Pointless amusement

Can the luck of the Irish help you win the lottery? We put it to a scientific test

Do these things bring lotto luck? Irish they did! Photos by Sam Weiss.
Do these things bring lotto luck? Irish they did! Photos by Sam Weiss.

The luck of the Irish: Is it a real thing or just a Disney Channel movie where a leprechaun plays basketball? We’ve all heard of our Celtic friends’ good fortune (fortune that didn’t prevent famine or centuries of oppression), a claim that apparently came from Irish American success in the Gold Rush (and it was kind of a “screw you” at that). Well this St. Patrick’s day, rather than go into Manhattan for LepreCon, I stayed home and used the power of science to investigate this so-called Irish luck.

Now, as a half-Jewish American of mostly Eastern European origin, I’m not exceptionally Irish but I’ve been to Ireland and I own a green hat and certainly Irish culture has been appropriated for less. So, I bought every $1 scratcher at Duane Reade and I embraced someone’s Irish heritage to see if I could leverage it into cold, hard cash. I scratched and I scratched and I wore green and ate dry Lucky Charms and when things weren’t going great, I upped the ante, drank some whiskey and pulled out the old James Joyce to put the luck of the Irish to the test. Here’s how it went:

Scratcher No. 1: “Loose Change”

Lucky green hat, unlucky yellow ticket.
Lucky green hat, unlucky yellow ticket.

First up: The jewel of the New York State Lottery’s one-dollar section, the Loose Change scratcher, boasting low stakes and high (well, y’know) odds. You scratch off six quarter icons and if the total is over a dollar, you win whatever’s in the “Prize Box,” which could be up to $500.

To get on Lady McLuck’s good side, I popped on my maybe lucky green cap and got scratching. I went for the Prize Box first, obviously, and struck it big: $500, the maximum prize! With my cap barely fitting on my head anymore, I got scratching — $.50, $.25, $.5, $.5, $.10 and… $.01, bringing me to a grand total of 96 cents, four short of my $500 prize. But not to worry, I had six more chances to prove Irish luck and pay off my many debts.

Scratcher No. 2: “Fast Cash”

I still haven't found what Im looking for (a winning lottery ticket).
I still haven’t found what Im looking for (a winning lottery ticket).

Next was Fast Cash, a tic-tac-toe style grid of dollar signs that could win up to $1,500 if you get three money stacks (or two and a “3x”) in a line. To get things moving, I Irished up the room with a little U2, a band that I don’t particularly like but that I’m pretty sure is from Ireland.

With “With Or Without You” to guide me, I went blitzkrieg this time around, blindly scratching everything at once and hoping for the best. And… Nothing. A few double money stacks, but no grand victory yet. Sorry, The Edge.

Scratchers Nos. 3 and 4: “Triple Black Cherry”

Down and stout.
Down and stout.

With Bono’s melodic voice by my side, I moved onto the twins: Two Triple Black Cherry scratchers I bought thinking they were two different fruit-themed games. These ones give you five rows of three fruits with a “Prize” box, if any of the rows have three of a number, a cherry symbol or a “3x,” you win. These ones can win up to $1,500 so I was looking at a cool $3,000, presumably.

To accompany me on my voyage, I opened up a bottle of Guinness, something I hadn’t done since college when I didn’t know any better. Now, obviously I did these two scratchers with two quarters simultaneously because I like a challenge. First line: nothing. Second line: Nope. Third line: Nah. Fourth: NO. Fifth: Pot, bell, pot and diamond; apple, diamond. Another wash, but at least I remembered why I don’t drink Guinness (it’s disgusting).

Scratcher No. 5: “Instant Take 5”

Lucky Charms? Not this time.
Lucky Charms? Not this time.

After downing a whole stout and losing four straight tickets (for science), I was pretty down on my luck but also, much to my dismay, starting to not hate U2. Like, “One” is actually a pretty good song if you get past its cheesiness. But back on track! Instant Take 5 was next, a game that I’d actually won a few dollars on before so I was feeling pretty confident. This one pays out at a maximum of $5,555 (get it? It’s a bunch of fives?), and you just have to get any three like amounts out of the nine possible to win.

This time I appealed to the Celtic gods by opening a box of Lucky Charms, but I forgot to pick up milk so I was just going dry (side note: dry Lucky Charms are a surprisingly good snack). Really feeling “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” I got to it: $10, $500, $40, $20, $10, $1, $1, $5,555 (Yeah RIGHT), and $100. Hearts, stars and horseshoes, clovers and blue moons (magically delicious though they may be) couldn’t save this one. And the back of the box didn’t even have a game.

Scratcher No. 6: “Cash Frenzy”

Whiskey didn't really give me a better "shot" at winning.
Whiskey didn’t really give me a better “shot” at winning.

Uno. Dos. Tres. Catorce! No. 6, no wins, “Vertigo” blasting, marshmallows on my computer, it was time to up the ante. My next ticket was Cash Frenzy, a $5,000, five-round game where you get two numbers each time and the “your number” has to beat “their number” to win whatever’s behind “Prize.” But first I took aim at another Irish stereotype and had a shot of Jameson. Feeling loose, I got scratching: 4 to 6, 14 to 18, 6 to 8, 8 to 9, 12 to 13. Another loss. But on the bright side, I was getting tipsy and still had so many Lucky Charms.

Scratcher No. 7: “Lucky 7’s”

Portrait of the Artist As a Lotto Loser.
Portrait of the Artist As a Lotto Loser.

You know, U2’s 80s stuff really just sounds like the Smiths or something and everybody loves the Smiths! But I digress. For my last ticket (Lucky 7’s, another tic-tac-toe board where you match three “7”s or two and a “$$” to win whatever’s in the “Prize Box”), it occurred to me that in paying tribute to the Irish spirit I might actually just be mocking a whole culture. So, rather than drink more or eat more leprechaun cereal, I went a different route: I started reading Ulysses.

It was pretty immediately clear that if Ulysses is hard to follow normally, it’s impossible right after a shot while listening to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” for the third time in an hour. And also is “dogsbody” really a word? But back to scratching! The prize was $7, an amount that felt within reach and which, by chance, would exactly have paid for all of the scratchers. Top row: two sevens and a two. Second row: two eights and a seven, giving me two sevens on the right vertical. Last row: Seven… SEVEN… four. And with that, the noble experiment was done with not a single win to be found.


More like lack of the Irish.
More like lack of the Irish.

Seven scratchers, too much green for any one man, a can of swill, some decent whiskey, 25% of my daily zinc and 768 pages of incomprehensible classic literature and I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. So what does all this mean about the so-called “Luck of the Irish”? Sure, I didn’t win any money but I’m also not Irish and it’s also not the Gold Rush and also most of the ways I appealed to Gaelic fate were based on hurtful stereotypes. Maybe the real take-away here is that the “Luck of the Irish,” like St. Patrick’s Day itself or like that other questionable idiom, the “Irish Exit” is

Follow Sam who already left without saying goodbye: @samhweiss.

One Response to

  1. Conal Darcy

    I kept my mouth shut when you joked about the Famine.

    I said nothing when you implied Bono is Irish.*

    I stood idly by when you said Lucky Charms were delicious.

    I even stayed quiet as you lied about reading “Ulysses”**

    But I’ll be damned if I let you insult Guinness with impunity.. I demand satisfaction, Weiss! I’ll see you on the Nethermead tomorrow at sunrise. Bring a second and a set of dueling pistols.

    *He was disowned by an official parliamentary decree in 2003.
    **No one has. Not even James Joyce.

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