Dreidel spinner get a holiday hot streak
By PAUL GRONDAHL
Albany Times Union | December 29,2011
GUILDERLAND, N.Y. — Oy vey, here’s a Hanukkah dreidel story guaranteed to flip your yarmulke.
After dinner at Chris Terry’s house on Christmas, her sister Lori Charash’s children took out a family dreidel they brought with them from Burlington.
The kids invited their great-uncle, Alfred Lorini, to join the game of chance traditionally played after the menorah candles are lighted on the eight nights of the Jewish holiday.
“Uncle Al,” who is a Catholic, had never played the dreidel game and needed a rundown on the rules.
The four-sided spinning top features letters of the Hebrew alphabet on each side: nun, gimel, hei and shin. The players put a penny in a pot at the center of the table. Each player took a turn and spun the dreidel. If the nun faced up, the player did nothing. A gimel meant the player got all the pennies in the pot. A hei roll won half the pot. Shin required the player to add a penny to the pot.
In translation, the NGHS acronym stands for “a great miracle happened here.”
What occurred next for Lorini might qualify as a Hanukkah miracle, or an NGHS on Christmas.
Each time his turn came around, Lorini rolled a gimel and kept collecting the pot. The other players had to keep putting pennies in as Lorini’s pile of winnings grew.
The others chalked up Lorini’s first few gimels to a fluke, but as his streak continued, the noise level at the table rose.
“I heard so much commotion, I had to go into the room and see why everybody was so floored,” said Lori Charash.
Lorini kept spinning gimels. He ripped off a dozen in a row at one point. Then, he might spin a nun or a hei, before continuing a string of gimels. He never spun a shin, a loser.
“We were jumping up and down, running around the table. It was unbelievable,” said Nancy Rissacher, Lorini’s niece. “It just kept happening. It was insane. I thought I was going to wet my pants.”
Somebody yelled, “Call the `Guinness Book of World Records’!”
Lorini, 80, of Albany, is a retired linotype operator and printer.
As his great-nieces and great-nephews cheered him on, Lorini got into the spirit of the streak. He started putting extra mojo on the dreidel by hovering his fist over the spinning top and wiggling his fingers.
They kept track of the streak on a napkin. The game spun on for more than an hour. Leah Charash, a great-niece, took cellphone pictures and video of Lorini’s amazing streak.
The final tally: Out of 68 turns, Lorini spun 56 gimels and 0 shins.
Great-nephew Phil Charash, a Princeton University sophomore and math whiz, pulled out an iPhone and began figuring out the odds. He quickly decided he needed a calculator’s power to crunch the numbers.
He used a binomial distribution and came up with 1-in-2.25 times 10 to the 22nd power for the order of magnitude. Put another way, it was 22.5 billion times 1 trillion. “It’s a massive number,” said Phil Charash, who is majoring in operations research and financial engineering at Princeton.
Another analogy of the gimel streak is that the odds of it occurring were about 100 million times the number of stars in our galaxy.
“It was just ridiculous,” Phil Charash said. “It made no sense. Every time he rolled the dreidel, we expected a gimel to come up. Normal probability should have ensued and his streak should have ended with a shin.”
That never happened.
“It was just so bizarre and we were all standing there witnessing it. Unbelievable,” Rissacher said.
Lorini, a man of few words, said: “I don’t know how it happened. Just luck, I guess.”
Back in Burlington, the Charash children continued to discuss the streak. Their father, Bill Charash, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Vermont, who worked on Christmas and did not attend the dinner, used it as a lesson in logic.
They immediately excluded the notion that the dreidel was defective or somehow unevenly weighted to favor a gimel because the other players spun the same dreidel and did not land a streak of gimels.
It could not be explained merely as a run of good luck, either. “The numbers are just not fathomable that way,” Bill Charash said.
They mused that Uncle Al may possess telekinetic powers.
“My son is convinced he has to be a Jedi knight,” the father said.
Finally, they wondered whether the streak might have proven the inexplicable.
“Was this a Christmas-Hanukkah miracle revealed by a man who had never played the dreidel before?” Bill Charash asked. “Could this be mathematical proof that there is a God?”
The questioned lingered in the air, a Talmudic discussion to be taken up another day.
The Charash family left the dreidel with Lorini as a memento of the gimel streak.
A niece chimed in: “Throw him over our shoulder. We’re goin’ to Vegas.”