Shut the box analysis

One of my Livejournal friends cananian has a very interesting series of posts about a dice game called Shut the Box. Even though I am not a math major, unlike Adam, I find mathematical analysis of games and strategies for playing games to be very interesting, especially when the results are counter-intuitive:

In previous entries I’ve been discussing the mathematics of the game “Shut the Box”. I first asked about good strategies which were simple enough for a human to use.

One obvious intuitive strategy is to chose tiles to flip down such that your score is as low as possible after each turn. I turns out this is an extraordinarily bad choice: against an optimal 2nd player, the 1st player can expect to lose xy% 75.3% of their stake in each game, and against an optimal 1st player, a second player following this strategy will lose 70.8% of their stake (first player shuts the box 9.5% of the time and wins 71.5% of the rest of the games).

A better strategy is the opposite: flip tiles so that your score is as high as possible after each turn!

C. Scott Ananian’s continuing analysis of this game that I had never heard of before makes me want to play it! Now I just need to find my dice.

In a related question, should this blog cover gambling games / games of chance? I know Adam was interested in poker in the past and I’ve become interested in it recently myself, but ALASSCA hasn’t covered games of chance much in the past, preferring games that are further towards the “pure skill” end of the spectrum. My personal feeling is that any games we create ourselves or unusual/unpopular games that we discover should be within ALASSCA’s purview, regardless of the degree of chance involved in the game. What say you, Adam and any other readers we might have?

UPDATE: Another interesting question is, why have I never heard of this game? Apparently it was popularized by a TV show that last aired when I was 4 years old, High Rollers, so I would never have seen it. Perhaps the game is better known among older people, but it may still be worth reviving old games for our generation who may otherwise be ignorant of them.


Hey folks, welcome to the first post live from our new location at! Today I’d like to present a game that Swarthmore alumnus Lawrence D.P. Miller sent in a while back when he heard about our project: Rafterball! I’ll let Lawrence speak for himself:

For ALASSCA, I give you the sleep-away camp game of my youth: Rafterball (adapted by me for play by people who are not 4 ft tall, and with tree branches in addition to rafters as possible fields of play)

Rafterball is a two-person game involving bouncing a ball from one side of a rafter to the other. Each player will stand on one side or the other of the rafter beam (or tree branch), and will play from that side throughout the match. The goal is to toss the ball from one side of the rafter so that it bounces on top of the rafter and goes over the rafter and falls on the other side. One point is awarded for each bounce, and a “roll” is worth 5 points. Games are typically played to 11, 15, or 21.

Players may stand as near or as far away from the rafter as they wish, up to directly underneath it. Players standing two or more feet from the rafter may toss overhand if they wish; players standing closer to the beam or directly beneath it must toss underhand. “Slam dunks” are not allowed; if the branch or rafter is within reach of the players, they are allowed to toss from approximately shoulder height or lower (unless standing 2 or more feet away). When standing beneath the rafter, the player must still toss from one side to the other; any shot that either fails to clear the rafter, or clears in the wrong direction, is considered a miss.

One player is designated the starting player; he or she gets first toss. Play continues in a “make it take it” fashion; upon scoring one or more points on a toss, that player keeps the ball and tosses again, continuing until he or she misses, and then play switches to the other player. When one player reaches the requisite number of points, the other player is granted “last licks”, and is given a single opportunity to keep playing until he or she misses. If the other player does surpass the score of the player who originally reached the winning score, that original player is then also granted last licks, and so on until there is one clear winner.

Typically, tennis balls are used, but any ball that can easily bounce on the rafter in question can be used.

Word substitutions

I don’t know if this really qualifies as a game, but it certainly sounds like fun…. if you’re slightly tipsy or sleep-deprived and have a bunch of textbooks lying around 🙂

So, the game is: When reading a certain sort of social criticism, it will be vastly improved with the following word substitutions:

gay –> ninja
lesbian –> pirate
bisexual –> monkey
transgendered –>robot
sexuality –>mojo
Stonewall –> the Meiji revolution
Freud’s work –> the battle of Seki Gahara

Such that you get things like:

“Anita Bryant’s anti-ninja “Save the Children” campaign is making a comeback.”

“In the 70’s, ninjas and pirates were completely demonized.”

“In fact, Bush went out of his way during the campaign not to offend the ninjas.”

“Thus we can see the sum total of the ninja agenda involves foisting more government on society and more intervention in free enterprise ”

“Ninja acts are sins, not crimes like murder and theft, and should be neither punished nor subsidized by the law.”

Or as comma suggests, “Kinsey’s work suggested that most people are at least somewhat monkeys.”

Surely you could come up with your own interesting word substitutions in other fields, such as plasma physics or evolutionary biology. This game will probably appeal most to geeks and college students who wish to see their studies in a new light… however, it may prove dangerous since whenever somebody makes a perfectly normal statement in class, you might remember the word substitutions and bust out in uncontrollable laughter. Trust me, that sort of thing happened to me all the time in high school.