April 20, 2010

The EV of In-Flight Trivia

So I recently flew on Delta Airlines where they have an In-Flight Trivia game (among other things) on a small, poorly-designed touchscreen monitor attached to the back of every seat (except the last row I’m assuming, but it wouldn’t surprise me if those had them too). After napping for a bit and playing my sweet tower defense game on my phone, I decided to fire up the trivia game. It’s similar to various restaurant trivia games in that it has a wide variety of questions, 4 multiple choice answers, you play against whomever else is concurrently playing, and the quicker you respond the more points you get for a correct answer. Each “round” was 20 questions. The person with the highest score at the end of those 20 questions obviously wins.

I played the game straight up twice and won both times. Then some jerk named Craig signed on and ran really good and I took 2nd in my 3rd and 4th attempts. After playing 4 games, I realized that the winning score at the end was often slightly below 3000 points, with the occasional big score. I had 3500 in one of mine, but that was definitely above the average winning score. This seemed pretty low considering you can get a score of 600 per correct answer if you respond immediately. There are 20 questions so the maximum score one could achieve is 12,000. Of course, the odds of that happening are extremely low.

I began to think about it in terms of EV (expected value). With 4 choices on each question and 20 questions, if you randomly guessed every time you would on average get 5 correct. If you instantly answered every time, you would get 600 points for each correct answer. Therefore, on average, you should end the round with 3,000 points strictly from guessing.

The trick to the game is not only answering correctly, but quickly. If you think or just select your answer slowly, you give up a ton of points. Because of this, I decided that on my 5th game I would instantly select answer A on every single question. If my luck was at least break-even, there’s a good chance I’d win since my EV is 3,000.

Unfortunately, just as my poker results have been this year, I ran way below my EV. A was the correct answer only twice, thus giving me a dreadful score of 1,200. If only I had picked B, C, or D to be my guinea pig answer. Considering A was right only twice, the EV of each of the other answers went up a full 600 points!

Oh well, the experiment died right there, but it was fun either way. I decided to go back to playing the game straight up after that and managed to win my last game :)

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” -John Wooden

Posted By TecmoSuperBowl at 01:32 PM



Bonito posted on April 20, 2010 at 15:27 PM


I so hope they have this on USair.

I have a 5 hour flight tomorrow and coming back on Sunday.

I dont have a laptop so Im going to be so freakin bored.

TecmoSuperBowl posted on April 22, 2010 at 16:06 PM


Let me know if they do and if you try out my strategy!

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