Meet the Ontario stats prof who claims he can’t stop beating Roll Up To Win
For most people who play Roll Up To Win at Tim Hortons, the winning happens once in a while.
For Michael Wallace, a statistics professor at the University of Waterloo – it’s a different story.
“This year when I played my rolls at the best time, I won at almost 80 per cent of the time” said Wallace.
For Wallace, Roll Up is the convergence of two passions: statistics and contests.
Back in 2020 when Roll Up moved from a cup to online, Wallace saw an opportunity.
“When the contest is on a physical cup, there is not actually a lot you can do. When they moved it to a digital app, that opened up a lot of interesting avenues of thinking about how the contest was designed and how you as a player might be able to take advantage of that,” said Wallace.
Wallace said he read the rules, did a little research on online contests and came up with a theory.
“Basically I took a gamble. I gambled that they hadn’t thought of a few things that I thought of and I bought a bunch of coffees and saved a bunch of rolls and played them at the very end of the contest and managed to win at about 98 per cent of the time.”
After a winning streak in 2020, Wallace said Tim Hortons made some changes and the winning rate fell back to earth in 2021.
In 2022, Wallace made some changes and achieved a 40 per cent win rate.
This year Wallace says Tim Hortons sent him an unintentional life line in the form of real time data.
“This year, one big difference I noticed was on their website, they starting posting the number of prizes people were winning as the contest went along, so these numbers are telling you roughly how many people are playing and by recording the data I was able to plot and figure out when the best time to play and when was the worst time to play, based on when other people were playing in the contest,” he said.
His theory is simple, play when others are not to improve your chance of winning.
While some may be able to reasonably guess a good time to play, Wallace was able to determine the best minute to play in his time zone, using data.
“What I found was the best time to play was 3:16 a.m. and the worst time to play was 11:46 a.m.,” Wallace said.
When he was playing at 3:16 a.m. he won roughly 80 per cent of his rolls. When he played at 11:46 a.m., he won around 15 per cent.
For Wallace his fascination, bordering on obsession, with Roll Up To Win is not just a pursuit of free caffeine and sugar – Wallace also uses his research as a teaching tool.
“I knew even if my strategy didn’t pay off, I would at very least get a good story out of it, show my students, try to get them interested in statistics” Said Wallace.
Wallace said experiments like this are incredibly rewarding.
“You can actually use real world data and see how people are behaving through those numbers, so it’s that interpretation of seeing the real world, through numbers, that I find really exciting,” he said.
As for Tim Hortons, in years previous they have not seemed to mind Wallace’s experiments with their beloved game.
An attitude he said he hopes they keep.
“I am always a little worried that I’m going to get a letter banning me from my local Tim’s,” he said.
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