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Game Theory

Started: 2008-12-24 09:09:20

Submitted: 2008-12-24 09:28:04

Visibility: World-readable

Last Friday my employer held its annual end-of-the-year celebration, which featured a catered lunch, a slide show of employee-submitted pictures, and a raffle. We were given nine raffle tickets each and instructed to distribute the tickets as we saw fit across the available items. (There may have been exactly nine items, but I didn't actually count.) I recognized this as an application of game theory; the optimal strategy involved trying to guess what everyone else was doing and acting accordingly. A simple approach would be to distribute one's tickets according to the relative interest one held in each item, but a better approach would be to try to guess what everyone else would be doing and distribute tickets to give a better chance at winning the second-choice item if that were less popular, and the chance of winning would outweigh the reduced enjoyment one would get from the second-choice item. (I resisted the urge to draw a game theory grid; with nine items to choose from and something like 9! ticket-distribution combinations, picking an optimal strategy seemed overly complicated.) I followed the simple approach and distributed my tickets according to my interest in each item.

(I contemplated how this game would map to movie voting, though the outcome and strategy are somewhat different. Still, in movie voting, an optimal strategy does involve predicting the behavior of the other participants and picking one's votes to tilt the vote in one's favor.)

I ended up winning the drawing for a charging station (to which I devoted only one of my nine tickets), which was a small cabinet-like device with three alcoves on the top above a compartment where one could put a power strip and wall warts for charging electronic devices. I wasn't entirely sure whether it would be useful, but I figured I would give it a shot. (Any possibility of reducing the number of cords floating around the house would be welcome at the dawn of the Calvin Era.)

Getting the box home proved to be its own minor challenge, I opted to take public transportation on Friday, so I faced the choice of leaving it in my office versus dragging it home on the bus. At a volume approaching my backpack itself, it was a bit bulky but I managed to get it home intact.