeda members, bringing us back once again to Sept. 11. Talk about circular reasoning!

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