Puzzles JOSH FELDMAN
You’re the Coach
WHENEVER SOMEONE FINDS OUT THAT I’M AN ACTUARY, one of the frequent questions I get asked
is, “Who’s the most famous actuary in the world?” While everyone has a different opinion on what the answer is, for me the answer is Steve Fezzik.
For those who have never heard of
Steve, it’s probably because he got his fame
not from actuarial work, but for football
prognostication. Steve won the Westgate
Las Vegas SuperContest, the most prestigious football prediction contest in Vegas,
if not the world—twice in a row.
Winning the Super-Contest makes
someone both very famous and very rich.
Unfortunately, Steve used his fame to become a grifter, so I would not recommend
buying any product that Steve hawks.
Never buy picks from a tout! However, his
poor choice of a new profession doesn’t
take away from Steve’s status and fame.
I bring up Mr. Fezzik because the
leaves have truly begun to change here in
scenic Columbia, Mo., and when cooler
temperatures arrive, the majority of Columbians have football on their minds.
Now, while I wish that the folks here
preferred the exciting autumnal sport
of cross-country to football (fewer commercials, fewer traumatic head injuries,
fewer penalties for excessive celebrations...), I understand this is an argument
that can’t be won.
Of course it’s impossible to think
about football and not think about the
awful decisions coaches make during
football games. Not too long ago, the fa-
mous actuary himself, Steve Fezzik, got
frustrated over this situation, which will
serve as this issue’s puzzle:
Late in the game, an NFL team that
trails by 14 points scores a touchdown to
cut the lead to 8. These are two evenly
matched teams, and after the score there’s
time for at most one more possession by
the team that’s behind. Looking at league-
wide averages, a team converts extra-point
attempts 99 percent of the time and con-
verts two-point conversions 47 percent of
the time. For simplicity’s sake, it’s safe to
say that all correlations are zero.
Assuming all the assumptions above
hold and the sole goal is to win the game
outright—either in regulation or in sud-
den-death overtime—should the team go
for two or kick the extra point?
Clearly, the greater the chance of converting the two-point conversion, the
more likely a team should go for two in
this situation. Given every other condition
gets held constant, what’s the minimum
probability of conversion a team needs to
warrant going for two in this situation?
JOSH FELDMAN, a member of the
Academy and an associate of the
Casualty Actuarial Society, is an actuary
at Shelter Insurance in Columbia, Mo.
Solutions may be emailed to
In order to make the solver list,
your solutions must be received
by Nov. 30, 2015.