Sunday, February 1, 2015

Squares Probabilities at FiveThirtyEight

In a squares pool today? Want to know if your square is any good? Check my latest article at FiveThirtyEight: How Much Money You're Going to Win Playing Super Bowl Squares.

Expected payouts are shown for the standard version of Super Bowl squares, in which payouts occur based on the score at the end of each quarter. I also calculated expected payouts for the "Every Score Pays" rules, in which 5% of the pool is dished out for every score change (including extra points).

In doing some idle googling for the article, I came across the following on Leon Lett and the hate mail he received from squares owners after Super Bowl XXVII (didn't make the edit, so I thought I'd share it here):

The nice thing about a squares pool is that it can add drama to even the most lopsided of Super Bowl blowouts. Just ask Leon Lett. Lett was a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys during their dominant, dynastic run in the early nineties. In the waning minutes of their blowout victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, Lett recovered a fumble and seemed to be on his way to returning that fumble for another Cowboys touchdown. But Lett did not see Bills wideout Don Beebe streaking down the sideline, and began his touchdown celebration a tad too early. Beebe swatted the ball out of Lett’s hand at the one yard line, and the Bills retained possession.

The score at the time was 52-17. Had Lett scored to make it 59-17, that could well have been the final score of the game, thus making a winner of the 9-7 square. Instead, the game ended with no further scoring by either team, and 2-7 was the winning square.

Three months later, Sports Illustrated reunited Lett and Beebe for a May 1993 article. Over breakfast at “a bagel joint near Beebe’s condo”, Lett recalled the hate mail he received from angry owners of the 9-7 square:
'They all sent me the squares,'' he says. ''It was like they felt I needed to see them, like it was their receipt or something. One guy told me that thanks to me, he lost the money he was going to use to have a backyard pool put in for his kids. Another guy told me I cost him the $150 he was going to use to take his family on vacation. I'm thinking, Where were you going to take them -- the movies?'' 
One disgruntled fan went so far as to ship Lett a hot dog, a reminder of a time when venting your righteous fan-rage took more thought and effort than merely dashing off an ALL CAPS TWEET.

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