CLOSE
Original image
Mike Rogalski

Let Math Solve All Your Pizza Problems

Original image
Mike Rogalski

Need help planning your next pizza party? Not sure whether a Large is a better deal than a Small? Looking for an ultra-lame math joke? We're here to help with our Pizza Cheat Sheet.

Written by Chris Higgins / Designed by Mike Rogalski

Sources: Gawker (Julia Alvidrez); Wired (Aatish Bhatia); and various geometry teachers throughout my life. Thanks, math class!


Original image
Wikimedia Commons/Ebyabe
'Nub City': Vernon, Florida's Decade-Long Insurance Scam
Original image
Wikimedia Commons/Ebyabe

After a few frustrating days in Vernon, Florida, in the 1980s, renowned filmmaker Errol Morris learned a hard truth: People who blow their limbs off to score insurance payouts don’t like being the subject of documentaries.

Morris did eventually get a film out of his time in the town—the 1981 documentary Vernon, Florida—but not the one he originally set out to make: the one about amputees and insurance fraud, the one he intended to call Nub City. What became a quirky flick about a town’s eccentrics was initially meant to be an investigation of the so-called Nub Club. But when club members declined to comment (except with death threats and assault), Morris pointed his camera elsewhere.

Morris described the creative dead-end and his self-preservation instincts in an interview with The 7th Avenue Project:

I knocked on the door of a double-amputee, who was missing an arm and a leg on opposite sides of the body—the preferred technique, so that you could use a crutch. His buff son-in-law, a Marine, beat me up. I decided whatever I was doing was really, really stupid and dangerous.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it wouldn’t have been inaccurate to blame the brisk pace of rising insurance premiums on the Nub Club. By the end of the ’50s, the Florida Panhandle was responsible for two-thirds of all loss-of-limb accident claims in the United States. And Vernon, Florida, was the epicenter.

It’s not clear whether the first member of the Nub Club, the unintentional founder, entered by choice or by accident. Maybe there was an accident at the factory. Or maybe it was a calculated choice—brought on by the sputtering economics of small town America.

What is clear is that, at some point in the early ’50s, the idea of trading one’s limb for a few thousand dollars became seductive enough an option to a significant percentage of Vernon’s population. By the mid '60s, at least 50 of Vernon's 700 residents had joined the Nub Club by way of farming accidents, garage mishaps, hunting incidents, and so on. Although a few Vernon residents had the boldness to saw and hack off their limbs, most preferred the brevity of the shotgun blast.

Insurance agents in the region became filled up with stories as outlandish and darkly humorous as they were sad. One agent recalled a list of clients from the Panhandle: a fellow who maimed his foot while trying to protect his chickens, a man aiming for a hawk who took off his own hand, a trigger-happy farmer who mistook his foot for a squirrel. Several accidents involved both firearms and motor vehicles. One man lost two limbs in an incident involving his tractor and a loaded rifle.

Many of these Nub Club members took out multiple insurance policies, sometimes just days or hours before the dismemberment. Mounting insurance premiums failed to slow the trend. The scheme made some men millionaires.

The story of one agent, relayed by St. Petersburg Times’ writer Thomas Lake, really captures the absurdity of the local episode:

"There was another man who took out insurance with 28 or 38 companies," said Murray Armstrong, an insurance official for Liberty National. "He was a farmer and ordinarily drove around the farm in his stick shift pickup. This day - the day of the accident - he drove his wife's automatic transmission car and he lost his left foot. If he'd been driving his pickup, he'd have had to use that foot for the clutch. He also had a tourniquet in his pocket. We asked why he had it and he said, 'Snakes. In case of snake bite.' He'd taken out so much insurance he was paying premiums that cost more than his income. He wasn't poor, either. Middle class. He collected more than $1 million from all the companies. It was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his foot."

Of course, these payouts rarely came with a condolence card. The insurance companies quickly recognized the trend, and before long were wise to the ruse. Insurers took many of the Nub Club members to court. The problem was convincing a jury that a man with any sense at all would have the gumption to aim a rifle at one of his appendages and pull the trigger. Lawsuits were of no use. Not a single amputee in Vernon or the surrounding area was convicted of fraud.

Eventually, the insurance companies got together and sent an investigator by the name of John J. Healy to Vernon to snoop around. He quickly confirmed what the local agents and the suits back at headquarters already knew.

"To sit in your car on a sweltering summer evening on the main street of Nub City," he wrote in a report, "watching anywhere from eight to a dozen cripples walking along the street, gives the place a ghoulish, eerie atmosphere."

Healy’s investigation was recalled by Ken Dornstein’s 1996 book, Accidentally, on Purpose: Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America. According to Dornstein, Healy once unsympathetically remarked that the second most popular pastime in Vernon was gathering in the town square to watch the local stray mutts mate. The top activity, he said, was self-mutilation for cash.

In the early ’60s, the insurers put an end to the practice before the town of Vernon depleted itself of limbs—but not before it earned its now inescapable nickname. Premiums became astronomically high in the region, and most insurers simply refused to do business with the Panhandle.

It wasn’t until a New Yorker blurb recalled the small town’s pathetic past two decades later that Morris decided to make a trip to the Deep South. Though he failed to put that past on film, his trip helped resurrect a sad but compelling chapter of American economic history.

Original image
istock
arrow
Lists
8 Casino Scams That Actually Worked
Original image
istock

The average person you'll find in a casino is playing honestly. But some ambitious gamblers come up with schemes to beat the house for millions. Although most cheaters get caught, there are others who manage to hustle casinos successfully ... until they eventually get caught too. Here are eight casino scams that actually worked.   

1. Special Contact Lenses

Four con artists ripped off 64,000 euros (about $88,000) from poker tables at Les Princes Casino in Cannes, France in 2011. One of the cheaters (an employee of the casino) used invisible ink to mark the backs of playing cards—drawing a line for an ace and a cross for a king, for example—while the others used special contact lenses to spot the cards that would give them winning hands. Les Princes Casino grew suspicious of the players when they returned later in the week for a second round of high stakes poker. French authorities found the marked cards and noticed the cheaters' contact lenses after they ruled out cameras and infrared glasses.     

2. Cigarette Pack Radio Transmitters

In 1973, a French roulette dealer at the Casino Deauville, along with his sister and brother-in-law, took the casino for 5 million francs (about $1 million). The dealer built a radio transmitter inside of a pack of cigarettes and a roulette ball with a small receiver inside. When a button was pushed on the pack of cigarettes, the ball could be controlled to land on a specific part of the roulette wheel. The cheating trio had a 90 percent accuracy rate with the scam.

The only reason why they were eventually caught was the casino owner was infatuated with the roulette dealer's sister, who was in charge of pushing the button on the pack of cigarettes. The owner wondered why she always sat at the same roulette table and made very low bets without winning. Along with his growing suspicion and heavy losses at the roulette table, he called in a debugging crew to sweep the casino. The authorities found the radio transmitter and tiny receiver, as they also caught the trio in the act of cheating.

A French film titled Tricheurs (The Cheaters) was made about the trio and its clever scheme in 1984.

3. Edge Sorting

Professional poker player Phil Ivey, Jr. was accused of cheating the Crockfords Casino in London out of £7.3 million (about $11 million) during a high stakes game of Punto Banco in 2012. The casino believed that Ivey used a method of cheating called "edge sorting," which is the practice of keeping track of the tiny and minor imperfections on the back of face-down playing cards.

Edge sorting works because some cards aren’t cut symmetrically. For example, a card with a diamond pattern on the back might have a half diamond on the top right and a quarter diamond on the bottom left. Ivey and his associate had the dealer go through multiple decks until they found one that was asymmetric. Then Ivey had the dealer rotate some of the “lucky” cards to make the sevens, eights, and nines more noticeable (going back to the earlier example, those cards might now have the quarter diamond on the top right). Once they found their lucky deck, Ivey had the table increased from a $50,000 to a $150,000 maximum. While Ivey claims that "there's a difference between increasing one's odds and cheating," British courts ruled that edge sorting constitutes cheating and sided with Crockfords.

In 2014, Ivey won $9.6 million at a baccarat table at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, but the casino refused to pay him; the house believed that he used edge sorting to win.

4. Sector Targeting with Lasers

In 2004, three gamblers used a unique system of lasers and computers called "sector targeting," which calculates the falling descent of an object in motion, to correctly predict the part of the roulette wheel where a ball might land, hustling £1.3 million (about $2.1 million) at London's Ritz Casino. Based on the speed of the roulette ball, it's believed the players would secretly scan the wheel with lasers in their cell phones, which were connected to small computers, to determine where the ball might land. Although the system predicted the area it might land on, it doesn't predict the number or color the ball might fall on. The players would then make bets accordingly.

While the trio managed to take millions from the casino, they were arrested but ultimately not charged with any wrongdoing because there were no laws prohibiting the use of sector targeting at the time. Of course, it is possible that they were just using their phones as stopwatches.

5. Counting Cards

In 2011, Phuong Quoc Truong assembled a team of 30 card counters and blackjack dealers to rip off various casinos in Southern California. Dealers would pretend to shuffle a deck of cards, but they'd just put the corners together to make the sound and appearance of shuffling while actually keeping the cards in the right order for dealing winning hands. A signaler pretended to smoke a cigarette, but was really using a small microphone on the inside of his sleeve to tell an outside person what was on the table. Once the right cards were in place, the outside person would tell the smoker how to place bets, while the smoker signaled the players with his cigarette.

Sickwan Gaming Commission finally caught the gang, but not until after they took nearly $7 million from 25 different casinos. Truong and most of his accomplices pled guilty and are serving sentences that range from probation to six years in prison. Truong also forfeited his two luxury homes in San Diego, a Porsche, a diamond-encrusted pendant, and a Rolex watch for his part in the crimes.

6. The ATM Job

In 2012, ringleader Ara Keshishyan recruited 13 people to pull an Ocean's 11-esque bank heist on Citibank ATMs throughout casinos in Southern California and Nevada. The scam involved exploiting the security protocol on Citibank’s cash advance kiosks, which allowed multiple withdrawals at 10 times the amount deposited—if the transaction was made within 60 seconds. The scam would then result in hefty cash payouts from casinos. Keshishyan also instructed his gang to keep withdrawals under $10,000, so their illegal activities would not be reported to the government. The team would use the stolen money to gamble and thus have casinos give them complimentary rooms, food, drink, and entertainment based on their "high roller" gambling level.

Ultimately, Citibank noticed the discrepancies and alerted the FBI. The scammers were caught and faced up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Keshishyan was ultimately sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to repay Citi the $1,045,585 he stole from them.

7. Counterfeit Coins

Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio successfully made counterfeit coins and tokens to use at slot machines at various casinos across the country. He used his ties with organized crime as well as his day job as a jeweler to make perfect dies. Casinos figured out they were being scammed when they discovered a surplus of tokens and slot machine coins in their vaults.

Colavecchio was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2006, he was arrested when he started to reproduce fake casino tokens again. The History Channel made a documentary about Colavecchio called Breaking Vegas; many casinos now use special paper vouchers instead of tokens when players want to cash out of slot machines.

8. Roulette Scam

Ohio Casino Control Commission believed that 50 to 70 people were involved in an elaborate casino scam at roulette tables throughout the Buckeye State in 2012. The hustle involved players entering busy roulette games with bets as low as $1 and swiping casino chips while their accomplices distracted roulette dealers. The players would then go to areas in the casino that were not under surveillance like public restrooms to pass along stolen chips to other players, who would return to use them to buy more chips at a higher rate and cash out.

Scammers were caught in casinos throughout Ohio pulling the same gambit, with groups taking as much as $1000 to $2000 per job. Authorities believed that the group was based in New York City and hit multiple casinos in 18 different states. Many of the roulette scammers are still at large, while a small handful were caught and face strict penalties in Ohio, such as a $2500 fine and one year in prison.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios