A die (plural "dice") is a solid with markings on each of its faces. The faces are usually all the same shape, making Platonic solids and Archimedean duals the obvious choices. The die can be "rolled" by throwing it in the air and allowing it to come to rest on one of its faces. Dice are used in many games of chance as a way of picking random numbers on which to bet, and are used in board or role-playing games to determine the number of spaces to move, results of a conflict, etc. A coin can be viewed as a degenerate 2-sided case of a die.

In 1787, Mozart wrote the measures and instructions for a musical composition dice game. The idea is to cut and paste pre-written measures of music together to create a Minuet (Chuang).


The most common type of die is a six-sided cube with the numbers 1-6 placed on the faces. The value of the roll is indicated by the number of "spots" showing on the top. For the six-sided die, opposite faces are arranged to always sum to seven. This gives two possible mirror image arrangements in which the numbers 1, 2, and 3 may be arranged in a clockwise or counterclockwise order about a corner. Commercial dice may, in fact, have either orientation. The illustrations above show 6-sided dice with counterclockwise and clockwise arrangements, respectively, when viewed from along the three-fold rotation axis towards the center of the die.

The cube has the nice property that there is an upward-pointing face opposite the bottom face from which the value of the "roll" can easily be read. This would not be true, for instance, for a tetrahedral die, which would have to be picked up and turned over to reveal the number underneath (although it could be determined by noting which number 1-4 was not visible on one of the upper three faces). The arrangement of five spots Quincunx corresponding to a roll of 5 on a six-sided die is called the quincunx. There are also special names for certain rolls of two six-sided dice: two 1s are called snake eyes and two 6s are called Boxcars.

Shapes of dice other than the usual 6-sided cube are commercially available from companies such as Dice & Games, Ltd.® Diaconis and Keller (1989) show that there exist "fair" dice other than the usual Platonic solids and duals of the Archimedean solids, where a fair die is one for which its symmetry group acts transitively on its faces (i.e., isohedra). There are 30 isohedra.

The probability of obtaining p points (a roll of p) on n s-sided dice can be computed as follows. The number of ways in which p can be obtained is the coefficient of x^p in


since each possible arrangement contributes one term. f(x) can be written as a multinomial series


so the desired number c is the coefficient of x^p in



 x^nsum_(k=0)^n(-1)^k(n; k)x^(sk)sum_(l=0)^infty(n+l-1; l)x^l,

so in order to get the coefficient of x^p, include all terms with


c is therefore

 c=sum_(k=0)^n(-1)^k(n; k)(p-sk-1; p-sk-n).

But p-sk-n>0 only when k<(p-n)/s, so the other terms do not contribute. Furthermore,

 (p-sk-1; p-sk-n)=(p-sk-1; n-1),


 c=sum_(k=0)^(|_(p-n)/s_|)(-1)^k(n; k)(p-sk-1; n-1),

where |_x_| is the floor function, and

 P(p,n,s)=1/(s^n)sum_(k=0)^(|_(p-n)/s_|)(-1)^k(n; k)(p-sk-1; n-1)

(Uspensky 1937, pp. 23-24).

Consider now s=6. For n=2 six-sided dice,

 k_(max)=|_(p-2)/6_|={0   for 2<=p<=7; 1   for 8<=p<=12,


P(p,2,6)=1/(6^2)sum_(k=0)^(k_(max))(-1)^k(2; k)(p-6k-1; 1)
=1/(36){p-1 for 2<=p<=7; 13-p for 8<=p<=12
=(6-|p-7|)/(36)  for 2<=p<=12.

The most common roll is therefore seen to be a 7, with probability 6/36=1/6, and the least common rolls are 2 and 12, both with probability 1/36.

For n=3 six-sided dice,

 k_(max)=|_(p-3)/6_|={0   for 3<=p<=8; 1   for 9<=p<=14; 2   for 15<=p<=18,


P(p,3,6)=1/(6^3)sum_(k=0)^(k_(max))(-1)^k(3; k)(p-6k-1; 2)
=1/(216){((p-1)(p-2))/2 for 3<=p<=8; ((p-1)(p-2))/2-3((p-7)(p-8))/2 for 9<=p<=14; ((p-1)(p-2))/2-3((p-7)(p-8))/2+3((p-13)(p-14))/2 for 15<=p<=18
=1/(216){1/2(p-1)(p-2) for 3<=p<=8; -p^2+21p-83 for 9<=p<=14; 1/2(19-p)(20-p) for 15<=p<=18.

For three six-sided dice, the most common rolls are 10 and 11, both with probability 1/8; and the least common rolls are 3 and 18, both with probability 1/216.

For four six-sided dice, the most common roll is 14, with probability 73/648; and the least common rolls are 4 and 24, both with probability 1/1296.

In general, the likeliest roll p_L for n s-sided dice is given by


which can be written explicitly as

 p_L(n,s)={1/2n(s+1)   for n even; 1/2[n(s+1)-1]   for n odd, s even; 1/2n(s+1)   for n odd, s odd.

For 6-sided dice, the likeliest rolls are given by

 p_L(n,6)=|_7/2n_|={7/2n   for n even; 1/2(7n-1)   for n odd,

or 7, 10, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28, 31, 35, ... for n=2, 3, ... (OEIS A030123) dice. The probabilities corresponding to the most likely rolls can be computed by plugging p=p_L into the general formula together with

 k_L(n,s)={1/2n   for n even; |_(n(s-1)-1)/(2s)_|   for n odd, s even; |_(n(s-1))/(2s)_|   for n odd, s odd.

Unfortunately, P(p_L,n,s) does not have a simple closed-form expression in terms of s and n. However, the probabilities of obtaining the likeliest roll totals can be found explicitly for a particular s. For n 6-sided dice, the probabilities are 1/6, 1/8, 73/648, 65/648, 361/3888, 24017/279936, 7553/93312, ... for n=2, 3, ....


The probabilities for obtaining a given total using n 6-sided dice are shown above for n=1, 2, 3, and 4 dice. They can be seen to approach a normal distribution as the number of dice is increased.

See also

Boxcars, Coin Tossing, Craps, de Méré's Problem, Efron's Dice, Isohedron, Newton-Pepys Problem, Poker, Quincunx, Sicherman Dice, Snake Eyes, Yahtzee

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Chuang, J. "Mozart's Musikalisches Würfelspiel.", K. "What Shapes do Dice Have?", S. "Tjou-sa-a--Dice." §72 in Games of the Orient: Korea, China, Japan. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, pp. 78-79, 1965.Diaconis, P. and Keller, J. B. "Fair Dice." Amer. Math. Monthly 96, 337-339, 1989.Dice & Games, Ltd. "Poly Dice & Dice for Hobby Games.", D. C. "Coordinate Systems: Right and Left Handed Dice. Right?", M. "Dice." Ch. 18 in Mathematical Magic Show: More Puzzles, Games, Diversions, Illusions and Other Mathematical Sleight-of-Mind from Scientific American. New York: Vintage, pp. 251-262, 1978.Pegg, E. Jr. "Fair Dice.", C. A. The Mathematics of Oz: Mental Gymnastics from Beyond the Edge. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 245, 2002.Robertson, L. C.; Shortt, R. M.; Landry, S. G. "Dice with Fair Sums." Amer. Math. Monthly 95, 316-328, 1988.Sloane, N. J. A. Sequence A030123 in "The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences."Tietze, H. "Über die Anzahl der stabilen Ruhelagen eines Würfels." Elem. Math. 7, 97-100, 1948.Uspensky, J. V. Introduction to Mathematical Probability. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 23-24, 1937.

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Cite this as:

Weisstein, Eric W. "Dice." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.

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