How many ways can you arrange a deck of cards?

 
shuffled deck of cards
 

Every time you shuffle a deck of cards, chances are that you have put them in an order that has never been seen in the history of the universe.

One deck. Fifty-two cards. How many arrangements? Let's put it this way: Any time you pick up a well shuffled deck, you are almost certainly holding an arrangement of cards that has never before existed and might not exist again. Yannay Khaikin explains how factorials allow us to pinpoint the exact (very large) number of permutations in a standard deck of cards.

52! is the number of different ways you can arrange a single deck of cards. You can visualize this by constructing a randomly generated shuffle of the deck. Start with all the cards in one pile. Randomly select one of the 52 cards to be in position 1. Next, randomly select one of the remaining 51 cards for position 2, then one of the remaining 50 for position 3, and so on. Hence, the total number of ways you could arrange the cards is 52 * 51 * 50 * ... * 3 * 2 * 1, or 52!. Here's what that looks like:

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To give you an idea of how many that is, here is how long it would take to go through every possible permutation of cards. If every star in our galaxy had a trillion planets, each with a trillion people living on them, and each of these people has a trillion packs of cards and somehow they manage to make unique shuffles 1,000 times per second, and they'd been doing that since the Big Bang, they'd only just now be starting to repeat shuffles.

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