Game: In a group, everyone is asked to pick a number between 0 and 100. Even though it is possible for more than one person to pick the same number, it is forbidden for participants to communicate with each other.
Winner: Winner is the person who is closest to the two-thirds of the average of the picked numbers.
Question: Is there any way for you to optimize your chance to win the game?
At first glance, one might think that it is not important which number you pick between 0 and 100. Because the winning number depends on the choices of others’. Although, if there is a player who has probability knowledge, he/she could maximize his/her chance for winning the game.
Assume that we have a group of 12 people, and every individual selects 100. Then the average becomes:
12*100/12 = 100.
The winning number is the one that is closest to the two-thirds of the average. That means 100*2/3 = 66,666…
66,666… is the highest winning number for this game. If you are aware of this fact; then you would select a number that is between 0 and 66.
Obviously, there is a chance for you to win the game even though you select a number higher than 66. Then again; why would you select such a number if you know that the winning number is between 0 and 66?!
What if everyone realizes…?!
Let’s assume that you are aware of this fact. Then while others will pick a number between 0 and 100, you will be picking a number between 0 and 66. This is a huge advantage. But, suddenly you realized something else: What if everyone came to the same conclusion?
If everyone knows that the winning number can’t exceed 66,666…, then no one will choose a number higher than 66. Hence, everyone will choose a number between 0 and 66.
In this situation, the highest average can be 66:
66*12/12 = 66 average.
66*2/3 = 44 is the highest winning number.
This means that if everyone selects between 0 and 66; the winning number can’t exceed 44. Then, why would you choose a number that is higher than 44?!
If everyone comes to the same conclusion, then no one within the group will select a number that is higher than 44. This causes a new calculation. Since everyone knows that the winner will be between 0 and 44, the winning number can at most be:
44*12/12 = 44 (average)
44*2/3 = 29,333…
This means that the winning number is at most 29. Then no one will choose a number that is higher than 29.
If one follows the same logic, at the end of the 11th step he/she will find 0 (zero) as a result. This is why picking zero for everyone is the most logical move for the whole group. Using your probability knowledge, one will eventually conclude that zero is the most reasonable choice for each individual.
Mathematics can help a group find a solution that benefits everyone within the group, even though there is no communication inside that group of people.
You know a person inside the group who isn’t good at mathematics. In this situation, would you change your logic? Give your answers using probabilistic calculations.
Ps. You can click here and create yourself an example set.
M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu