Russian roulette

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Russian roulette (Russian: Русская рулетка, Russkaya ruletka) is a potentially lethal game of chance in which participants place a single round in a revolver, spin the cylinder, place the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger. "Russian" refers to the supposed country of origin, and roulette to the element of risk-taking and the spinning of the revolver's cylinder being reminiscent of spinning a roulette wheel.

Contents

Variations

Two players either take turns spinning and firing the revolver so that each successive turn has an equal probability of failure, or, the players simply take turns without spinning the cylinders until one is shot. Assuming a common 6 round cylinder, the probability of failure after spinning is approximately 1/6th. (This is affected by weight of the bullet, direction spin and angle the gun is held at while spinning the cylinder.) If playing with more than two players, without re-spinning, the initial probability of each player for being killed is 1/6th, but the probability of being killed changes every time the trigger is pulled. The second player has a 1/5th (20%) probability of being killed, and the probability of the third player 1/4th (25%). Until the sixth player when the chance of being killed is 1/1 (100%) assuming the cartridge works (however, since the probability of the 6th player getting to pull the trigger is equal to the probability of the first five not being killed, the initial probability of him being killed is (5/6) * (4/5) * (3/4) * (2/3) * (1/2) = 1/6, the same as the first player's chance). In the former case, where they re-spin the chamber, the game could continue, indefinitely and gamblers could presumably only wager on which players will survive and how many turns the game will last.

Demographics

A retrospective study in Kentucky, USA showed that about 80% of the victims of Russian roulette were white, all of them male, the average age was 25 years and alcohol drinking played a much bigger role than in other cases of suicide by shooting.[1]

Notable incidents

Numerous incidents have been reported regarding Russian roulette.

  • British author Graham Greene claimed that in his youth he often played Russian roulette as a means to provide "excitement and get away from the boredom". But he later decided that "it was no more exciting than taking aspirin for a headache."[2]
  • In his autobiography, Malcolm X says that during his burglary career he once played Russian roulette, pulling the trigger three times in a row to convince his partners in crime that he was not afraid to die. In the epilogue to the book, Alex Haley states that Malcolm X revealed to him that he palmed the round.
  • On December 24, 1954, the American blues musician Johnny Ace killed himself in Texas after a gun he pointed at his own head discharged. Many sources, including the Washington Post,[3] attribute this to Russian roulette.
  • John Hinckley, Jr., the man who attempted to murder President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was known to play Russian roulette, alone, on two occasions.[4] Hinckley also took a picture of himself in 1980 pointing a gun at his head.[5]
  • PBS claims that William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, had attempted suicide by playing a solo game of Russian roulette.[6]
  • On October 5, 2003, psychological illusionist Derren Brown played Russian roulette on British television Channel 4. The stunt was broadcast live with a slight delay allowing the program to cut to a black screen if anything had gone wrong. Also, the final firing of the gun was not shown, as the gun had gone out of camera shot. A statement by the police said that they had been informed of the arrangements in advance, and were satisfied that "at no time was anyone at risk", confirming it as a hoax.[7]
  • The BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are? on 13 September 2010 featured the actor Alan Cumming investigating his grandfather Tommy Darling, who he discovered had died playing Russian roulette while serving as a police officer in Malaya. The family had previously believed that he had died accidentally while cleaning his gun.[8]

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