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Excel 2020: Create a Data Table from a Blank Cell

November 04, 2020 - by Bill Jelen

Create a Data Table from a Blank Cell. Photo Credit: rawpixel at


Note: If you took a class on financial modeling in college, you likely used a textbook written by Professor Simon Benninga. He showed me this cool Excel trick.

Simon Benninga tells a story of a game called Penny Pitching. You and another student would each flip a penny. If you get one head and one tail, you win the penny. If the coins match (heads/heads or tails/tails), the other student gets the penny.

It is simple to model this game in Excel. If RAND()>.5, you win a penny. Otherwise, you lose a penny. Do that for 25 rows and chart the result. Press F9 to play 25 more rounds.

This is known as a Random Walk Down Wall Street. Simon would point out a result like the one below, where a hot young stock analyst is on fire with a series of wins, but then a series of losses wipe out the gain. This is why they say that past results are not a guarantee of future returns.

25 rounds of penny pitching. A formula =IF(RAND()>0.5,1,-1)+B3 keeps track of the cumulative winnings or losses.

Instead of 25 trials, extend your table in columns A and B to run 250 trials. This would be like playing one round of penny pitching every work day for a year. Build a row of statistics about that year, as shown below.

In G14:L14, calculate statistics from the current 250 rounds of Penny Pitching. What was the Max, Min, Average, Win Streak, Lose Streak, and Final result.

Create an odd data table where the blank cell in column F is the corner cell. Leave Row Input Cell blank. Specify any blank cell for Column Input Cell.

The blank cell in F14 becomes the top left corner cell of the analysis. Select F14:K34. In the Data Table dialog, leave the Row Input Cell blank and choose any blank cell as the Column Input Cell. This only works because of the RAND() in the model.

When you create the table, Excel runs the 250 coin flips, once per row. This 30-row table models the entire career of a stock analyst. Every time you press F9, Excel runs the 250-row model for each of 30 years. You can watch an entire 30-year career be modeled with the simple press of F9.

You've now modeled 250 flips times 30 iterations. You can see the stats over all and get a picture for the range of possibilities.

Thanks to Professor Simon Benninga for showing me this technique.

Title Photo: / Unsplash

This article is an excerpt from MrExcel 2020 - Seeing Excel Clearly.

Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
MrExcel 2020 - Seeing Excel Clearly

This is a 4th edition of MrExcel LX. Updates for 2020 include: Ask a question about your data, XLOOKUP, Power Query's Data Profiling tools, How Geography Data Types decide which Madison, A SEQUENCE example for descending 52 weeks, Exchange Rates support in Stock Data Types, How to collapse the Search box, How to leave effective feedback for Microsoft, How to post your worksheet to the MrExcel Board using XL2BB.