5 Sneaky Tricks That Caused Storied Institutions to Rewrite the Rules

5 Sneaky Tricks That Caused Storied Institutions to Rewrite the Rules

There are people who are made of unimpeachable moral fiber, who cannot abide to violate the rules, even in spirit. These people are generally a massive pain in the ass and have a predictably bare social calendar. They’re the same people who would, with genuine worry, inform the teacher that they had forgotten to assign homework

But they’re hardly the only problem in this regard. Our lives are criss-crossed with obnoxious rules and regulations, both legislative and universal, so when you get a brief chance to skirt those rules and feel the breeze of freedom on your face, you take it. Sure, whatever loophole you wriggled through will probably be patched up posthaste, but it doesn’t matter: You’re on the outside looking in, baby.

Here are five people who beat big institutions and forced them to rewrite the rules…

The Michigan Lottery’s Big Math Mistake


No amount of money is worth looking at that many numbers.

Math is usually not your ally when it comes to the lottery. It doesn’t take a degree in statistics to tell you that the chances of winning are infinitesimal, even if you pick your beloved child’s birthday. A lot of people understand that, and are mostly playing for fun and a tiny bit of sunshine in the relentless darkness of the modern economy. Others, however, are truly playing to win, and they’re incredibly depressing to stand behind in the 7-Eleven line while you wait to buy your Arizona Iced Tea.

Maybe it was the belief that lotteries were so statistically outlandish no form of them could be gamed that led to a massive oversight in the Michigan (and other) lotteries, one that would net a mathematically gifted couple millions of dollars. In particular, the lotteries neglected to better stress-test something called a “rolldown,” where, instead of the jackpot being all or nothing, it trickled down to the people who got the closest. As portrayed in the movie Jerry and Marge Go Large, a couple known as the Selbees realized that if they bought at least 100k worth of tickets every time a lottery did a rolldown, they were guaranteed a profit. 

The final result? $7.75 million in profit, and the rolldown removed from the lottery forever.

Shipping Children


Now, take a deep breath!

Nowadays, the U.S. Postal Service is pretty tightly regulated, something that will happen to any business that accidentally sends a bunch of anthrax. When the USPS was first cooked up by Benjamin Franklin, however, there wasn’t quite as thick of a handbook. The establishment of the USPS was historically significant thanks to the opportunities it presented to Americans of old in terms of (for the time) quick and reliable communication. It also opened up some opportunities Franklin probably didn’t foresee.

For example, the Post Office guaranteed fast and trustworthy delivery, but it was a little vague on just what they would and wouldn’t deliver. This led to multiple recorded instances of someone shipping their child. Now, past generations did some fucked-up stuff kid-wise, but it should be noted that this wasn’t a toddler packed into a tiny cage with a stamp on it, but instead a handoff to a friendly mailman who, devoid of any legal reason not to, would deliver them to a nearby relative. After all, postage was cheaper than transportation. 

This led to Postmaster Albert Burleson having to officially ban mailmen from accepting humans as mail (as if it was their idea).

The Lester Hayes Rule


Stickier than an unsupervised child at Chuck E. Cheese.

There might not be many sets of rules that beg for a thorough scan for loopholes like those of professional sports. Deep knowledge of exactly what you can get away with is applauded, whether it’s purposely fielding a punt with one foot out of bounds to gain 40 yards or adding a golden retriever to your basketball team. Sometimes, though, one person outsmarts the rules in such a distinct and blatant manner that they get the ultimate trophy: a rule with their name on it, even if it’s unofficial.

The “Lester Hayes Rule” in the NFL bans the use of adhesive substances. Before the rule, a sticky solution known, aptly, as “stickum,” was popular, usually applied to players’ hands to help them nab the ball. When Lester Hayes, a cornerback, saw just how effective the stuff was, he realized there was no reason to stop at the wrist. He started slathering it on practically his entire upper body, so generously that it’s visible in most pictures of him. It helped him not only haul in interceptions, but literally stick to receivers trying to run by him, disrupting their routes.

Wilt Chamberlain’s Alley-Oop Free Throws

World Telegram

This man, statistically, probably had sex with your mom.

Wilt the Stilt served as a human bug-tester for the entire rulebook of basketball. He was responsible for a handful of alterations, including the introduction of offensive goaltending and the widening the lane just to keep him away from the basket.

The most fun one by far, though, is Chamberlain’s effect on free throws. Free throws, as they often are for NBA big men, were one of Chamberlain’s few weak points, so he came up with a solution: He would huck the ball at the backboard from the line and feed himself an alley-oop instead. Some reports say he would just jump from the free throw line and dunk, but even for Chamberlain, I find the alley-oop explanation a little more believable. Regardless of the specifics, because of him, a player now can’t cross the plane of the free throw line until the ball has made contact with the rim.

Congress Trading Stock


The stock market is easy when you control it!

If you’re both in charge of business regulations and privy to information that’s not available to the general public, you, of course, are banned from trading stocks. If you weren’t, it would cause all sorts of clear ethical issues, like trading stocks in companies that make the vaccines and tests for a disease you’re legislating the contracts for and response to

Just kidding! That’s totally allowed, because when you make the rules, there’s no need to break them! What are they supposed to do, live on a measly 174k a year?

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