You are on page 1of 4

# NOTES

Heads Up: No Teamwork Required
Division of Mathematics and Computer Science TrumanState University Kirksville,MO 63501 erickson@truman.edu

MARTIN J. ERICKSON

Many team games require collaborative strategies. In this Note, I present a game that

butatthe sametimeforbidscommunication of any paradoxically requires cooperation, kind.A teamskilledin probability can competeas if they couldconfer(almost).
In the "Hat Problem" [1], each contestant on a team tries to guess the color (blue or red) of a hat on his/her head while seeing only the hats of the other contestants. The guesses are made simultaneously, and "passing"is an option. The team wins if at least one person guesses and no one guesses incorrectly. Before the guessing round, the participantsare allowed to discuss strategy.With best play, an n-person team (where n is one less than a power of 2) can win with the surprisinglyhigh probability n/(n + 1).

(The solutionto the Hat Problemprovidesa novel perspectiveon Hammingcodes,
but you don't need to know anything about Hamming codes to understandthis note.) I enjoyed the Hat Problem and was investigating variations of it when I thought of eliminating both the pregame strategy meeting and any information the teammates could gain from each other. The resulting game, recast in the context of coin-flipping, has some curious mathematical features.

in a gamein which Heads Up: A teamof n > 2 peopleis selectedto participate
the team may win a prize. The players are not allowed to communicate with each other before or during the game. (Assume, for reasons that should become clear in a moment, that the players have never met before and know nothing about each other.) Each player is given a fair coin. At a signal, the players simultaneously open their hands to reveal either the coin or nothing. Those players showing coins then flip their coins. The team wins if at least one coin is flipped and all the flipped coins land heads. What strategy should each player follow in order to maximize the likelihood of the team winning, and what is the probability of winning? The crucial factor in Heads Up is that the team members cannot communicate with each other so they cannot form a strategy together. (In the solution to the Hat Problem, the players determine an ordering of themselves so that they can convert the hat color distribution into a vector.) Ideally, the team would choose one member to flip the coin (and the team would win half of the time), but this is impossible because of the ban on communication. Are there, then, only two alternative strategies for each player: either flip the coin or don't flip it? If so, then not flipping the coin isn't good because if everyone does that, the team loses. But if everyone flips the coin, the team wins with very low probability ((1/2)"). With n = 2, the probability of winning if both players flip the coin is 1/4. However, with a superior strategy a two-person team can 297

Mathematical Association of America is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve, and extend access to Mathematics Magazine ® www.jstor.org

Here is a calculus proof found by my undergraduatestudent Khang Tran. Althoughwe might conjecturethat the maximumprobability of winningin (3) tendsto 0 as n tendsto infinity. In fact.andourintuitionabout the problemreinforcesit (the chancesof the teamwinningwouldappearto decrease as n increases).p2 = 2/3 and w2(p2) = 1/3. an n-personteamcan do betterthanthey could if they were able to choose two to flip theircoins! members their we supposethatthe playersapproach Sincethe problemis aboutprobabilities.wn (p).Let us definea real-variable versionof the function: (2x/(x-1) It is a tricky problem to prove that f(x) is decreasing. p. in base 2 andflip the coin generatean eventwith the required probability: untilthe number (heads= 1. (Thisconceptwas generated the subjectof a PutnamCompetition problem[2. of We obtain the the wherethe valueof p is to be determined probability (0 teamwinning.) The case n = 2 can be handledin a particularly simpleway:flip the coin twice.we mighthave guessedthis result!Observing second quantityis almost the squareof the first quantity. and everyonewho can completea squareknows thatthe maximum value of x .if it landstailsbothtimes.with two players. The coin can be used to expressp. It seems reasonable thatthe maximum of winningin (3) is a decreasing probability functionof n. tails = 0) deviatesfromp.do of one headsandone tails is then2/3. 137].a calculation with l'H6pital'srulerevealsthat lim thatin the formulain (1) the Actually. Take a logarithm: g(x) Now 2x/(x-1) .we could reasonthat the limit has the form x .the probability Let's analyze our solutionto Heads Up.we findthatwnis maximizedat S(2) is andthe maximum winningprobability Wn(Pn) Forexample. Numerical calculations indicatethatthis is true. over.the playersmustassumethattheirteammates probabilistically.Eachplayershouldflip the coin withprobability p.x2 is 1/4. strategies will also arriveat this conclusion..With best play.x2.298 MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE do betterthan 1/4. the same is true for any numberof players. In addition. via a binomialexpansion: Wn Using calculus.

4..(1 e-c/2 and recognizing that x . NO. of course.n. We see from (2) that the optimum probability pn decreases to 0 as n tends to infinity. it says that.VOL. that is. This is like one team member "dropping out" (but.x2 is maximized when x = 1/2. 78. What can we say about n p. this peculiar identity says that the success probabilities for n and n + 1 are equal for the optimum probability pn+1. with n replaced by a real variable x.Put another way. to 1 This last inequality has a pleasing form. .. The inequality (7) is equivalent to 2n/(n-1) which is equivalent to 1 and.the expected number of coins flipped increases with n. n (7) (6) as we shall prove. Here it is: wn(Pn) (5) The inequality in (5) holds by virtue of the definition of p. for each n. is possible but tedious (make the change of variables y = 2x/(x-1) and differentiate). Observe that h(0) = 0 and 2Y+1 The first three terms sum to zero and the last term is negative. OCTOBER 2005 299 and we want to show that g'(x) is negative for x > 1. Make a change of variables. the maximum value of wn+ occurs on the graph of w. (p. It's a consequence of a simple proposition on convex functions (applied to the function f(x) = 2x). no one member can drop out).) Furthermore.. The equality. Does intuition support this result? A calculus proof..) is decreasing via the solution to Heads Up. is an algebraic curiosity.1): h It suffices to show that h(y) is negative for y > 0. y = 1/(x . Surprisingly. we determine the limiting value: lim (We could have guessed this result by invoking the fact that lim.we can give a short proof that w. the expected number of coins flipped? From (2). which can be proved directly by combining (1) and (2). We prefer to stay with the discrete variable. using l'H6pital's rule. by the formula for the sum of a geometric series.

and the referees for their suggestions concerningthis note. is less well known than the sum of divisors function. We do this by illustrating how straightforwardvariations of the sum of remainders can 1) provide an alternative characterization for perfect numbers. REFERENCES 1. L. M.AnthonyVazzana. ordering (A player seeing two hats of the same color guesses the othercolor. This propositionis easy to prove using Jensen'sinequalityfor convex functions: f Returningto the Hat Problem.). is the winningprobability players to use the knowledge of each other's hat colors? Acknowledgment. SPIVEY University of Puget Sound Tacoma.UpendraKulkarni. and otherwise merelywn(p. and 2) help provide a formula for sums of powers of the first n positive integers. I am gratefulto SurenFernando.we ask the question.for n> 2.the theory. Then. despite its usefulness. Bernstein. n If f is strictly convex.this MAGAZINE 63:2 (1990). Focus 21:8 (2001). 136-139.The hat problemand hammingcodes. namely. WA 98416 mspivey@ups. then this inequality is strict. Let f be a convexfunction defined on the interval [0. or is therea way for the passes. we shine a little light on one of its lesser-known sum of remainders function. The Humble Sum of RemaindersFunction MICHAEL Z. The standard notation[3] for the sumof divisorsfunction is o (n): or(n) We denote the sum of remainders function by p (n). p(n) . 1].andthe teamwins with probability no prearranged 3/4. 4-6. we give a brief discussion of perhaps why the sum of remainders function. of playersis needed. Somenotationis in order.)Forn > 3.edu The sum of divisors function is one of the fundamentalfunctions in elementary number relatives.50th annualWilliamLowell PutnamMathematicalCompetition.winnersand solutions. Finally.what happensif there is no pregamestrategymeeting(andthis is the only changewe make)?In the case n = 3. Larson.In this note. 2.300 MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE PROPOSITION.