Exposing the "Razzle Dazzle" carnival scam

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/01/exposing-the-razzle-dazzle.html


I saw this a couple of days ago. I thought something was up with the counting immediately, but I also assumed that I had failed to understand something about how the game worked, rather than assuming the scam was just that blatant. I’m consistently amazed by just how simple scams like this turn out to be.


I almost gave up on this video because the “math expert” was so bad at adding…


I kept thinking “wait, am I looking at the right numbers, is it the number above or below the marble he’s counting?”


I want to see the dude that adds up dart scores in those tournaments play this game. He’ll have the score added up correctly before the scammer can even start.


“Razzle Dazzle”? They might as well call it “Grifter”


But those are the people you don’t want playing. If they call the added number before you can count for them you sit back, let them get fed up and move on to a sucker.

(Not actual you, the hypothetical player.)


When I was a kid, and cashiers has to type the price of items into a cash register my dad would tell me the price, hand the cashier the item and then I would try to add the total in my head, before the cashier could type in the price. I got to be faster than the cashiers.

I still try to “race” when it comes to adding like this, the first few times I just thought I was looking at the wrong label, but then I quickly picked up on something being off. So, that paid off, I guess.

My question is when the odds are that good to begin with and the house is going to win anyway, why not just play fairly? I know…I know, greed.

I saw his sketchy adding skills right away, but it took a while for it to sink in that he was deliberately cooking the math. If you’re very careful to look at the board, there are digits along the top edge, and holes along the bottom edge. But if you don’t look carefully at that, the ambiguous placement of (most of) the numbers makes it easy to miss that they apply to the hole below, not above the number. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.


Well yes, greed, but it’s a psychological thing to let them get a little bit of winning before letting them count on their own. If you play fairly then they will not likely win anything, which is psychologically demoralizing and cause them to give up quickly.


Yep, as with any gambler, the house is dealing here with someone who’s as addicted to the action as he is to actually winning anything. A casino or carny (or an app designer, for that matter) has to know how to keep them hooked for as long as possible, even if it means playing dirty when there’s no need to.


Also a devilish twist that it’s when they cheat that you win. If they sum faster than the mark and shout YOU WIN! the average schlub stops trying to sum it themselves because “math is hard” and “why would this guy cheat to make me win”.


And “why should I correct him if it means I lose?”

Like all scams, a little greedy dishonesty goes a long way.


I work with a guy that has a masters in Math, he also sucks at arithmetic. Most higher maths are about avoiding numbers and instead operating on the concepts of numbers.


Exactly. The mark is looking in one direction for the “trick” and completely misses it coming from another direction. Some people up above said this is simple but I think the interplay of various techniques is pretty elegant for this sort of scam.


Yes. I doubt James Grime, MSci, PhD, of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge routinely uses arithmetic in his day job. :wink:


His dice analogy is WAY off! Just looking at the odds of scoring a total of “48” (which gives you an instant-win of 100 points)…

With a die, there is a 1/6 chance of hitting any particular number, so your odds would be:
1 in 68 = 1 in 1.6 million.

On the actual board, of the 143 holes, there are suspiciously just 11 holes marked “6”. Your odds are:
11/143 x 10/142 x 9/141 x 8/140 x 7/139 x 6/138 x 5/137 x 4/136 = 1 in 21.5 billion.

It’s the same situation (and odds) when trying to score a total of “8” (which also gives you an instant-win), since there are only 11 holes marked “1”.

And, even with this, there is still the issue that throwing marbles into the box is far from random. I’m sure there’s some Gaussian distribution involved (ie, the marbles tend to cluster in a non-random way). If you look at how the 6s are placed on the board, they are, by design, salted over the entire expanse of the board.

So, the dice analogy is useful, in showing that a win is difficult; but however difficult it seems to win with the dice, it’s much, much more difficult on the board itself!

[Disclaimer: I may be misremembering my high school math and if so it could be as easy as a coin flip.]

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You’re mixing up the count of all possible ordered permutations* of the dice with all possible sums, which is a much lower number, since many permutations may sum to the same number. Is the distribution of the likelihood of those sums wherein the con lies.

You’re right, though (as he says) the dice game is more forgiving than the board.

* Probably the wrong term. Off to Combinatorics Hell for me.


Also immediately noticed he was counting wrong.

How does this game survive in the era of smartphones? It seems trivial for a concerned player to snap a pic of each turn and be able to verify their count against the operator’s claims.

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Math gets much harder when you get to the point that the proofs are written out in paragraph form.