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Games and Their Overvalued Points

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Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal brings us a smart article on overvalued points in games. In short, the issue is that rule changes in games like Scrabble (allowing new words like "qi" and "za") allow players a new way to exploit the system, throwing it out of balance. Some high-level players argue that when a rule change allows in new high-value type of play (like "za"), the overall scoring system needs to change to account for it, rebalancing the game. Others disagree, seeing the rule change as a simple evolution of the game's already-complex rules. From Bialik's piece:

For some -- especially opponents -- "za" is too cheap and easy. The New Yorker recently published a letter from Matthew Butterick, a Los Angeles lawyer and Scrabble player, bemoaning the preservation of the original tile values as long as the new words are being added. He acknowledges changing the rules might hurt his won-loss record: "I realized that fewer people wanted to play me because I like to use words like 'xi' and 'xu,' which most casual players consider to be a form of black magic."

Larry Sherman, who has been ranked as high as 35th by the National Scrabble Association, also would like to see score changes. "X, Q, Z and J were originally assigned high values because of their rarity in our language," Mr. Sherman says. "Dictionary additions that make it much easier to use these letters contradict the game's internal logic."

But his brother Joel, a former champion, responds, "Good players adapt their play to the changes in the dictionary; changing the values only accommodates weak players."

The argument of those wanting to rebalance the tile scores seems to hinge on an assumption that the original game (in this case, Scrabble) was perfectly balanced -- meaning that the letter scores and the allowed word list were somehow in perfect harmony. As a nonprofessional (and indeed, sort of bad) Scrabble player myself, this seems unlikely -- the official Scrabble word list (see SOWPODS) is huge, and its relationship with the tile scores is unimaginably complex. Letting in new words undoubtedly changes the balance in some way, but it seems that only the highest-level professional players will ever notice...and haven't they already benefited from such imbalances throughout the game's history? Bialik points out that this problem is not isolated to Scrabble:

For amateurs, these are hard points to come by. But as professional kickers have specialized and improved their technique, field goals have become more common. National Football League teams last season made nearly 85% of field goals, compared with barely 60% in 1974, according to Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats. There were two successful field goals for every three touchdowns last season, compared with barely two for every five touchdowns in 1974.

Read the article for a nice overview of the issue, including an image showing Alfred Butts's original letter frequency tabulation.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user garlandcannon, used under Creative Commons license.)

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Courtesy University of Manchester
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History
148 Lost Alan Turing Papers Discovered in Filing Cabinet
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Courtesy University of Manchester

You never know what you’re going to uncover when you finally get around to combing through that decades-old filing cabinet in the back room. Case in point: The University of Manchester recently unearthed 148 long-lost papers belonging to computer science legend Alan Turing, as ScienceAlert reports.

The forgotten papers mostly cover correspondence between Turing and others between 1949 and his death in 1954. The mathematician worked at the university from 1948 on. The documents include offers to lecture—to one in the U.S., he replied, “I would not like the journey, and I detest America”—a draft of a radio program he was working on about artificial intelligence, a letter from Chess magazine, and handwritten notes. Turing’s vital work during World War II was still classified at the time, and only one document in the file refers to his codebreaking efforts for the British government—a letter from the UK’s security agency GCHQ. The papers had been hidden away for at least three decades.

A typed letter to Alan Turing has a watermark that says 'Chess.'
Courtesy University of Manchester

Computer scientist Jim Miles found the file in May, but it has only now been sorted and catalogued by a university archivist. "I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long," Miles said in a press statement. "No one who now works in the school or at the university knew they even existed." He says it’s still a mystery why they were filed away in the first place.

The rare discovery represents a literal treasure trove. In 2015, a 56-page handwritten manuscript from Turing’s time as a World War II codebreaker sold for more than $1 million.

[h/t ScienceAlert]

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fun
Can You Figure Out How Many Triangles Are in This Picture?

Time for another brain teaser. How many triangles do you see here? A Quora user posted the image above (which we spotted on MSN) for fellow brainiacs to chew on. See if you can figure it out. We’ll wait.

Ready?

So, as you can see, all the smaller triangles can combine to become bigger triangles, which is where the trick lies. If you count up every different triangle formed by the lines, you should get 24. (Don’t forget the big triangle!)

Some pedantic Quora users thought it through and realized there are even more triangles, if you really want to go there. There’s a triangle formed by the “A” in the signature in the right-hand corner, and if we’re counting the concept of triangles, the word “triangle” counts, too.

As math expert Martin Silvertant writes on Quora, “A triangle is a mathematical idea rather than something real; physical triangles are by definition not geometrically perfect, but approximations of triangles. In other words, both the pictorial triangles and the words referring to triangles are referents to the concept of a triangle.” So yes, you could technically count the word “triangle.”  (Silvertant also includes a useful graphic explaining how to find all the pictorial triangles.)

Check out the whole Quora discussion for in-depth explainers from users about their methods of figuring it out.

[h/t MSN]

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