Chutes and Ladders Infinite Loop

I play Chutes and Ladders with my kids sometimes. It isn’t a game of skill. Many months ago I was involved in a game that went on and on and on. As soon as someone would get close to the end he or she would land on a chute and be shunted nearly back to start.

I was left wondering just how long a game would last. So this week my son and I implemented a simulator in Python to calculate how long any one person’s game would last. Each person’s play is independent in Chutes and Ladders, the characters do not interact. Therefore, simulating an entire game is almost as easy as simulating a single player’s experience.

First, the board is 100 cells long and the spinner gives you a value between 1 and 6, just like rolling a die. A fair die will have an average roll of 3.5, so on average it would take about 100/3.5 = 28.6 turns to finish a game if there were no chutes or ladders. The histogram of game length without chutes and ladders is below. The longest plausible game is about 35 turns in this scenario and the average is 28.6 turns, estimated from 10,000 random trials.


The addition of chutes and ladders stretches the histogram radically. Instead of the longest single-person game being about 35 turns, it is now over 200 turns. Fortunately, a 200-turn game is not very likely. Surprisingly the average is not a hundred million years. At 30.8 turns the average game with chutes and ladders is only a little longer than the average game without.


Pretty cool.

import random 
import pylab as plt
import numpy as np
d = {}
for i in range(1, 101):
    d[i] = i

cl = {1: 38,
     4: 14,
     9: 31,
     16: 6,
     21: 42,
     28: 84,
     36: 44,
     48: 26,
     49: 11,
     51: 67,
     56: 53,
     62: 19,
     64: 60,
     71: 91,
     80: 100,
     87: 24,
     93: 73,
     95: 75,
     98: 78}
numturnsa = []
for t in range(10000):
    numturns = 0
    pos = 0

    while True:
        numturns += 1
        pos += random.randint(1,7)
        if pos > 100:
        # To "play" without chutes and ladders, comment out the next line.
        pos = d[pos]

plt.subplots_adjust( .13, .15, .95, .97)
plt.hist(numturnsa, 60)
plt.xlabel("Number of turns")
plt.savefig("chuteshist_nochutes.png", dpi=200)
numturnsa = np.array(numturnsa, dtype="f")
print "The average number of turns is",np.mean(numturnsa)


In the desert it almost never rains. I know, you know. When I lived in upstate New York, in my foolish youth, I bought a motorcycle in the beginning of April. I was anxious to learn to ride. Too bad, because it rained every day for an entire month. Now I live in New Mexico. Two years ago we had not one drop between the end of December and July.

Where you live the weather turns with a unique step. Here, the summer breaks in July when the monsoon comes. Moist air from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico flow north over the state and give rise to afternoon thunderstorms. It is the most beautiful weather of the year here. The clouds rise miles—literally—into the sky and continuously billow in fractal glory.

Last week I configured my Raspberry Pi computer with its PiCam to take time-lapse video out my back window. The view is to the east over the Sandia Mountains. I took pictures about every six seconds from 10:30 am until dark, around 8:30 pm. The whole day compressed into four and a half minutes. The best video was from July 14, others are below.

It is hard to understand the desert if you have never lived in one. In the picture below you can see what it would be like if Leeds were in Albuquerque. A nation that ruled the world for a few hundred years fits comfortably in the desert southwest.composite

The rest of the videos I created are here, with the most interesting at the top.

July 11

July 13

July 8

July 7

July 10

July 16

July 15

The Spiraling Shape

The Spiraling Shape will make you go insane
Everyone wants to see that groovy thing

–They Might Be Giants

The chambered nautilus is sometimes called a living fossil. It is the closest living relative of the ammonoids, and cross sections of its shell are familiar to every adult in the western world. Most kinds of ammonoids lived a long time ago. They started appearing in our Devonian strata around 415 million years ago. Pretty cool, since modern humans have been around 0.195 million years. If you consider the chambered nautilus close enough, then you might say that these critters have been around 2000 times longer than humans. That is real staying power.

In June my wife and I visited San Francisco for a vacation. A delightful city for touring because it has such a mix of old turn of the 20th century buildings, awesome bridges, a cool sea breeze, great parks and museums, shopping, cultural diversity, and enough hipsters to feed Cthulhu for an eon. Unless someone can find a more suitable use for hipsters.

In Chinatown we saw all the usual junk. But there was also a rock shop that had a nice assortment of cross-sectioned fossil ammonoids or nautiloids. I dug through and looked for one with the most open inner spirals. And here it is.


I scanned it at absurdly high resolution, the largest diameter is 1.6 inches. The construction of the nautiloid is fascinating. The spiral is logarithmic, as you can find asserted all over the web. Of course, in my entire life I have never seen anyone actually measure the spiral and show its logarthmic nature. But it looks like it a logarithmic spiral.

The structure is self-similar. It is hard to tell how big this little shell is because it would like basically the same to your eye at ten times the size. I love that: fractal without fragmentation.  The creature, I suppose, could grow large just by repeating the same basic step—grow a new chamber. The genetic code to scale up must have been quite an innovation, evolutionarily speaking.


Distilling the spiral of the shell to its simplest shape shows awesome, but not perfect, consistency.


I have never seen a discussion of how the maximum and minimum buoyancy of the creature might have changed as it grew. You can bet that there is a clever relationship between the mass of the cephalopod’s body, the mass of its shell, and the volume of each successive  chamber, at least for those that can move vertically. Seafloor-dwelling species might be marked by a faster-opening spiral that keeps their shell from rising. Why is that a safe bet?

I understand that the nautilus spends the day deep in the ocean, and rises near the surface to hunt at night. They control their depth by pumping water in and out of their shell chambers. A nautilus’ chambers are connected by a little hole, and I can’t see any holes between chambers in my fossil so maybe mine wandered about on the seafloor or floated at a constant depth.

I measured my trace for the distance between spirals. I divided them all by the smallest one and produced the measurements

1 1.3 2.9 5.6 12 25 49
And this spiral does indeed show logarithmic growth. The plot shows the plot of the natural logarithm of the same measurements. Its consistency is so very, very good. I suppose that’s what makes the shell so pretty.