Patti (whipartist) wrote,

The only person in the whole room doing math

I spent the afternoon at Dave & Busters, at a birthday party for a couple of (adult) friends. The party hosts provided us each with a party favor-- a D&B card that was pre-loaded with credits. A treat!

A bunch of us headed for the skee ball machines. I used to be moderately good at it, though never great. As soon as I started playing, I remembered... tickets! Tickets could be exchanged for delightful crappy prizes! I was a kid again. I played a few games, cashed out my tickets, and headed to the gift shop to see what they were worth. (Answer: not much.)

At this point, the kid in me wandered away, and the gamb00ler came out.

My average haul was ten tickets per game. Each ticket cost me about five cents, and was redeemable for a little over a penny worth of merchandise. There was a 900-ticket bonus for scoring 500 points, but I needed to be almost 50% to hit the 100-point shot to do that... I'm not that good. It wasn't hard to see that my EV sucked hard on this one. It was worse than keno!

It seemed like I might be able to do better. I played a couple of rounds of the coin drop game. It might've been better, but the variance was through the roof so it was hard to tell. I scouted. There was no freakin' way that this was an efficient system; there had to be an exploit somewhere.

They had a couple of machines with a bunch of light bulbs in a circle. The light traveled around the circle, and you tried to hit the button at the exact right time. If you nailed it, you got the progressive-- a triple-digit number of tickets. If you missed it by one, you got 16 tickets. Missing it by two got you 12 tickets. But... it got better! You could play for one, two, or three credits. On the three credit level, missing by one got you 60 tickets. Missing by two got you 48. The progressive was higher as well.

I played a few rounds at one credit to hone my skills. After a few practice rounds, I almost always hit the one-off, occasionally hitting two-off. I ran some numbers... good enough! I popped it up to three credits, and regularly started hitting 60 tickets per round. I seemed to be paying just a hair over a penny per ticket, which was exactly my estimate of their value[1]. But... I had jackpot overlay. I had effectively found a Dave & Busters freeroll.

It took me about a dozen plays to hit the progressive, and then it took forever for the machine to spit out 498 tickets. While I was playing, a friend came by and I told her what was going on. She practiced a bit, moved up to three coins, and quickly hit the progressive on her machine. Cha ching!

What did I do with my bounty? I handed big stacks of tickets to the birthday boy and girl, of course. Finding the play to exploit was worth way more to me than delightfully crappy prizes.

[1] My estimate of the value was based on the price of one item. "That costs 60 tickets. It's probably worth about $.75. OK, I'll call it about a penny per ticket."
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