numbers game

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numbers game (plural numbers games)

  1. A lottery in which bettors attempt to guess which numbers will later be drawn randomly.
  2. The use of inappropriate statistics (numbers) to reflect a desired result (usually misleading).
    • 1969, Eric Ogden, “Government Departments (Staffing)”, in parliamentary debates, British House of Commons[1]:
      Is it not as misleading to apply a simple numbers game to the Civil Service as it is to the police?
    • 1985, Jeff Rooker, “Inner Cities”, in parliamentary debates, British House of Commons[2]:
      The Secretary of State was quick to mention the problems of the 1960s and the 1970s. He criticised the quick-build policies pursued then. He later threw in the 1950s as well. That was when the numbers game was all. We see today the results of playing the numbers game.
    • 1985, “Interpretation”, in parliamentary debates, British House of Commons[3]:
      Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South): The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was careful to say that at any one time no more than four GLC officers were present in the Committee. He did not say that only four had ever been present. Is it not possible that, through the long hours, relays of four different people at different times have been involved in the argument?
      Mr. Martin Stevens: That is what is called playing the numbers game. I do no more than thank my hon. Friend for his kind intervention.
    • 1987, Jeff Rooker, “Housing and Homelessness”, in parliamentary debates, British House of Commons[4]:
      I made it clear in a recent letter to the Minister, to which I do not expect him to reply tonight, that we will not play the numbers game of setting targets.
  3. An activity that benefits from having many things to work with or on.
    • 2013 May-June, David Van Tassel, Lee DeHaan, “Wild Plants to the Rescue”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 3, page 222:
      Plant breeding is always a numbers game. [] The wild species we use are rich in genetic variation, and individual plants are highly heterozygous and do not breed true. In addition, we are looking for rare alleles, so the more plants we try, the better.

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