Coin flips might seem trivial, but sometimes there's a lot riding on them, writes Erik van Rheenen. The city of Portland, Ore., might have had a different name if its other co-founder had won the toss to determine naming rights; a coin toss determined which of the Wright brothers would be first to fly their airplane; and in 1959, Ritchie Valens was unlucky enough to win a coin toss to grab the last seat on the ill-fated flight that killed him and fellow stars Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson.

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