Talk by Roland Backhouse:
The Algorithmics of Solitaire-Like Games

Puzzles and games have been used for centuries to nurture problem-solving skills. Although often presented as isolated brain-teasers, the desire to know how to win makes games ideal examples for teaching algorithmic problem solving. With this in mind, the talk explores one-person solitaire-like games.

The key to understanding solutions to solitaire-like games is the identification of invariant properties of polynomial arithmetic. We demonstrate this via three case studies: solitaire itself, tiling problems and a collection of novel one-person games. The known classification of states of the game of (peg) solitaire into 16 equivalence classes is used to introduce the relevance of polynomial arithmetic. Then we give a novel algebraic formulation of the solution to a class of tiling problems. Finally, we introduce an infinite class of challenging one-person games inspired by earlier work by Chen and Backhouse on the relation between cyclotomic polynomials and generalizations of the seven-trees-in-one type isomorphism. We show how to derive algorithms to solve these games.