## Posts tagged ‘Nim’

### 12 Math Games, Puzzles, and Problems for Your Holiday Car Trip

It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the 102.1 million people traveling by car, one of the 6.7 million people traveling by plane, or one of the 3.7 million people traveling by train, bus, or cruise ship this holiday season — the following collection of games, puzzles, and problems will help to pass the time, and you’ll be there long before anyone asks, “Are we there yet?”

**Games**

*1. Street Sign Bingo*

Use the numbers on street signs to create expressions with specific values. For instance, let’s say you see the following sign:

The two numbers on the sign are 12 and 3, from which you could make the following:

12 + 3 =

1512 – 3 =

912 × 3 =

3612 ÷ 3 =

4

Of course, you could just use the numbers directly as 3 or 12. Or if your passengers know some advanced math, they could use square roots, exponents, and more to create other values.

Can you split the digits within a number and use them separately? Can you concatenate two single-digit numbers to make a double-digit number? That’s for you and your traveling companions to decide.

To play as a competitive game, have each person in the car try to get every value from 1‑20. It’s easiest to keep track if you require that players go in order. To make it a cooperative game, have everyone in the car work collectively to make every value from 1 to 100.

As an alternative, you could use the numbers on license plates instead.

*2. Bizz Buzz Bang*

Yes, I’ve played this as a drinking game. No, I don’t condone drinking while driving. No, I don’t condone under-age drinking, either. Yes, I condone playing this game with minors while driving. (See what I did there?)

The idea is simple. You pick two single-digit numbers, *A* and *B*. Then you and your friends start counting, one number per person. But each time someone gets to a number that contains the digit *A* or is a multiple of *A*, she says, “Bizz!” Every time someone gets to a number that contains the digit *B* or is a multiple of *B*, she says, “Buzz!” And every time someone gets to a number that meets both criteria, he says, “Bang!”

For example, let’s say *A* = 2 and *B* = 3. Then the counting would go like this:

one, bizz, buzz, bizz, five, bang, seven, bizz, buzz, bizz, eleven, bang, buzz, …

When someone makes a mistake, that round ends. Start again, and see if you can beat your record.

You can use whatever numbers you like, or modify the rules in other ways. For instance, what if bizz is for prime numbers and buzz is for numbers of the form 4*n* + 3? Could be fun!

*3. Dollar Nim* (or any other variation)

Nim is a math strategy game in which players take turns removing coins from a pile. Different versions of the game are created by adjusting the number of coins that can be removed on each turn, the number of coins in the pile originally, how many piles there are, and whether you win (normal) or lose (misère) by taking the last coin.

A good aspect of Nim is that you don’t actually need coins. To play in the car, players just need to keep track of a running total in their heads.

A version of Nim dubbed **21 Flags** was played on *Survivor Thailand* several years ago. There were 21 flags, and each team could remove 1, 2, or 3 flags on each turn. The team to remove the last flag won. This is a good first version to play in the car, especially for young kids who have never played before. Then mix it up by changing the initial amount and the number that can be removed on each turn.

Our family’s favorite version, **Dollar Nim**, is played by starting with $1.00 and removing the value of a common coin (quarter, dime, nickel, penny) on each turn. (While discussing this post with my sons, they informed me that they much prefer **Euro Nim**, which begins with 1€, but then the coin values to be removed are 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c. It’s essentially the same game, but they like the different coin amounts.)

**Three-Pile Nim** consists of not just one but three piles with 3, 5, and 7 coins, respectively. On each turn, a player must remove at least one coin, and may remove any number of coins, but all removed coins must be *from the same pile*.

Finally, **Doubling Nim** is played as the name implies. On the first turn, a player may remove any number of coins but not the entire pile. On every turn thereafter, a player may remove any number of coins up to double the number taken on the previous turn. For instance, if your opponent removes 7 coins, then you can remove up to 14 coins.

For every version of Nim, there is an optimal strategy. We’ve wasted hours on car trips discussing the strategy for just one variation. Discussing the strategies for all the versions above could occupy the entire drive from Paducah to Flint.

*4. Guess My Number
*

One person picks a number, others ask questions to try to guess the number.

The simplest version is using “greater than” and “less than” questions. Is it greater than 50? Is it less than 175? And so forth. Using this method, the guessers can reduce the number of possibilities by half with each question, so at most, it should take no more than *n* guesses if 2^{n} > *m*, where *m* is the maximum possible number that the picker may choose. For instance, if the picker is required to choose a number less than 100, then *n* = 7, because 2^{7} = 128 > 100. Truthfully, this version of the game gets boring quickly, but it’s worth playing once or twice, especially if there’s one picker and multiple guessers. And a conversation about the maximum number of guesses need can be a fun, mathy way to spend 15 minutes of your trip.

A more advanced version excludes “greater than” and “less than” questions. Instead, the guessers can ask other mathematical questions like, “Is it a prime number?” or “Do the digits of the number differ by 4?” Those questions imply, of course, that the answer must be yes or no, and that’s typical for these types of guessing games. If you remove that restriction, though, then guessers could ask questions that reveal a little more information, like, “What is the difference between the digits?” or “What is the remainder when the number is divided by 6?” With this variant, it’s often possible to identify the number with two strategic questions.

**Puzzles**

Here are three puzzles that can lead to hours of conversation — and frustration! — on a car trip. Before you offer one to your crew, though, put forth the disclaimer that anyone who’s heard the puzzle before must remain mum. No reason they should spoil the fun for the rest of you. (The puzzles are presented here without solution, because you’ll know when you get the right answer. You can find the answer to any of them online with a quick search… but don’t do that. You’ll feel much better if you solve it yourself.)

*5. Dangerous Crossing*

Four people come to a river in the middle of the night. There’s a narrow bridge, but it’s old and rickety and can only hold two people at a time. They have just one flashlight and, because it’s night and the bridge is in disrepair, the flashlight must be used when crossing the bridge. Aakash can cross the bridge in 1 minute, Britney in 2 minutes, Cedric in 5 minutes, and Deng in 8 minutes. When two people cross the bridge together, they must travel at the slower person’s pace. And they need to hurry, because zombies are approaching. (Oh, sorry, had I failed to mention the zombie apocalypse?) What is the least amount of time that all four people can cross the bridge?

And how can you be sure that your method is the fastest?

*6. Weight of Weights*

Marilyn has a simple balance scale and four small weights, each weighing a whole number of grams. With the balance scale and these weights, she is able to determine the weight of any object that weighs between 1 kg and 40 kg. How much does each of the four weights weigh?

*7.* *Product Values*

Assign each letter a value equal to its position in the alphabet, i.e., A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, …, Z = 26. Then for any common word, find its product value by multiplying the value of the letters in the word. For instance, the product value of CAT is 60, because 3 × 1 × 20 = 60.

- Find as many common English words as you can with a product value of 60.
- Find a common English word that has the same product value as your name. (A little tougher.)
- Find a common English word with a product value of 3,000,000. (Zoiks!)

**Problems**

*8. The Three of Life*

This one looks so innocent!

What’s the probability that a randomly chosen number will contain the digit 3?

But spend a little time with it. And prepare for. Mind. Blown.

*9. Hip to Be (Almost) Square*

No calculators for this one.

There are four positive numbers — 1, 3, 8, and

x— such that the product of any two of them is one less than a square number. What is the least possible value ofx?

No spreadsheets, either.

*10. Hip to Be Square (Roots)
*

Just some good, old-fashioned algebra and logic to tackle this one.

Which of the following expressions has a greater value?

or

Surprised?

*11. Coming and Going*

Potentially counterintuitive.

At the holidays, Leo drove to his grandma’s, and the traffic was awful! His average speed was 42 miles per hour. After the holidays, however, he drove home along the same route, and his average speed was 56 miles per hour. What was his average speed for the entire trip?

And, no, your first guess was most likely not correct.

*12. The Year in Numbers*

A moldy oldie, to be sure, but this puzzle is always a crowd-pleaser for those who haven’t seen it before.

Use the digits of the new year — 2, 0, 1, and 9 — and any mathematical operations to form the integers from 1 to 100. For instance, you can form 1 as follows: 2 × 0 × 9 + 1 = 1.

For an added challenge, add the restriction that you must use the four digits *in order*.

**Bonus: A Book**

My sons get sick when they read in the car. That’s why I love the two books *Without Words* and *More Without Words* by James Tanton. Literally, there are no words! Each puzzle is presented using a few examples, and then students must follow the same rules to solve a few similar, but more challenging, puzzles.

Wherever you’re headed during the holiday break — driving to your relatives’ house, flying to Fort Lauderdale, or just relaxing at home — I hope your holidays are filled with joy, happiness, and lots of math!

### 5 Math Strategy Games to Practice Basic Skills

The summer is a great time for kids to hike, bike, swim… and forget everything that they learned during the school year.

The son returned to school after summer break. At the end of the first day, his mother received a call from the teacher about his poor behavior. “Now, just one minute,” said the mother. “He had poor behavior all summer, yet I never called you once!”

In *Outliers*, Malcolm Gladwell purports that poor kids lose ground to affluent kids during summer break. Their experiences and academic progress during the school year are similar, he contends, but their out-of-school experiences during the summer are very different. Though minor at first, the cumulative effect of those summer losses becomes noticeable as children get older.

The following are five games/puzzles that can be used with young kids to prevent summer losses and, possibly, even elicit some summer gains. Each has the characteristics that I love about a good game for young kids: It requires students to use and practice basic skills, but there is a higher purpose for doing so.

**1. KenKen**

This is a game that’s kind of like SuDoku, but a million times better. If you don’t know the game, check it out at www.kenken.com. My sons noticed me playing it one afternoon and asked what it was. I explained, and they asked if they could do it with me. We now solve three or four games every afternoon. I used to help them a lot, but now they pretty much know all of their math facts up through 7 × 7. How do you not love a game that helps four-years-olds learn the times table?

**2. Wormhole**

This is a puzzle, not a game, and you can learn all about it at Math Pickle. The general idea is that you start with a sequence of numbers in a flower-like pattern. You then multiply two adjacent numbers, subtract 1, and divide by the number below. The cool and surprising part is that every intermediate result is an integer, so there are no ugly decimals for kids to deal with. And by the twelfth ring of petals, every result is 0. Happens every time.

**3. Squares of Differences**

The good folks at Math For Love reminded me of this great problem, and Josh Zucker discussed it at length on the NYTimes Numberplay blog. Draw a square, and put a positive integer at each vertex. Then at the midpoint of each side, write the difference of the numbers at the two adjacent vertices. Now connect the midpoints to form a rotated square inside the original square, and repeat. It seems that if you continue this process long enough, you’ll eventually get all 0’s. But does that always happen?

By the time kids test this conjecture with three or four attempts, they’ve done a hundred subtraction problems without even realizing it.

**4. Decimal Maze**

The Decimal Maze (PDF) comes from the lesson Too Big or Too Small on Illuminations. Trying to obtain the maximum value while traversing a maze with decimal operations, students learn about the effects of multiplying and dividing by decimals that are greater or less than 1. The activity is good for upper elementary and middle school students, but I’ve used modified versions with very young kids. For instance, a modified maze for kids in first grade uses single-digit positive integers while limiting the operations to just addition and subtraction; for older kids, a maze could include fractions or powers instead of decimals.

**5. Dollar Nim**

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife created a great game that I call Dollar Nim. The idea is simple. Imagine you have 100¢, and on your turn you can remove 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, or 25¢. Players alternate turns; the player to reduce the amount to 0¢ is the winner. The optimal strategy is not obvious, and kids practice a whole lot of subtraction, especially as it relates to making change.

More generally, any one-pile nim game is great for the purpose of having kids practice subtraction without realizing it.

I hope you find some free time this summer to enjoy these games. I’ll leave you with a joke/truth about summer school.

I never understood the concept of summer school. The teacher’s going to go up there and go, “OK, class. You know that subject you couldn’t grasp in nine months? Well, we’re going to whip it out in six weeks.” – Todd Barry

### Dollar Nim

*The following post was featured at the NYTimes Numberplay blog during the week of August 8‑15, 2011.*

One-Pile Nim (a.k.a., Static Nim) is a game in which there is a pile of *n* objects, and each player can take up to *k* objects on her turn. The player who removes the last object wins. For example, on the TV show *Survivor: Thailand* in October 2002, the contestants were given an “immunity challenge” in which there were 21 flags, and a team could remove 1, 2, or 3 flags on a turn. (Using the notation above, *n* = 21 and *k *= 3.) Avinash Dixit claims that “the actual players [on *Survivor: Thailand*] got almost all of their moves wrong,” but the strategy for winning this game is not terribly difficult to figure out. If you’re not familiar with the game, you might enjoy determining the strategy on your own, so I won’t spoil your fun.

While riding back from a camping trip yesterday, my wife was keeping my sons amused by playing mental math games with them. However, she was using mostly drill-and-kill exercises, where she would state an expression like 21 – 6, and one of them would shout, “15!” Before I was able to suggest that she play a game that involved more strategy and less rote mathematics, she offered the following.

- Start with $1, or with 100¢, if you prefer.
- On alternating turns, players can remove any coin they like. (Well, technically, players remove a number of cents equal to the value of one of the four common U.S. coins — quarter, dime, nickel, penny — but such an overly complicated statement of the rules would have confused my sons.)
- The player who reduces the value to 0¢ wins.

That is, *n* = 100, and a player must choose to remove a value from the set {1, 5, 10, 25}.

I was duly impressed by my wife’s creation. (By “my wife’s creation,” I mean to refer to the game she made up, not to my sons, though the moniker would be equally applicable to the latter, and I must admit that I am often duly impressed by my sons, too.) It was a version of Nim that I had never seen before, and the optimal strategy was not obvious to me. Moreover, it had the characteristics of activities that I love to use with young kids: it causes them to practice some useful basic skill (in this case, calculating change for a dollar) for the purpose of trying to win a strategy game with more sophisticated mathematics.

My two sons, my wife, and I played Dollar Nim several times. During our third game, my wife took a dime to leave me with 29¢. “Daddy’s going to win,” Alex declared. Sure enough, I took a quarter to leave 4¢, and the outcome was decided. Both Alex and Eli had realized that if one of us was able to reduce the amount to 4¢, that person would win — everyone would be forced to take a penny.

Analyzing this game for two players is not terribly difficult, though once I had done it, I was intrigued by the patterns that appear in the optimal strategy. Analyzing the game for four players is a bit more difficult.

In the post on the *NYTimes NumberPlay *blog, Pradeep Mutalik offered the following extension question:

Since Dollar Nim is played with real money, it makes sense for the participants to keep the change they remove. This confers a reward for removing larger denominations. To offset this, the winner must be given an extra monetary reward. What should be the

minimumprize money for the two-player game so that no matter what happens, the winner comes out ahead?

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine the optimal strategy for the two- and four-player versions of this game, as well as to determine the answer to Pradeep’s question.

**[Update, 6/30/11]** The sequence of “unsafe” values for two-player Dollar Nim is now listed as A192333 in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences.