Posted in History & Literature

Kangaroo Word

An example of a word game is the concept of kangaroo words. Kangaroos are famous for carrying their babies (joeys) in their pouch. Similarly, a kangaroo word contains another word within itself that is a synonym (a word meaning the same thing). The joey word can be whole (such as [sign]al, where “signal” and “sign” are synonyms), or more typically (and interestingly), it can be split, such as in [ma]scu[l]in[e], where “male” is hidden amongst “masculine”. In this case, the word must be in the right order from left-to-right.

Variations of kangaroo words include anti-kangaroo words – where the word carries an antonym (opposite), such as “animosity” carrying “amity”) – or grand-kangaroo words – where the joey word itself is a kangaroo word, such as “alone” carrying “lone”, which carries “one”.

Try the following puzzle – can you find what the joey word is in each of these kangaroo words?

1. Astound
2. Banish
3. Capsule
4. Departed
5. Exist
6. Feast
7. Gigantic
8. Honourable
9. Illuminated
10. Latest
11. Myself
12. Nourished
13. Observe
14. Plagiarist
15. Rampage
16. Supervisor
Posted in History & Literature

Tic Tac Toe

Tic Tac Toe is a simple game where you and an opponent make a mark (X or O) on a 3×3 grid once per turn, until one person has made a line of three marks in a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal).

However, it is so simple that there are only a certain number of permutations, meaning that if you know the algorithm, you can win most of your games (assuming your opponent does not also know the algorithm). This is called a solved game – unlike chess, where there is a near infinite number of ways the game can play out.

First, let’s take the case of you starting first. Put a X in a corner. If your opponent does not put an O in the centre, you automatically win. Your next move is to put an X in any corner away from the O. Your opponent will have to put an O between the two X’s to prevent a loss. Once they do this, you can either put an X in the centre or another corner to create two possible winning moves and your opponent can only block one. You win.

If your opponent puts their O in the centre, things get more complicated. Now you can only win if your opponent makes a mistake – otherwise the game is guaranteed to end in a draw. You can take one of two options:

– Place an X in the corner diagonally opposite to your first X. If your opponent puts an O in a corner, you win by putting an X on the last corner to block their attack and create your own double-attack.
– Place an X on an edge square that is not next to your X. You can win if your opponent puts an O in a corner not next to an X by blocking their attack and creating a double-attack.

If your opponent plays first, then you can never lose. If an opponent starts in the corner, put your X in the centre. All you have to do now is block your opponent’s attacks and you will force a draw.
The same strategy applies if your opponent starts in the centre – put an X in any corner then block every attack. The game will end in a draw unless your opponent slips up.

As you can see, there are only so many ways a game can play out, meaning it is very easy to force a draw.
A more interesting game is omok (오목 in Korean, gomoku in Japanese) – where you put white or black stones on a 15×15 board to try and connect five stones in a row.

Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #24

Drowning in a tsunami of nostalgia.

So recently a 4-episode anime special came out… called Pokemon The Origin. Yes, they finally made a Pokemon anime that stays true to the original Pokemon Red/Blue game!!! Well, Red/Green because it’s originally Japanese. Anyway, I watched all of it and love love loved it 😀 The anime itself was good quality and there were tons of references to the original game that I grew up with! Plus, Mega Charizard X what. Needless to say, it evoked powerful earthquakes of nostalgia within me.

It’s probably not an understatement to say that Pokemon was the single most awesome thing about my childhood. I was – I AM – obsessed about the series, whether it be the game, cartoon or trading card game. I still have happy memories playing the original games on my gameboy, and emulating it on my old school computer. Hell, used to have it all saved in floppy disks and shit. And the days new Pokemon games came out were like second Chistmases to me~

All that nostalgia I mentioned above could not be ignored. And despite the fact that I have a massive exam next Tuesday, I have…restarted Pokemon Red. OTL. Oh and what’s that? Pokemon X/Y comes out tomorrow? Well shit, good bye med school. But it’ll be totally worth it.

Time to catch ‘em all (unlike the STDs that I should be studying for exams).

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Tit For Tat

In human society, there are many ways for a person to interact with others when in a group setting. Some may choose to be selfish and only be out for their best interests, while others may choose altruism and cooperate with each other. The mathematical model that tries to predict human behaviour and outcome in these settings is the Prisoner’s Dilemma – the core of game theory. Tit for tat is one strategy that can be employed in such a setting.

The basis of tit for tat is equivalent exchange. A tit for tat player always chooses to cooperate unless provoked. As seen in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, if both players cooperate, both benefit (let us say 3 points each); if one player defects, that person gains more than from cooperation (5 points) while the tit for tat player gains 0 points.
If a tit for tat player is provoked, that player will retaliate. However, the player is also quick to forgive. Ergo, if the other player chose to cooperate, the tit for tat player (following the principle of equivalent exchange), will also cooperate. If the other player defected, the tit for tat player loses the first round and then chooses to defect from then on.
Note that tit for tat strategy only works when there is more than one game so that the player has a chance to retaliate.

Let us use an example to illustrate why tit for tat strategy works. In this scenario, two tit for tat players and two defectors all play six games each, using the above point system (if both defect, they each receive 1 point). The results are as follows:
• Tit for tat vs defector: Tit for tat loses first round, both defect for next 5 rounds (5 vs 10)
• Tit for tat vs tit for tat: Both cooperate on every round (18 vs 18)
• Defector vs defector: Both defect on every round (6 vs 6)

When the points are added up, a tit for tat player gains 28 points (5 + 5 + 18) while a defector only gains 26 points (6 + 10 + 10). This is a surprising turn of events, as the defectors never lost a round and tit for tat players never “won” a round. This goes to show how cooperation leads to better long-term results while selfishness prevails.

There are shortcomings of this strategy. If there is a failure in communication and one tit for tat player mistakes the other’s actions as an “attack”, they will retaliate. The other player then retaliates to this and a vicious cycle is formed. This is the basis of many conflicts ranging from schoolyard fights to wars (although interestingly, tit for tat strategy is also found during wars in the form of “live and let live”). One way to prevent this is tit for tat with forgiveness, where one player randomly cooperates to try break the cycle (a defector would respond negatively while a tit for tat player will accept the cooperation), or the tit for two tats, where the tit for tat player waits a turn before retaliating, giving the opponent a chance to “make up for their mistake”.

Computer simulations have all proven that tit for tat strategy (especially the other two types mentioned just before) are extremely effective in games. In fact, it is considered one of the most optimal strategies in overcoming the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

In human societies, there is usually a mix of “nice people” and “selfish people”. By cooperating and trusting each other, we can produce a much greater gain over time compared to being selfish. And since society still unfortunately has “defectors”, you can retaliate to those who refuse to cooperate by defecting on them also. Ergo, a good approach to life is to initially reach out your hand to whoever you meet and treat them from there on according to how they respond. If they take your hand and want to cooperate, treat them with altruism and help them out. If they swat your hand away and try to use you for their selfish gain, it is fine to shun them and not help them out.

Through cooperation, understanding and connection, we can build a far more productive and efficient society, just like the ants.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Pleasure Centre

During the 1950’s when the field of neuroscience was making many research breakthroughs, a fascinating fact was discovered. Scientists had located the specific part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure. In 1954, two Canadian neuroscientists named James Olds and Peter Milner were undertaking research to find the association between electrical stimulation of the brain and sensation in rodents. During their research, they found that if they stimulated a certain part of the brain, the rats would interpret the signal as pleasure. Based on this, they inserted electrodes into the rats’ limbic system (the part responsible for emotions) and connected it to a lever in the cage. Thus, they had devised a device that allowed the rat to feel pleasure by stimulating its own brain with the press of a lever. The results were astounding. The rat furiously pumped at the lever, forgetting to eat or sleep, until it ultimately died of exhaustion (over 26 hours, the rat pressed the lever 50,000 times).

Pleasure is not the same as happiness. Happiness awards us with satisfaction and contentment, but pleasure only brings greed, obsession and addiction. Pleasure was originally a mechanism devised to reward behaviour that aided survival (such as mating and eating), but addictive things like alcohol, smoking and drugs ruin your life and any chance at happiness instead of helping you survive.

The foolish run around to seek temporary pleasure while the wise seek permanent happiness.

Posted in Science & Nature

Rock-Paper-Scissors

Rock-paper-scissors is a game with a long history. The earliest example of the game is a Chinese game called huoquan, which follows a cyclic rule where the frog eats the slug, the slug dissolves the snake and the snake eats the frog. The reason why rock-paper-scissors has been saved throughout history is because of the uncertainty it contains. Any hand you choose, the chance of winning is the same. Ergo, there is no single best choice and there is no move that will always win. But this is still a game played by people. It is not a game played by emotionless machines, meaning that you can use human psychology, the surfacing of emotion and specific signs and movements to help deduce your opponent’s hand. Mentalist Derren Brown can read tiny flickering of muscles in the opponent and microexpressions to pull off his “undefeatable rock-paper-scissors trick”, but this is near impossible for a normal person to try. However, you can use the following strategies to improve your odds.

1. Use paper on a beginner: Statistically, people prefer using rock. Males especially have a strong tendency to play rock.
2. Use scissors on an experienced player: People who know the first trick can be defeated by going one step further.
3. Use a hand that loses to the hand your opponent played: This uses the psychology of the opponent wanting to mix up hands and wanting to beat the hand you last played (which is the same as theirs as you drew).
4. Say what you will play and play that hand: In a competitive situation like rock-paper-scissors, people tend not to trust others. Thus, if you say you will play a certain hand, they will think is a trap and not play the hand that defeats that hand. For example, if you said you will play scissors, the opponent will play paper or scissors and you will either win or draw.
5. Do not give the opponent a chance to think: People have a subconscious tendency to play a hand that beats the hand that they played before. Without time to think, the subconscious takes action meaning that you can predict their move. If you do the same as strategy 3 and play a hand that loses against the opponent’s previous hand, you will win.
6. Suggest a certain hand: This is a form of hypnosis where you suggest something to the opponent’s subconscious. To use this trick, pretend to go over the rules by saying “rock, paper, scissors” then play a certain hand. The opponent will likely play the hand that the subconscious last saw.
7. If you keep drawing, use paper: This is the same as strategy 1.

Unfortunately, rock-paper-scissors has an equal probability of a win and a draw, meaning draws are rather common. Thus, a computer engineer called Samuel Kass devised a game where two additional hands are added: rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock. Lizard is played by making your hand into the shape of an animal’s head, while Spock is played using the Vulcan Salute from the science fiction show Star Trek, where you make a V-shape with two fingers on each side. The rules are as follows.

Scissors cut paper. Paper covers rock. Rock crushes lizard. Lizard poisons Spock. Spock smashes scissors. Scissors decapitate lizard. Lizard eats paper. Paper disproves Spock. Spock vaporizes rock. Rock crushes scissors.

As each hand has two ways of winning, the odds of winning is 10/25, or 2/5 and the odds of drawing is 5/25, or 1/5. As you can see, you have double the chance of winning compared to drawing, making the game much faster to play than the original game.

Posted in History & Literature

Playing Cards

Playing cards are the basis of so many games due to their diversity and adaptability. It can be used for any game from poker to the Eleusis game, from house of cards to magic tricks.
One thing that is often overlooked is the long history of cards and the various symbolisms hidden within. For example, the suits may have the following symbolism:

Hearts             Church, cups, love and romance
Diamonds    Merchants, coins, wealth
Clubs               Peasants, clubs/batons, agriculture

Although there are many debates regarding this issue, there is substantial evidence that the court cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks/Knaves) are based on historical or mythical heroes and heroines, at least for the French deck that is commonly used nowadays. The following is the list of presumed models for each card:

King of Spades                David (biblical hero)
King of Hearts                Charlemagne (great king of Franks)
King of Diamonds        Julius Caesar (great Roman emperor)
King of Clubs                   Alexander the Great (the king of Macedon)

Queen of Spades             Joan of Arc (the French heroine) or Athena (the goddess of war)
Queen of Hearts             Judith (either the biblical heroine or the tragic queen of Bavaria)
Queen of Diamonds    Rachel (wife of Jacob in the bible – he waited 14 years for her)
Queen of Clubs               Argine (anagram of regina, Latin for queen) or Hera (queen of gods)

Jack of Spades                Holger Le Danois (knight of Charlemagne)
Jack of Hearts                La Hire (comrade of Joan of Arc, member of Charles VII’s court)
Jack of Diamonds       Hector (the hero of the Trojan War or the knight of Charlemagne)
Jack of Clubs                  Lancelot (King Arthur’s most trusted knight)

Although the models for the Kings and Jacks are quite clear, the Queens are still subject to many discussions. As modern playing cards originate from France circa 15th century, the above models (official names for each card back then) appearto be valid.
This also explains the ordering of suits (spades/nobility first, clubs/peasants last, hearts/church second and diamonds/merchants third) and how the Ace sometimes trumps the King (possibly symbolising how peasant hold the power, as in the French Revolution).

Sometimes, knowing the history behind a game can make it even more fun.

Posted in History & Literature

En Passant

In chess, there are three special moves: castling, pawn promotion and en passant. The first two are quite well known, but the third is less recognised by amateurs and is more of a “secret move” for more experienced players. Thus, many beginners complain their opponent is cheating, when they are using a perfectly legal move.

En passant is French for in passing – the etymology becomes clear once one understands how the move works.
Although a pawn can usually only move one space forwards, it can move up to two spaces on its first move. En passant only applies to a pawn that has moved two spaces. For example, if a white pawn moves two spaces forward and a black pawn is positioned to its left or right, the black pawn can move diagonally behind the white pawn to take it. This is because if the white pawn had moved one space, it would have been in the normal attacking range of the black pawn. Ergo, en passant is a technique that can stop a pawn from penetrating the defensive line and charging forwards.

This move must be used the turn after the pawn moves two spaces. Otherwise, the right to en passant disappears (i.e. cannot wait a turn to use it). In chess, this is the only move where the attacking piece lands on a space other than the taken piece.

Why was the en passant created? The reason being, the two-space first move rule came into place around then, so the en passant was devised to balance it, while complementing the pawn’s short attack range and inability to move backwards.