What are the chances of completing a Disney-Pixar Domino Stars collection from a fixed number of packets?

It’s a strange thing for a mathematical person to say, but some people are luckier than others. Luckily for our son (or his parents), we shop at Countdown, which means he received a regular supply of Disney-Pixar Domino Stars throughout the 6.5 week promotion.

It was all a bit of a yawn to me, this time round. Having calculated the chances of collecting a full set of Dreamworks Heroes Action Cards, I was neither surprised nor frustrated by the increasing number of duplicates as his collection grew. The theoretical hyperbolic growth of the number of packets he would have to open to find a new domino implied a spend of $4480 to complete a set of 50. Almost $700 per week?? Not very likely.

To cut a long story short, on the last day of the promotion, we trudged home from a swap meet needing just two more to complete the set. Our chances of finding those last two looked bleak…except that a neighbour had just dropped off a big bag of 22 packets in our letterbox.

As I said, some people are luckier than others, and to our amazement, our son actually found the very two that he needed! Now how lucky is that?! I mean, what are the chances…?

Without going into too much detail, you can either focus on what you don’t want to happen, i.e. you get none of one of the coveted dominoes and any number of the other:

domino-stars-1

or you can focus on what you do want to happen, i.e. you eventually find one of the two that you’re looking for, and then hope to find the other one amongst the packets remaining:

domino-stars-2

But a friend of ours came up with an expression that best reflects what really happened, i.e. our son stopped opening packets as soon as he found the two he needed:

domino-stars-3

Reassuringly, all three expressions evaluate to this rather impressive looking fraction:

domino-stars-4

So it was very close to a 1 in 8 chance. Our son doesn’t realise just how lucky he is.

Dr Audrey Tan, Mathmo Consulting
September 2015

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