Picking a speaker at random

This week’s Fiddler is about selecting a speaker of the house at random. How long will it take?

There are three candidates who want the job of Speaker. All 221 members of the party vote by picking randomly from among the candidates. If one candidate earns the majority of the votes, they become the next Speaker. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the process is repeated with one less candidate. If two or more candidates receive the same smallest number of votes, then exactly one of them is eliminated at random. What is the average number of rounds needed to select a new Speaker?

Extra Credit
What if there were 10 candidates running for Speaker?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

The slow car chase

This week’s Fiddler is a problem about probability and a slow car chase!

You and your pursuer are stopped at traffic lights one block away from each other, as shown below. For both cars, it takes 1 minute to get to each subsequent light, and there is a 50-50 chance any light will be red upon arrival (independent of what happened previously). If a light is red, you must wait one minute before it turns green. What is the probability you will make it to the city limits without being caught by your pursuer?

Extra Credit
In the same scenario as before, imagine there are infinitely many lights. On average, how many minutes will it be until you are ultimately caught?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

Betting on football with future knowledge

This week’s Fiddler is a football-themed puzzle with a twist: you can see the future! Sort of.

You know ahead of time that your football team will win 8 of their 12 remaining games, but you don’t know which ones. You can place bets on every game, placing bets either for or against your team. You can bet any amount up to how much you currently have. You want to implement a betting strategy that guarantees you’ll have as much money as possible after the 12 games are complete. If you did so, then after the 12 games how much money would you be guaranteed to have if you started with $100?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

A more elegant alternative solution, due in large part to a clever observation by Vince Vatter.
[Show Solution]

Loteria

This week’s Riddler Classic is about Lotería, also known as Mexican bingo!

A thousand people are playing Lotería, also known as Mexican bingo. The game consists of a deck of 54 cards, each with a unique picture. Each player has a board with 16 of the 54 pictures, arranged in a 4-by-4 grid. The boards are randomly generated, such that each board has 16 distinct pictures that are equally likely to be any of the 54.

During the game, one card from the deck is drawn at a time, and anyone whose board includes that card’s picture marks it on their board. A player wins by marking four pictures that form one of four patterns, as exemplified below: any entire row, any entire column, the four corners of the grid and any 2-by-2 square.

Four four-by-four grids are shown. In the first grid, the third row has four blue markers. In the second grid, the second column has four blue markers. In the third grid, the four corner squares are marked. And in the fourth grid, the two middle squares in the third and fourth columns are marked, forming a smaller two-by-two square.

After the fourth card has been drawn, there are no winners. What is the probability that there will be exactly one winner when the fifth card is drawn?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

Desert escape

This week’s Riddler classic is about geometry and probability, and desert escape! Here is the (paraphrased) problem:

There are $n$ travelers who are trapped on a thin and narrow oasis. They each independently pick a random location in the oasis from which to start and a random direction in which to travel. What is the probability that none of their paths will intersect, in terms of $n$?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

Cutting a ruler into pieces

This week’s Riddler Classic is a paradoxical question about cutting a ruler into smaller pieces.

Recently, there was an issue with the production of foot-long rulers. It seems that each ruler was accidentally sliced at three random points along the ruler, resulting in four pieces. Looking on the bright side, that means there are now four times as many rulers — they just happen to have different lengths. On average, how long are the pieces that contain the 6-inch mark?

With four cuts, each piece will be on average 3 inches long, but that can’t be the answer, can it?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Flip to freedom

This week’s Riddler Classic is a problem about coin flipping. The text of the original problem is quite long, so I will paraphrase it here:

There are $n$ prisoners, each with access to a random number generator (generates uniform random numbers in $[0,1]$) and a fair coin. Each prisoner is given the opportunity to flip their coin once if they so choose. If all of the flipped coins come up Heads, all prisoners are released. But if any of the flipped coins come up Tails, or if no coins are flipped at all, the prisoners are not released. If the prisoners cannot communicate in any way and do not know who is flipping their coin or not, how can they maximize their chances of being released?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Mismatched socks

This week’s Riddler Classic is a problem familiar to many…

I have $n$ pairs of socks in a drawer. Each pair is distinct from another and consists of two matching socks. Alas, I’m negligent when it comes to folding my laundry, and so the socks are not folded into pairs. This morning, fumbling around in the dark, I pull the socks out of the drawer, randomly and one at a time, until I have a matching pair of socks among the ones I’ve removed from the drawer.

On average, how many socks will I pull out of the drawer in order to get my first matching pair?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Gift card puzzle

Here is a puzzle from the Riddler about gift cards:

You’ve won two gift cards, each loaded with 50 free drinks from your favorite coffee shop. The cards look identical, and because you’re not one for record-keeping, you randomly pick one of the cards to pay with each time you get a drink. One day, the clerk tells you that he can’t accept the card you presented to him because it doesn’t have any drink credits left on it.

What is the probability that the other card still has free drinks on it? How many free drinks can you expect are still available?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Elf music

This holiday-themed Riddler problem is about probability:

In Santa’s workshop, elves make toys during a shift each day. On the overhead radio, Christmas music plays, with a program randomly selecting songs from a large playlist.

During any given shift, the elves hear 100 songs. A cranky elf named Cranky has taken to throwing snowballs at everyone if he hears the same song twice. This has happened during about half of the shifts. One day, a mathematically inclined elf named Mathy tires of Cranky’s sodden outbursts. So Mathy decides to use what he knows to figure out how large Santa’s playlist actually is.

Help Mathy out: How large is Santa’s playlist?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]