Things You Thought You Knew #6: Is a Coin Toss Really a 50-50 Chance?

What You Thought You Knew: If you’re guessing heads or tails in a coin toss, both parties have an equal chance (50%) of winning because a coin has only 2 sides.

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What You Didn’t Know: If you choose heads and then begin the toss with heads facing up, the odds shall be ever in your favor for a coin toss. Strangely enough, the odds of winning aren’t 50-50 — they’re about 49-51 in favor of the side that you place face-up at the beginning of the toss. Students and Standford University had a blast flipping coins under high-speed cameras all day for a few days to figure this out. Indeed, I also sat in my room flipping coins for a while, and I was impressed to see that the term “fair coin toss” is a misnomer after all.

There are, however, even more unfair object-flipping odds — coins are, to be honest, pretty fair anyway. But toast…now that’s another matter.

We all know that if a piece of buttered toast falls, the odds of the buttered side hitting the floor are virtually 100%. Such is life.

We’ve also always been told that cats always land on their feet, even if they flip in the air.

The real question, then, is what would happen if you strapped a buttered piece of toast to the back of a falling cat?

Now You Know: To pay attention to which side of the coin is facing up at the beginning of a coin toss, as the chances aren’t 50-50. (Oh, and you also know not to combine buttered toast and cats, or you may create a black hole of some sort.)

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