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Winning is unlikely either way

Question: Concerning the Florida Lottery: Are players mathematically better off sticking with the same chosen numbers each week and letting the computer "catch up" with them? Or are they better off using the computer's Quick Pick option each week?

_ John F. Campbell Jr.,

New Port Richey

Answer: If you look purely at the mathematical odds and discard luck or hunches, you have the same chance of winning the Florida Lottery whether you choose your own numbers or use the Quick Pick option _ about 1 in 13.9-million. The only way to improve your odds is to cover more combinations of numbers.

Playing the same numbers week after week does not improve your odds in any mathematical way. It may make you feel better about yourself, but it won't give you any kind of edge.

According to lottery officials, Quick Pick is a computer software program that has been installed at each individual computer terminal throughout the state. The program has been thoroughly researched and is designed to spit out random combinations of numbers in an unbiased fashion. In other words, you can trust Quick Pick to give you a ticket that has as good a chance to win as any.

Officials say about 33 percent of all tickets purchased are chosen via Quick Pick and about 33 percent of all winning tickets come from Quick Pick selections.

The Florida Lottery began April 29, 1988, and Quick Pick was instituted in 1990. An interesting note: In the Florida Lottery's five-year history, no set of winning numbers for the main drawing has ever repeated itself. But when you're talking odds of 1 in 13.9-million, that's no surprise.

_ Source: Ed George and Angie Raines, communications officers for the Florida Lottery

Dating dinosaur fossils

Question: I've read about radiocarbon dating, which can accurately date fossils up to 40,000 years old. Yet most paleontologists say their dinosaur finds are between 70-million and 220-million years old. How do paleontologists figure out the age of a dinosaur skeleton and how confident are they of their accuracy?

_ Tom Morrow, St. Petersburg

Answer: Scientists do not actually determine the age of dinosaur fossils. Rather, they measure the age of the layers of sediment that are found on or near the fossils.

Volcanic ash containing carbon and potassium is strewn throughout the sediment. These elements emit radioactive materials as they decay. Scientists are able to determine the geologic age by measuring the levels of radioactive materials in the sediment.

You mentioned radiocarbon dating. This procedure is limited to "thousands" of years because carbon decays very quickly, and all of its radiant energy disperses in 40,000 years or so.

But potassium decays very slowly _ over millions and even billions of years _ so scientists are able to determine the age of dinosaur fossils found near potassium deposits that are hundreds of millions of years old.

How confident are paleontologists in their findings? They say the estimates are accurate within 1 to 2 percent.

_ Sources: David Webb of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville; Eric Meikle of the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Calif.

Cracking up

Which came first _ the chicken or the egg? In a recent column, I jokingly suggested that it was the chicken. Several readers called to disagree. "I say the egg came first when a primitive chicken-like creature laid an egg which due to a genetic mutation produced the first chicken. That's according to Darwin's Theory of Evolution," said John Lee of Brandon.

I stand corrected _ I think.

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