“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance”*…
Random numbers are central to more than we may realize. They have applications in gambling, statistical sampling, computer simulation and Monte Carlo modeling, cryptography (as applied in both communications and transactions), completely randomized design, even sooth-saying– in any area where producing an unpredictable result is desirable. So how they’re produced– the certainty that they are, in fact, random– matters enormously.
It’s no surprise, then, that random number generation has a long and fascinating history. Happily, Carl Tashian is here to explain.
“As an instrument for selecting at random, I have found nothing superior to dice,” wrote statistician Francis Galton in an 1890 issue of Nature. “When they are shaken and tossed in a basket, they hurtle so variously against one another and against the ribs of the basket-work that they tumble wildly about, and their positions at the outset afford no perceptible clue to what they will be even after a single good shake and toss.”…
From I Ching sticks and dice to the cryptographically-secure PRNG, “A Brief History of Random Numbers.”
[TotH to the eminently-numerate Reuben Steiger]
As we roll the bones, we might spare a thought for Samuel “Sam” Loyd; he died on this date in 1911. A chess player, chess composer, puzzle author, and recreational mathematician. A member of the Chess Hall of Fame (for both his play and for his exercises, or “problems”), he gained posthumous fame when his son published a collection of his mathematical and logic puzzles, Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles after his father’s death. As readers can see here and here, his puzzles still delight.
Loyd’s most famous puzzle was the 14-15 Puzzle, which he produced in 1878. His original authorship is debated; but in any case, his version created a craze that swept America to such an extent that employers put up notices prohibiting playing the puzzle during office hours.