Book by Thomas A. Bass about a group of students who set out to beat roulette.

Their basic premise was that if one knows the speed of the roulette wheel, and the speed of the roulette ball, one can accurately predict approximately where on the wheel the ball will land.

Using custom miniaturized computers and teams of two people (one to time the wheel, and the other to time the ball), they were able to win consistently.

Using a computer to play roulette was made a felony in Las Vegas after they published the book. Go figure.

"This is unusual architecture for the circuit of a computer. You'll notice that none of the lines is straight."
"Why is that?" I ask.
"Because I drew them without a ruler."
The book is a bit more than johnnyx's review states. It starts with a freshly minted physicist, Tom Ingerson, in a small town in Arizona guiding young men towards hackerdom (in math, physics, motorcycle repair, electronics, etc); it ends about 20 years later on the wedding of one of those hackers. The intervening time, in particular the time designing and constructing the shoe-based computer to predict roulette, is enormous in scope: from 1975 to 1983, with a ever-burgeoning cast of characters.

The project started on an impluse of Doyne Farmer & Dan Browne, two physics grad students at UC Santa Cruz. The project rapidly sucked in most of their close friends, both in and out of physics, and they set up shop in Doyne's house, for what was to become both a science project and a lifestyle. The core people began living double lives: respectable jobs/research by day, roulette prediction by night. The house became a commune in the best sense of the word, with all types coming by to lend a hand where they could: Doyne's girlfriend, Letty, in law school at Stanford providing investment, lib arts students from Europe who could play a room in a casino and conceal the presence of physics masterminds, electronics pros who dropped out of Silicon Valley because of moral opposition to building weapons. The scene, as painted, is a large, wild house filled with music, laughter, and nerds. Early on into this, the core incorporated the project to give shares to everyone who participated (anticipating immanent roulette riches); there was a deep desire to win this to give a band of (still poor students) control over their lives:

"I used to think a lot about community," said Doyne. "How to bring people together and make things happen. We wanted to buld up a network of people we copuld trust and a set of tools. We started the Project thinking it would be a way to organize this sort of community. It would finance a home base for everyone. I may not touch home very often, but there has to be someplace to go back to. Otherwise it's crazy in this society, where people drift off to Timbuktu and Philadelphia just because that's where they get jobs. There has to be a better way for people to control where they live and how they stay in touch with each other."
That's the mentality that moves me to achieve. I've read a lot of west coast business histories, and none of them communicate as well the motivation shared by some of the best people in tech: to reach a state where money doesn't matter anymore.

There is a long list at the end of the book detailing 'where they are now', but I'm going to note just four: Norman Packard, Doyne Farmer, Robert Shaw, Jim Crutchfield: modern physicists recognize these names; they are the founding members of UC Santa Cruz's "Chaos Cabal", one of the leading lights in nonlinear dynamics. Yes, that's right: one of the biggest revolutions in mathematics was partially driven by a team of communal, noctural, geeky wierdos trying to beat roulette. Follow your bliss!

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