Combinations in Deal a Story
Robert D. Reed Publishers — the publishing geniuses behind Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks — recently published Deal a Story by Sue Viders, a card game in which writers deal themselves a “hand” to use as the basis for fiction writing. Think Richard Simmons’ Deal-A-Meal, but for fiction writers instead of fatties (for those of you old enough to remember).
The cover of the box boasts that there are “101 cards and 1,000,001 story ideas” contained within Deal a Story. But the math in that statement is typical marketing math — in the words of Cleone L. Reed, the promotional materials designer at RDR Publishers, “it sounds good, but I wonder how many combinations are really possible.”
So she asked if I could help her figure it out.
Here’s how Deal a Story works:
There are 101 cards:
- 16 hero cards
- 16 heroine cards
- 16 villain cards
- 16 character flaw cards
- 16 plot cards
- 16 genre cards
- 5 “wild” cards
Play happens as follows:
- A “player” (writer) chooses three character cards: 1 hero, 1 heroine, and 1 villain.
- For each character, a player chooses 1 character flaw card (so there is a flaw associated with each character).
- A player then chooses 1 plot and 1 genre card.
- And then finally, a player can choose 0‑5 wild cards, just to spice things up.
I think it’s a nice combinatorics problem, figuring out the number of different scenarios that result from dealing the cards. You’re probably not surprised to hear that there are more than 1,000,001 combinations — but how many more? I’ll leave that to you.
And a combinatorial joke for you:
A mathematician walks into McDonald’s and declares, “I’m so hungry, I could eat 5 burgers!”
His physicist friend says, “Oh, yeah, well I’m so hungry, I bet I could eat 10!”
The mathematician responds, “That’s absurd. There’s no way you could eat 3,628,800.”