700 ESPN Sports Beat | 3-24-16

The Odds Of A Perfect Bracket Are Too Infinitesimal For My Puny Primate Brain

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, middle, during a time out in the second half against Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournamet on Friday, March 18, 2016, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Middle Tennesee State won, 90-81. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
(Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)

Perfect brackets: They’re rather hard. You know this. Before we get into the whole “you have a one-in-who-gives-a-craptillion chance of winning” part of the story, though, let’s talk about why it’s so hard to grasp big numbers like this.

Generally speaking, without a way to anchor a number to an everyday concept, people tend to have a hard time with Very Big Numbers. For some of them, like my favorite thing of all things the Powerball lottery, it’s still doable. For instance, your odds of winning the Powerball lottery are roughly equivalent to picking a random adult who lives in the U.S. and Canada and that person being you. It’s the probability of selecting a random person on earth, and that person having been in your freshman biology class. Powerball, with its 1 in 292 million probability of success, approaches the upper limit of what we can convey.

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