92 shades of green for Indiana on St. Patrick’s Day

Two teams from Michigan are playing today in the finals of the Big 10 tournament for men’s college basketball. The championship game falls on St. Patrick’s Day this year,  which might give an edge to Michigan State, whose school colors are green and white.

The Cream and Crimson crashed out of the tournament in the first round. So instead of cheering for the Indiana University team, fans here in Bloomington are likely passing the time puzzling over St. Patrick’s Day numerical trivia.

For example, serious IU basketball fans know the seating capacity of the arena where the home team plays, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. (It’s 17,222.) But how many leprechauns will the venue seat? (It’s an engineering question, which requires solving a third order differential equation, so that’s not gonna happen in this dumb little column.)

Fans of the TV series “Fargo” might have learned that humans can perceive more shades of green than any other color. But exactly how many shades of green can human beings perceive?

The answer, at least for people who live in Indiana, is 92.

Here’s where that number comes from. The American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, asks people about their ancestry. Not everybody answers the question, but in the 2017 ACS 5-year estimates for Indiana, around 900,000 Hoosiers have Irish, Scotch-Irish or Scottish heritage. By way of comparison, the biggest single ancestry group for Indiana is German, with an estimated 1.4 million.

How do people with Irish ancestry stack up county by county? (This is a good place to mention that the correct solution to the Assembly Hall puzzle does not require any stacking of leprechauns.) The range goes from a high of 19 percent Irish heritage in Dearborn County to a low of 7.4 percent in LaGrange County.

Top 10 Indiana Counties for Irish Heritage

  1. 18.97% Dearborn County
  2. 18.39% Porter County
  3. 17.84% Newton County
  4. 17.79% Pike County
  5. 17.64% Starke County
  6. 17.51% Warren County
  7. 17.19% Fountain County
  8. 17.14% Montgomery County
  9. 17.09% Crawford County
  10. 16.97% Owen County

If all 92 counties are shaded on a map of the state, based on percentage of Irish ancestry, that plot gives 92 shades of green. (Check out the map below.) That’s why the answer is 92.


Now, the U.S. Senate race last fall between Mike Braun (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) could be analyzed as a German-sounding name versus an Irish-sounding name. Based on the ACS numbers, it’s not surprising that the German won—because there’s about 50 percent more people with German ancestry in Indiana, compared with Irish ancestry.

It would be a little surprising if the impact of uniform political attitudes of people reporting Irish or German ancestry could be detected in election results. The Senate race is easy enough to plot out on a map, shaded with standard red and blue for Republican and Democrat.

Eyeballing the shades of green compared to the shades of red and blue doesn’t reveal a perceptible correlation.

Anyway, here’s hoping that next year’s Big 10 men’s basketball tournament championship game includes Indiana. If nothing else, it would keep everyone out of statistical mischief.