05 November 2007

A cold lottery

British lottery games cause confusion over negative numbers. A winter-themed scratch-off lottery game required people to be able to compare two numbers to determine if they won; the numbers were "temperatures", and some of them were negative. The game was pulled from the shelves.

I'm not crazy enough to say that we should just use Kelvins so that we wouldn't have this problem. But temperature is special this way. There are two examples of negative numbers that "ordinary" people have to deal with -- cold temperatures and debts. But the difference between owing money and not owing money is much larger than the difference between "positive" and "negative" temperature.

(In statistical physics, inverse temperature comes up a lot. This only makes sense if one is using absolute temperature.)


Anonymous said...


Blake Stacey said...

You can actually get negative absolute temperatures in systems with population inversions (lasers, sets of magnetic spins). See these lecture notes.

Steve S said...

This isn't very surprising. Most people who know anything about math aren't playing the lottery anyway.