As The Office once taught us, white elephant, a.k.a. nasty Christmas, a.k.a. Yankee swap (YAAAANKEE SWAP!) is a game wherein you turn the joy of holiday giving into a ruthless competition of comparing and stealing gifts. And for those who are determined to be crowned the champion of their holiday gift exchange, the statistics-minded folks at FiveThirtyEight have some game theory for you. In a video from last year, Ben Casselman, Simone Landon, and Jody Avirgan explain the best practices to ensure you leave your holiday swap feeling like you got a good deal. It’s the perfect strategy for those who think it should be more than the thought that counts when it comes to gifts.
The strategy all comes down to assigning each open present a “mental value” and then averaging those values to assess whether it’s worth stealing a gift that’s already been opened or opening a new one. The basic rule of thumb is that if there’s a stealable gift that’s worth at least as much as the average value of all the opened presents, it’s worth stealing. If not, you should take your chance with an unopened one. To be honest, it sounds like an awful lot of analysis for a game that’s usually played when everyone is several egg nogs in. But if you’re determined to get the most bang for your buck in a friendly gift exchange, this seems like the best way to do it.