There's a song in the game Fallout 4 called Grandma Plays the Numbers. The full lyrics can be found at that link. It was written and performed by Wynonie Harris in 1949.

I'm not sure what is meant by the title. It sounds like it is probably some kind of gambling. Maybe the lottery?

If that's the case, then he's really making a big deal out of it. Was playing the lottery unseemly for old ladies in 1949?

  • That's crazy; I was playing Fallout 4 and I was curious about that song too, so I Google'd your title quote, and it took me straight here. I thought maybe lottery too, but why the big deal :D
    – n00dles
    Nov 11, 2017 at 23:18

1 Answer 1


The "numbers" were indeed the lottery, but this was back before the government decided to get in on the action, so it was an illegal lottery run by gangsters.

Basically, it was a common, but illegal activity, so it has a slightly naughty feel to it, like drinking during prohibition. Many, many grandmas did in fact play the numbers.

There's a fairly lengthy section in the Autobiography of Malcolm X about his early criminal career as a "numbers runner."


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