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Programming Enigma Puzzles

15 January 2013

Posted by on **From New Scientist #2634, 15th December 2007**

Connah Tiste runs an unusual fairground stall. It consists of 15 touching circular lights as shown.

You pay £1 and three of the lights come on, the trio being chosen completely at random. If the centres of the lit circles form the corners of an equilateral triangle, you win £10.

Recently one of the bulbs developed a fault which means it never lights up. Each punter now gets a random trio from the remaining lights. Connah has decided to do nothing about correcting the fault because it lowers the chances of him having to pay out. In fact he will now expect to pay out once in every certain whole number of goes.

How many?

[enigma1473]

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The following Python program runs in 51ms.

Solution:He would expect to pay out on 1 out of 14 games.At first I thought we have an incorrect solution.

When all 15 bulbs are working, there are 15!/(12! 3!) = 455 different configurations of three lit bulbs. The possible equilateral triangles are sixteen of side 1, seven of side 2, three of side 3, one of side 4; as well as six of side root(3) perpendicular to the sides of the array, and also — easy to miss — two more of side root(7) at about 19°:

That makes 35 in all, so the suckers have a 1-in-13 chance of winning.

I think we have to assume that a bulb does not blow, for then people would notice that sometimes only two come on. Rather, the random mechanism just ignores one of them. There are 14!/(11! 3!) = 364 different configurations of the remaining 14 bulbs. Which equilateral triangles don’t appear depends on which bulb is out of action: if it’s one of the corner ones, then obviously the triangle of side 4 is one of them, for example.

As you say, we have to distinguish four cases of crippled bulb:

corner (3 possibilities): 31 triangles still possible

next to corner (6 possibilities): 28

mid-side (3 possibilities): 27

inner (3 possibilities): 26.

The (weighted) mean is 28, representing a 1-in-13 chance as before.

So on average it makes no difference that one bulb is not working.

After thinking about it I realized that the sideshow owner of course knew it was one of the inner bulbs and worked out the improved 1-in-14 chance.

If it had been one of the corner ones we can bet he’d have fixed it double quick!

Oh, how I hate eMail gateway that suppress leading spaces and tab characters!

My wee diagram actually looked quite good when I sent it.

I think I’ve fixed it up for you with some

<pre>...</pre>tags.