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Use math to beat holiday shopping crowds

Before navigating mall crowds over Black Friday weekend, there's another challenge: Snagging a parking spot.

At many malls, it's no easy feat. (See chart below for the 10 malls with the worst holiday traffic, according to technology firm INRIX, which offers real-time traffic information.)

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"The problem with circling is, you can circle and chance upon a spot, but it's like having the Pick 4 [New Jersey Lottery] come up," said Joseph Pagano of New York City.

A street in San Francisco
Mitchell Funk | Getty Images
A street in San Francisco

Pagano, a former math teacher, has come up with a solution—a formula that can benefit drivers hoping to stake out that perfect spot near the mall entrance. His recommendation: Rather than circle the lot, idle in an aisle where you can see 10 spaces ahead of you on either side (20 total). Given the average holiday shopping trip duration of 77 minutes, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of those 20 spots should open up in 3.85 minutes or less of waiting.

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"All distributions, no matter how random, tend toward a bell curve," he said. "I've tested the formula out, and I've never had it fail." (Check out the video above to see how we fared, putting it to the test. Spoiler alert: Holiday drivers are competitive!)

City shoppers may also find free apps like SpotHero, ParkMe and ParkWhiz helpful for finding open spaces in paid lots, and comparing rates, said Brad Spirrison, managing editor for review site Appolicious. Some municipalities also have apps that let you feed the meter from your phone, he said.

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Malls with the worst traffic on Black Friday

Mall Busiest hours Extra peak-hour travel time
Roosevelt Field (Garden City, NY) 3-6 p.m. 133%
Del Amo Fashion Center (Torrance, CA) 11 a.m.-2 p.m. 120%
Sawgrass Mills (Sunrise, FL) 12-3 p.m., 4-6 p.m. 79%
Tysons Corner Center (McLean, VA) 11 a.m.-2 p.m. 77%
Palisades Center (West Nyack, NY) 3-6 p.m. 74%
Westfield Garden State Plaza (Paramus, NJ) 3-7 p.m. 65%
The Galleria (Houston, TX) 12-3 p.m. 62%
Woodfield Mall (Schaumburg, IL) 1-3 p.m. 56%
King of Prussia Mall (King of Prussia, PA) 1-3 p.m. 21%
Mall of America (Minneapolis, MN) 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 6%
SOURCE: INRIX.