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Intelligencer Journal/New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Warren Buffett didn't become the second-richest man in the world by taking silly risks.

So his billion-dollar NCAA bracket challenge - in which he's teaming up with Quicken Loans and Yahoo Sports (go to the right side of yahoo.com to enter) - may be tantalizing, but the chances of actually winning are, well, less than infinitesimal.

The odds of picking a perfect March Madness bracket and claiming the $1 billion grand prize (a sum that would make only a small dent in Buffett's estimated $63.4 billion fortune) are about 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

A quintillion, by the way, is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 1 followed by 18 zeros.

To put it in perspective, you have a much better shot of winning an $80 million Powerball jackpot - 1 in more than 175 million, according to Powerball.com.

The odds also are better, according to lostlettermen.com, that you'll get struck by lightning this year (1 in 1 million); manage two holes in one in the same round of golf (1 in 67 million); get killed by a falling vending machine (1 in 112 million); or live to be 116 years old (1 in 2 billion).

So how exactly did statisticians arrive at 9.2 quintillion? For those of us who are mathematically challenged, it's 2 to the 63rd power (or 2 multiplied by itself 63 times).

That's based on the 64 teams left after Wednesday night's play-in games. The 2 to the 63rd power is the total number of possible outcomes.

Contestants' chances improve if they possess some knowledge of college basketball - a math professor at DePaul University told USA Today the odds rise to 1 in 128 billion - but that doesn't guarantee anything, either.

In fact, no one in the history of ESPN's bracket competition, covering 30 million entries, has ever filled out a perfect bracket. Only one person in the past seven years managed to get the first round correct.

Last year, his 10- and 6-year-old sons ended up with better brackets than he did, said Kevin Robinson, an assistant professor of mathematics at Millersville University.

But even if winning the Buffett bracket challenge is virtually impossible, at least it's free to play, Robinson said.

And because the contest is limited to 15 million entries (and one per household), "you'd better get in" before it's too late, he said.

All brackets entered in the challenge must be completed by 1 a.m. Thursday. Even if the billion dollar award is out of the question, owners of the 20 most accurate brackets will receive $100,000 each, which is a pretty nice consolation prize.

The 83-year-old Buffett, known as the Oracle of Omaha, is a big fan of Creighton University in Omaha and the University of Nebraska, both of which made the NCAA tournament.

MU's Robinson is a graduate of the University of Florida, so he'll be rooting for his alma mater, the No. 1 overall seed.

The unpredictability of the NCAAs is why it's called March Madness, after all, and while that can be frustrating beyond belief when brackets get busted, he said, "that's the beauty of the tournament."


March 18, 2014

 
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