Thursday, August 9, 2012

End of Summer Rollercoaster Contest

I normally like to come up with my own questions for contests. However, every once in awhile I get a question that's so good, I have to use it. My former student Ben sent me this question the other day, and it falls into this category.

You know the rules.  I post a Fermi question below. To enter, estimate an answer and send it to “aaron at aaronsantos period com.” If your answer is closest to mine, I'll mail you a free signed copy of Ballparking: Practical Math for Impractical Sports Questions.1 Second prize receives a signed copy of my other book, How Many Licks? Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything. Submit your entry on or before August 31, 2012. Don't worry…I won't spam you or share your email with any third parties.

Here's what Ben asked:

I was at Cedar Point (the amusement park in Ohio) with Che and David the other day and we had an idea for another estimation problem that I think is pretty cool so I thought I would send it to you.  There's a ride at Cedar Point called Top Thrill Dragster - it looks like this :

Basically you get launched, climb the tower, and then tumble back down.  For a better idea of the ride, here is a passenger's point of view: 

Occasionally, though, this happens: 

It's called a "rollback".  As you might imagine, this means that once in a blue moon, this actually happens: 

Question is, how many times?  I actually do know the real life answer to this, although it could change any day.

Alright, fellow estimators!  How many times does the roller coaster get stuck on top each year?

[1] I make no pretenses that my answer is correct or even close. Your answer may very well be a better estimate than mine. In fact, your estimate may even be exactly right and you still may not win the contest if somebody else's answer is closer to mine. Sorry about that. This is the best way I could come up with to pick a winner and I'm not changing it now. Like any good game, there's an element of luck required even if you do have great skill. With that disclaimer out of the way, good luck and happy calculatings!

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