5 Ways to Beat Old-School Games Using Math

#2. Pac-Man: There's a Hiding Spot in the Maze

Pac-Man may seem like an easy kiddie game to you, but what's the highest level you've ever reached? Five? Six? Come on, fire up your smartphone or iPad or whatever (there's probably a downloadable version for your toaster even) and let's see how well you do. In fact, this game is so hard that it wasn't until almost two decades after its release that someone actually completed all 256 levels.

He was bald when he started playing.

And the reason why this game is so hard is that those relentless ghosts never stop going after Pac-Man (possibly because he was their murderer) -- the whole game becomes a frantic dance to avoid getting cornered between ghosts. So to even have a shot at reaching the double digits, you'd have to be incredibly skilled at dodging them and getting the timing just perfect ...

How to Win:

... or just know how to hide from them. Yep, there's a "blind spot" on the maze where the ghosts can't reach you. Here's a demonstration of it:

As long as a ghost isn't practically biting your ass already, the moment you reach that spot, they'll start cluelessly circling around without ever touching you. This happens because the ghosts aren't actually programmed to chase you -- if they were, the game would be impossible. Instead, each one has different patterns: Only the red ghost (Blinky) is programmed to go after you. The pink and blue ones (Pinky and Inky) only want to position themselves at a specific place relative to you, and the orange one (Clyde) just moves around randomly.

Clyde died young, from too many paint chips.

The fact that the ghosts move entirely based on your position means that you can trick them into going around in circles without touching you, which allows for bathroom breaks or making out with all the groupies that will naturally form around you from being so good at Pac-Man. What's more, advanced players have used this information to create a series of patterns for Pac-Man that you can use to breeze through each maze without ever touching a ghost, like this one for level 1:

Math ruins everything.

Since every maze after level 20 is exactly the same (because at that point the developers said, "Eh, no one's gonna get that far anyway"), when you reach that point, it's just a matter of repeating the same pattern over and over ... for only six hours.

Bonus: When you're done, you get to wear your computer's innards like an Aztec warrior.

#1. Battleship: Aim for the Center


The whole point of Battleship is you can't see your opponent's board, or where their little plastic ships are positioned. So the game essentially consists of calling out random numbers until you luck out and get a "hit." If it wasn't for the fact that a clever game designer made it about ships blowing the hell out of each other, we're pretty sure it never would have caught on.

Bingo + Explosions = Suddenly interesting.

Since each player is free to place the pieces anywhere they want on the Battleship board, that means it's just about lobbing pegs at the board until you accidentally hit one, right?

How to Win:

Actually, it's not as random as it seems. Statistically, you're far more likely to score a hit closer to the center of the board. How do we know this? Because someone went through the trouble of simulating billions of possible Battleship boards and used that information to create this:


That is a map representing which squares are more likely to have a ship in them, with the brighter ones toward the center being the luckier ones. The reason for this is that there are only so many ways to place the ships so that they'll fall on a specific square. Look at the carrier, which takes a whopping five squares: There are 10 ways to place it so that it touches a square on the center, but only two ways to position it so that it touches one in the corner.

You can see it here -- taking only the carrier into account, the probability anus clenches down even more:


Whereas if you're looking for that elusive patrol boat (which only takes two squares), it loosens up considerably:

Battleship: Goatse.

Patrol boats, you see, are more likely to hang out near the corners simply because in most cases the center will already be taken up by all the larger boats, leaving them little place to hide.

But if using probability maps isn't dishonest enough for you, the same guy who created them also came up with this interactive board where you can plot your shots in real time and see the stats for each square adjust accordingly. Tested against a computer opponent, it won nine out of 10 games.

Because "fair play" went out the window the moment it was decided that women can't play.

It's almost like having a powerful radar, which should come in pretty handy when you get to the part of the game where aliens come down and only that guy from Friday Night Lights can save the world. (Hollywood wouldn't lie to us.)

Karl loves him some games, and you can check out his Facebook, Twitter or blog by clicking the shit out those links. Or you can enjoy his review of his favorite game.

For more dilemmas that aren't, check out 5 Things That Are Way Easier Than They Look in Movies and 6 Places That Are Shockingly Easy to Break Into.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn the easiest way to win at the nut-kicking game.

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