Passing up an opportunity

1 May 2013

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I occasionally shout at the TV: it’s a weakness of mine. Feel free to imagine me slumped in a chair in a Rab C. Nesbitt vest, clutching a scan of Kestrel and sputtering at:

  • football
  • lack/triviality of “science” questions on University Challenge. “Who discovered the electron?” is no more a science question than most of the “maths” questions that begin with “Answer as soon as you buzz”.
  • mispronunciation of the word “the”. Really. Listen to the next news piece about the EU.

Watching Mastermind recently, I saw someone win by not saying a word. That is, the winner equalled somebody else’s points tally but answered with “pass” fewer times. There’s no penalty for being wrong, so why not take a small chance of being right and have a guess? If desperate, say “Mickey Mouse”, “42” or “Humphrey Bogart”. Just don’t say PASS!

Here is a wonderful example of how optimal strategy can work in your favour. It’s been around for ages, so you may have seen it before:

I am curious how people in Mastermind would react if asked the question, “What do footballers call a deliberate movement of the ball between members of the same team?”

Tags: tv, game theory