The Checker Maven

Remarkable, Indeed

In January we presented a mind-boggler of a stroke problem (click here to see it again). This month, we offer another brain-twister of a different nature. Take a look at the situation diagrammed below, titled Remarkable Block Problem and attributed to an author calling himself "X.Y.Z."


White to Move and Win
Again, as in last month's stroke problem, the situation is artificial, but nonetheless diabolical. See if you can solve it without going off the deep end, and then take a look at the animated solution, here.

It all reminds us of Crowther's original Adventure game in which "you're in a maze of twisty passages..." But that was "XYZZY", not "X.Y.Z."

And, by the way, did you try to get your computer to solve this one? It's doubtful that any computer program would be able to come up with the solution. Click on Read More for some supplementary discussion on why this might be.

In fact, we've tried ourselves, and we've been unable to get any of our in-house checker programs to solve this problem. We think it's because the problem is so artificial and the solution so unusual, that checker program evaluation functions, which are more in tune with reality, simply can't fathom a solution that requires giving away all but one of your pieces in order to win.

To be sure, checker programs do sacrifice material from time to time, often brilliantly, but this problem just requires too much. The better checker programs, when building "trees" of moves, "prune" those trees of unreasonable possibilities. Our guess is that the solution branch for Remarkable Block Problem got lopped off by the computers at a fairly early stage.

Does this mean that even the best checker-playing computer programs are somehow deficient? Not at all. It means instead, we think, that they aren't warped and insane, and that they calculate moves on a rational basis. The solution to Remarkable Block Problem is extremely clever, but it's anything but sane!

What does this say, then, about those of you humans out there who found the solution? No, you aren't off your rockers. You are able, instead, to do what no computer today can do successfully: adapt your thinking to circumstances, and adapt your thinking radically when faced with a radical circumstance. We at The Checker Maven think it's going to be quite a long time (if it even ever happens) that computers truly surpass humans in the ability to think creatively.

Addendum: We exchanged a few emails about Remarkable Block Problem with program author Martin Fierz. Martin was not happy that his world-class Cake Manchester couldn't solve this problem, and so he modified its logic to specially look for crazy block solutions! Cake can now find the answer without any difficulty, but we'd wager that this custom solution logic will have limited real-world application!

02/19/05 - Category: Problems -Printer friendly version-
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