Tragedy has struck the world of soccer (or football if you prefer) as world cup psychic Paul the Octopus has tragically met his end after successfully predicting the wins of the 2010 World Cup in Germany before they happened. And though his final year’s prediction streak was big news, his incredible life leaves much that has yet to be explained.
Paul the Octopus was hatched in January of 2008 in his home town of Weynmouth England. In the early months of his life he lived the unassuming life of an octopus in captivity eating mussels and entertaining guests after being moved to an aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. Little is known about the circumstances leading up to his position as sports oracle or the reason his caretakers decided to bestow the title upon him, but soon the whole world was watching his every move.
As he began in 2008 with predictions of the European cup, Paul predicted that Germany would win each game he was presented with. He made his predictions through a relatively simple experiment. As he was presented with two different vessels containing mussels, he would then open one and consume the food inside. As each vessel bore a flag on its surface he would in effect be selecting the country he thought would win the world cup. Or at least that’s how the story goes. How he knew which container would get a reaction out of his caretakers and the world is still a matter of wide controversy. Out of six games, Paul was correct on four of them in predicting a win for Germany. The streak was interesting, but not statistically significant enough to give Paul the title of psychic octopus.
The story got more incredible, however, in 2010 as Paul began making “predictions” of the World Cup. His caretakers were amazed when for the first time Paul selected a container without the flag of Germany on it. And on that day Germany lost. They were similarly amazed when the next three times when Germany won he was correct. But the final and most incredible shift came in the last two games when he predicted on July seventh Serbia would beat Germany but then once again selected Germany for a win over Uruguay three days later. How Paul made his predictions is something no one really knows. But he was even correct when he predicted the July 11th win of Spain over the Netherlands.
Many have speculated that his predictions could have been made due to a bias of the flags. Is it possible he was merely selecting the container that most closely resembled the flag he knew would contain food after recognizing Germany’s flag so much? One needs only to look at the Serbian flag to recognize how different it is. Even to a color blind octopus the difference should have been noticeable enough.
Paul the psychic octopus will be missed, and our hats off to him for making so many correct predictions. Even without taking into account the previous correct calls, the chances of him correctly predicting all eight games in the 2010 World Cup were one in 256.