Sunday, June 06, 2004

Petals Around the Rose

Awesome puzzle! It took me about 15 minutes to solve (I was interrupted midway through by a buzz on the doorbell by an itinerant Bible-thumper!) Does that mean I'm way smarter than Bill Gates? And if I am, how come I'm not rich?

Heading back to Albuquerque on a hot, humid Texas evening, the party from Personal Computing fell in with a gang from Microsoft. A couple of MITs folks were also in the crowd. Luckily, an ideal distraction for computer types was available.

The name of the game is Petals Around the Rose, and that name is significant. Newcomers to the game can be told that much. They can also be told that every answer is zero or an even number. They can also be told the answer for every throw of the dice that are used in the game. And that's all the information they get.


Steve Wood caught on while we were still in the waiting area at the airport, but the others stayed puzzled until after we got on the plane. After takeoff, it was possible to throw the dice on a fold-down table while leaning over the back of a seat. Seven or so people watched without too much trouble. Rich Weiland caught on after another half hour. Paul Allen's neck got stiff fairly soon and he gave up to read his book. Mark McDonald and Bill Gates hung on grimly.

Funny thing about Bill, he began to get answers right, but not consistently. He admitted that he was remembering throws he'd seen before, along with the answers, but had no plausible theory to account for answers. Remembering?

"Oh, sure," said the rememberer. "Like this throw...

Roll #14.
The answer is six.

... it's just like a roll we saw earlier (Roll #9), except that the six this time was a two last time. I don't know why the answer is the same, but it is."

The rotten kid must have had two dozen rolls, with answers, committed to memory by the time this discussion came up. ("Kid," because he ordered a Shirley Temple at lunch one day just a few months ago, and drank it before the awestricken eyes of his tablemates, some of whom realised that they were at least twice Bill's age. He had taken leave of his undergraduate courses at Harvard to lead this little company, Microsoft, which is creating BASIC and FORTRAN, etc... interpreters and compilers for various microcomputers. No applications software in their product line yet, just system packages that are already making them famous and may at length make them rich. *Sigh.*)

"I think I'd better use a piece of paper," said Bill, who was by this time the only active player who had still failed to divine the secret.

"Aha," said he after about an hour and a half of this foolishness. "The answer is four on this roll."
See how well you do at the Petals Around the Rose challenge.