Wired reports on the fascinating story of Mohan Srivastava, a geological statistician who found statistical anomalies that enabled him to win at scratch lottery games. The story reminded me of an incident in the 1988 Fall Semester at Purdue University when the Society of Physics Students cracked the Burger King “Triple Jump Checkers” game.
“Triple Jump Checkers” was one of the largest promotional efforts ever when it came out in 1988. Every game piece was potentially a winner (typically of a small drink, less often of small fries), however there were several options for scratching your way across the check board, substantially reducing the odds. The game piece also included additional prize pieces that could be collected and assembled to win a cruise, a dream house, or a Pontiac Grand Prix. A vintage Burger King commercial describing the promotion is available:
Here’s another commercial.
Unfortunately for Burger King, whoever designed the game piece was lazy and did not randomize the checker jump game with respect to the prize pieces. One Purdue physics student noted that a game piece with the same prize pieces always had the same checker jump solution. From then on, the race began to tabulate all the winning checker jump moves for any game piece based on the associated prize pieces. Soon, the chalkboard in the physics student lounge had a complete listing of the winning moves and every piece was a winner. We’d go across the street from the physics building to Burger King to claim our drink or fries, buy another snack, get another game piece and repeat. The fun only lasted a few days before the manager insisted they were out of game pieces and ended the promotion.
Apparently the West Lafayette, Indiana franchisee was not the only one unhappy about the promotion:
Although franchisees have criticized Burger King’s advertising efforts for serveral years, the grousing hit new heights with the recently concluded Triple Jump Checkers promotion. Lavely had boasted that the $140 million sweepstakes, which awarded cash and prizes to customers who won a scratch-off card game, would boost traffic by 7 percent to 12 percent.
“We ended up discounting a lot of food to customers who were coming into our restaurants anyway,” lamented Gary Cain, a franchisee in Battle Creek, Mich.