# (Roughly) Daily

## “Games are a compromise between intimacy and keeping intimacy away”*…

… Maybe, as Greg Costikyan explains, none more so than Rochambeau (or “Rock-Paper-Scissors” as it’s also known)…

Unless you have lived in a Skinner box from an early age, you know that the outcome of tic-tac-toe is utterly certain. At first glance, rock-paper-scissors appears almost as bad. A four-year-old might think there’s some strategy to it, but isn’t it basically random?

Indeed, people often turn to rock-paper-scissors as a way of making random, arbitrary decisions — choosing who’ll buy the first round of drinks, say. Yet there is no quantum-uncertainty collapse, no tumble of a die, no random number generator here; both players make a choice. Surely this is wholly nonrandom?

All right, nonrandom it is, but perhaps it’s arbitrary? There’s no predictable or even statistically calculable way of figuring out what an opponent will do next, so that one choice is as good as another, and outcomes will be distributed randomly over time — one-third in victory for one player, one-third to the opponent, one-third in a tie. Yes? Players quickly learn that this is a guessing game and that your goal is to build a mental model of your opponent, to try to predict his actions. Yet a naïve player, once having realized this, will often conclude that the game is still arbitrary; you get into a sort of infinite loop. If he thinks such-and-so, then I should do this-and-that; but, on the other hand, if he can predict that I will reason thusly, he will instead do the-other-thing, so my response should be something else; but if we go for a third loop — assuming he can reason through the two loops I just did — then . . . and so on, ad infinitum. So it is back to being a purely arbitrary game. No?

No…

Read on for an explanation in this excerpt from veteran game designer Greg Costikyan’s book Uncertainty in Games: “The Psychological Depths of Rock-Paper-Scissors,” from @mitpress.

* Eric Berne

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As we play, we might send carefully-plotted birthday greetings to Vilfredo Pareto; he was born on this date in 1848. An engineer, mathematician, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher, he made significant contributions to math and sociology. But he is best remembered for his work in economics and socioeconomics– particularly in the study of income distribution, in the analysis of individuals’ choices, and in his studies of societies, in which he popularized the use of the term “elite” in social analysis.

He introduced the concept of Pareto efficiency (zero-sum situations in which no action or allocation is available that makes one individual better off without making another worse off) and helped develop the field of microeconomics. He was also the first to discover that income follows a Pareto distribution, which is a power law probability distribution. The Pareto principle ( the “80-20 rule”) was built on his observations that 80% of the wealth in Italy belonged to about 20% of the population.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 15, 2023 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Pradeep Mutalik unpacks the magic and math of how to win games when your opponent goes first…

Most games that pit two players or teams against each other require one of them to make the first play. This results in a built-in asymmetry, and the question arises: Should you go first or second?

Most people instinctively want to go first, and this intuition is usually borne out. In common two-player games, such as chess or tennis, it is a real, if modest, advantage to “win the toss” and go first. But sometimes it’s to your advantage to let your opponent make the first play.

In our February Insights puzzle, we presented four disparate situations in which, counterintuitively, the obligation to move is a serious and often decisive disadvantage. In chess, this is known as zugzwang — a German word meaning “move compulsion.”…

Four fascinating examples: “The Secrets of Zugzwang in Chess, Math and Pizzas,” from @PradeepMutalik.

* Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

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As we play to win, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011 that scientists involved in the OPERA experiment (a collaboration between CERN and the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso) mistakenly observed neutrinos appearing to travel faster than light. OPERA scientists announced the results with the stated intent of promoting further inquiry and debate. Later the team reported two flaws in their equipment set-up that had caused errors far outside their original confidence interval: a fiber optic cable attached improperly, which caused the apparently faster-than-light measurements, and a clock oscillator ticking too fast; accounting for these two sources of error eliminated the faster-than-light results. But even before the sources of the error were discovered, the result was considered anomalous because speeds higher than that of light in a vacuum are generally thought to violate special relativity, a cornerstone of the modern understanding of physics for over a century.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 22, 2022 at 1:00 am

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## “Then we got into a labyrinth, and when we thought we were at the end, came out again at the beginning, having still to seek as much as ever.”*…

On the heels of Wordle‘s extraordinary success, there have been a rash of variations: e.g., Crosswordle, Absurdle, Quordle, even the NSFW Lewdle.

Now for the National Gallery of Art, another nifty puzzle: Artle.

Enjoy!

* Plato, Euthydemus

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As we play, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Mandrake the Magician first appeared in newspapers. A comic strip, it was created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom)… and thus its crime-fighting, puzzle-solving hero is regarded by most historians of the form to have been America’s first comic superhero.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 11, 2022 at 1:00 am

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## “May all beings have happy minds”*…

But then it’s important to be careful as to how we look for that happiness…

– Games where players either remove pieces from a pile or add pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to shake (similar to the modern game pick-up sticks)

– Games of throwing dice

– Ball games

– Guessing a friend’s thoughts

Just a few of the entries in “List of games that Buddha would not play,” from the T. W. Rhys Davids‘ translation of the Brahmajāla Sutta (though the list is duplicated in a number of other early Buddhist texts, including the Vinaya Pitaka).

(TotH to Scott Alexander; image above: source)

* the Buddha

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As we endeavor for enlightenment, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that Wikipedia was born. A free online encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited by volunteers, it has grown to be the world’s largest reference website, attracting 1.7 billion unique-device visitors monthly as of November 2021. As of January 9, 2022, it has more than fifty-eight million articles in more than 300 languages, including 6,436,030 articles in English (serving 42,848,899 active users of English Wikipedia), with 118,074 active contributors in the past month.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

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## “He’s a pinball wizard”*…

Mark Frauenfelder talks with Tanner Petch, the creator of play-able pieces of art: an arcade full of handmade pinball machines…

Sinkhole is a backwards game that borrows from the aesthetic of early pinball, particularly “wood rail” games from pre-1960s. The fact that it tilts away from you changes your experience a lot more than you’d expect and came from trying to question what were some of the very core aspects of pinball that could be tinkered with. In addition to the wooden components, the art style, playfield design, and overall theme were inspired by the esoteric nature of early games (at least compared to what we expect today)…

Prometheus was the first game I made and is based on the part of the myth where an eagle eats Prometheus’ liver every day after it regenerates. In the game, the player is the eagle, and the only objective is to hit four drop targets which represent four bites of the liver. You do this as many times as you want to, or until you lose. Rather than an individual score, the display shows the cumulative number of livers eaten as long as the machine has existed…

* The Who, “Pinball Wizard,” Tommy

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As we finesse the flippers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Hewlett-Packard introduced the first handheld scientific calculator, the HP-35, a calculator with trigonometric and exponential functions. The model name was a reflection of the fact that the unit had 35 keys.

It became known as “the electronic slide rule”– a device that it (and its successors, from both HP and TI) effectively replaced.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 4, 2022 at 7:23 am

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