Table of Contents

How to flip a coin?

Table of Contents

It’s a fundamentally simple process, flipping a coin. You toss the coin in the air and see which side it lands on – that’s all there is to it. But there are several things to consider when flipping a coin.
If you just throw the coin up it is unlikely to experience much rotation. This will limit the randomness of the result and may make it very easy to predict how it will land. This makes it unsuitable for decision making, settling agreements, or making anything other than a predetermined choice.

The most common way to flip a coin is to make a fist with the thumb on top and balance the coin on the side of the index finger and covering the tip of them thumb. The thumb may begin below the index finger so the coin rests more on the knuckle of the thumb.

The coin is flipped

The coin is flipped by flicking the thumb upwards. This launches the coin into the air and allows it to begin rotating as the majority of the force was applied to one edge. The speed of thumb will affect the number of rotations, but if the coin goes high enough it will be difficult to predetermine how many rotations the coin makes.

In many sporting events, it is traditional to allow the coin to land on the ground. An alternative it to catch the coin, at which point it is either shown in an open palm or slapped onto the back of the other hand.

Holding the coin

Holding the coin in the palm is the least satisfactory as a sleight-of-hand movement favored by street magicians could flip the coin in the palm giving a non-random result. Allowing the coin to hit the ground does not present this possibility, while slapping it on to the back of the hand also limits interference as it is difficult to manipulate a coin with that part of the body.

Other methods of coin tossing include throwing it from an open hand, bouncing it off a wall, spinning it on the ground, or launching it from a receptacle (like a cup) and catching it in the same. The thumb flick is by far the most popular, easiest, and most convenient – and the most reliable as far as obtaining a random result is concerned.

Old coin to flip

Online coin flip

Random results are the name of the game, but there are quite a few factors that may result in a less-than-random virtual coin flip. We’ll look at the exact probability and causes a little later on, but to begin with we can just appreciate that nothing in the real world can be truly random due to external factors – the way it is flipped, the wind blowing, and more besides will have an influence on the result.

Using a computer to flip a coin is free from external factors, and the result will be 50-50. After all, computers work on the binary system, so the only two things a computer knows for sure are the numbers 0 and 1.

Using the website

By using a program or website that generates a random result – either a 0 or a 1 – the computer can choose the result for you, giving a much more balanced result. An online coin flip is fair and accessible even if you don’t have a coin to hand.

The question of randomness in itself is often raised in relation to computer systems – if computers work on logic and only deal in absolutes, how can anything from a computer be truly random? In truth, computer randomness is often generated by use of a complex algorithm that gives the end result based on a “seed” number. Whatever seed number is entered, the result will be a 0 or 1. If the same seed number is used twice, the same result will occur.

The seed number

Because of this, the seed number is usually based on the system time of the computer, which tracks as far down as one hundredth of a second or less. This means that in any given second, there are a hundred or more chances for the result to go one way or the other.

So while a computer “random” number is not truly random, it as close to random as to be indistinguishable for a human – and having over a hundred chances every second to get a different result is more than enough for even the most avid of virtual coin flippers.

Medieval coin in kopper that was used for flipping

Coin Flip Probability

Flipping a coin gives one of two results – ups or downs. It is accepted that the chance of either result occurring is 50-50, and should you flip a coin 100 times, it will land on heads 50 times, and tails 50 times.

Unfortunately, that’s not how coin flip probability works! The result of the next online coin flip has no bearing on the previous flip. Based on the accepted logic, if you flip a coin twice and both times it lands on heads, it stands to reason that in the next 98 flips you’ll get 48 instances of heads.

The probability of getting heads

However, after two flips, the probability of getting heads is 1 in 2, or 50-50. This applies whether the previous two flips were heads, tails, a combination, or if you dropped the coin down a hole – it doesn’t change the probability.

If you flipped a coin 99 times, and 99 times it came up heads, the 100th flip would be a 50-50 chance of being tails. This is true randomness. If there were a pattern where you could guarantee every other flip would be heads, how could that be considered random at all?

However, even with all that considered, there are some things that change the true probability. The way a coin is flipped is one factor, for no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to produce exactly the same amount of force with your thumb every time you flip a coin. The wind an air currents can affect the number of rotations, and the design engraved on the coin may be slightly heavier on one side. This won’t necessarily affect the side the coin lands on (i.e. the heavier side won’t always land facing down), but it will cause the rotation to wobble slightly, which could affect the result, true coin flip probability.

Mathematically the coin flip

If you move on to two coins, mathematically the coin flip probability of heads coming up on both is the same as the probability of tails coming up on both – 1 in 4. The odds of the coins coming up with different faces showing is just 1 in 2.

With three coins, all three landing on the same side is 1 in 8. Two with the same side is 1 in 4, the same as if you used two coins.

Stacking several coins and flipping them is fun to do and watch, but severely limits the amount of rotation that can be achieved, and tends to synchronize the rotation of the majority of the coins. This means if they all started out facing heads up, most will land facing the same way as the others (be it heads or tails) – only the top and bottom coins will have the potential for greater rotation.

If you need to flip several coins, do them all individually!

Euro coin - the nost used coin in Europe to flip

Flip a coin quote

Making a choice by flipping a coin is a well-known phenomenon. Some people believe it to be the best thing to do, while others would never do it and prefer to reason things out. Here are some coin flipping quotes for you to ponder.

“I tend to over-analyze things. I’m not the type of person to flip a coin and let things happen.” – Emily Browning
“I tell people the first time I decided to write a novel I was in my mid-20s, and it was, ‘Well, it’s time to see if I can do this.’ I basically flipped a coin to see if I was going to write science fiction or if I was going to do a crime novel. The coin toss went to science fiction.” – John Scalzi

Kameron Hurley

“While many alternate reality stories ask, ‘What might have been?’ parallel universe stories literalize the war between good and evil that plays inside each of us every day. It’s what makes this type of story so perfect for many fantasy tales: we’re all just a online coin flip away from being entirely different people.” – Kameron Hurley

“You can flip a coin to change its face, but it remains the same coin.” – DaShanne Stokes

“Flip a coin. When it’s in the air, you’ll know which side you’re hoping for.” – Arnold Rothstein

David Brooks

“I could tell you that when you have trouble making up your mind about something, tell yourself you’ll settle it by flipping a coin. But don’t go by how the coin flips; go by your emotional reaction to the coin flip. Are you happy or sad it came up heads or tails?” – David Brooks

“Humor is the ability to see three sides to one coin.” – Ned Rorem

Flipping a coin for various reasons is common the world over, and is a common experience shared by the majority of the world’s population. Coin flipping has gone on for hundreds of years, so it is not at all surprising that it is so widespread. This is also why there is so many good flip a coin quotes.

The factual basis for coin throws

A coin throw is not new a phenomenon. Actually, it can be traced back to Roman times. In ancient Rome, a coin throw went by a very popular name, which was a “Ship” or a “Head.” It obviously had a local name too, which was Navia Aut Caput. You may think this name sounds strange, but there is actually meaning amongst the madness. In the Roman Empire, coins actually had the emperor on one side and a ship on the other – that’s why it can be well-defended.

Used in football

There is actually a pretty funny story about the coin throw and its use in the world of sports. Indeed, it is very normal for a coin throw to be used to determine who is allowed to decide on something. In football, for example, the winner is allowed to decide if he will have the ball or lane. This really only determines whether the player will be allowed to give up the ball in the first half or if they prefer preferences on what end they would like to attack from.

In the old days, you could actually use flip a coin to decide the outcomes of matches in football. There was no such thing as extra time, penalty shootouts, or a single point – the winner of the match had to be chosen after the last whistle, and therefore, a coin throw was often used to determine the winner. After all, this idea is extremely useful as it gives both parties a chance.

European championship

So, a semi-final in a European championship was decided back in ‘68, where Italy pulled the longest straw, or guessed the right side of the coin. The semi-final ended between the Soviet Union and Italy, and both teams were called to the center. The referee threw the coin. Imagine that – after 90 minutes of wear and tear, plus all the preparation time, everything came down to guessing the right side of the coin!

However, it is not only within the world of sports that coin throws are used to determine the outcome of important events. In fact, in England, the coin throw was an essential part of naming the winner when two people were standing up straight. It might come as a bit of a shock to know that this has been used in political matches too.

What do Danish experts think about this coin escapade?

There are two Danish experts who have been consulted in connection with this report in order to get their views on this case and how they feel about it. The two Danish experts are convinced that American scientists got the long end of the straw when it comes to proving that to flip a coin is no longer 50/50.

Researchers predict

First, the researchers predict with their equations that there will be an overweight of instances, whereby the coin falls down on the same page as it starts. It tests them empirically, and their investigations are very convincing.

Susanne is the head of a specific small research group working with probabilities and statistics at the University of Copenhagen. There can be a cultural perception of what is associated with coincidence.

For example, there is a man named Carsten Knudsen. He is a lecturer at the Technical University of Denmark, and he has personally researched a dice box. Carsten himself believes that their conclusions, along with the mathematical evidence, are correct. He even has an in-depth explanation. Carsten states that the coin will never land randomly. He believes that everything is bound up with the laws of physics, making it possible to calculate something to give one a statistical advantage when guessing the outcome.


“When we throw a ball into the air, it obeys the same physical laws as the coin. However; we do not see a ball-box as random because we can partially control how the ball lands, and at the same time, our eyes can follow the movements of the ball.” – Knudsen

However; if you throw a coin into the air, it rotates too fast for your eyes to follow. This is probably why we have this cultural view that a coin throw is random.

3 coins that changed history

There are two types of methods that are often the most popular when it comes to deciding a specific outcome. Some go to the “Rock Scissors Paper” method, and others to flip a coin. It’s not unusual to throw the coin into the air, after calling ups or downs, and the winner gets the last piece of pizza or is allowed to choose tonight’s movie.

However, we managed to dig something out of our archives. As it appears, by no means do you only have to use a coin throw for “small” things. We have found three stories in which coin throws have helped to determine the outcome of bigger things too. We can be honest and say that these are not entirely indifferent things.

A coin flip named the city Portland, Oregon

Some of the first people in the United States named the different cities and states. Often, there were two or more people who fought about different pieces of land, and who was in fact entitled to that piece of land. Portland was once the root of such a controversy between Asa Lovejoy from Boston and Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine.

The two proud men both had an understanding that this was their piece of land respectively and, therefore, they had to discover who was actually entitled to it. Portland was, at the time, called “The Clearing,” however, a coin throw would change that. Back then, the two men chose to let this single (not online coin flip) decide who should have it. Can you guess who won?

A coin duel determined the first flight

Wilbur Wright won the opportunity to rewrite history when he won a coin toss against his brother, Orville, in their camp in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, in 1903. Wilbur beat his brother in their coin-throw competition, which ultimately meant he was allowed to fly their aircraft for the first time. He embarked on this flight for the first time on December the 14th in 1903. Unfortunately, he stalled the plane, which meant Wilbur took a trip straight back into the sand.

Three days later, after some repairs, Orville was the first to get the plane airborne. This happened at 10.30am on the 17th of December 1903. Wilbur, who otherwise won the coin toss fairly, was portrayed in a photograph showing that he flew into the ground. So, he still got a great deal out of it.

A coin flip sealed the fate of Ritchie Valens

If anyone has seen the movie “La Bamba,” you’re surely well aware that a coin throw helped people do something terrible to one of the great heroes of music. Holly, who was a singer in another band, provided an airplane that they needed to use to travel to a new venue after they had just given a concert. The next stop would be Moorhead, Minnesota. However, something happened with his tour bus which made it impossible for him to continue, so, they had to find an alternative. Holly convinced Waylon Jennings, a band member of Holly’s band, to abandon his seat on the plane he was booked on for Valens.

Holly’s band

At the time, the guitarist from Holly’s band was willing to let Valens have his seat. He said that they should let the coin decide which would get the spot. On February 3rd, 1959, after the young Latin star Richie Valens won the coin throw, he died on a grain field. Many refer to it as “the day when the music died.” Bad weather conditions were responsible for the outcome.
As you can see, coin flip have been used by many people for many years. This also illustrates people’s perception of how coin’s equally divide different people. While we can deduce that there is a small advantage for one party, you will still be able to use a coin throw to find out who is allowed to pick movies on Netflix today.