Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What are we taking in Nim?

Nim is a game with many different incarnations. In some cases, it concerns removing items from just one heap, but with restricted amounts. In others, there are multiple heaps on the table at any time. These variations are played by many people, all using the name "Nim" and all with different rules (some people learn the normal play rules, others learn misere). There are many near-gamesters who are an expert at their version of Nim, but have problems if you vary even just the starting position.

Forgetting all this, however, what are those items that players are removing? What are the heaps made out of? I have heard uses of counters, sticks, beans, pennies/coins and others.

In elementary school, I learned the one-pile game as "Nim" and later the multi-pile game as "Sticks". With this second influence, it's very hard for me to not "pick up sticks" when I'm taking my turn in Nim. Not certain this was standard, I consulted Mike Weimerskirch and Thane Plambeck last month. Both of them referred me to the surreal movie Last Year at Marienbad, in which two characters compete at Nim. The games played in the film use matchsticks as props; perhaps sticks are the way to go! (This guy uses sticks, but he also cheats, so perhaps that's a point against it.)

If we consult the authoritative Winning Ways, however, we see that Nim is played with heaps of counters. It's hard to argue with this text! Indeed, Lessons in Play continues this tradition, referring to heaps of counters in the game Nim. Also, Mike told me straight-up that he's a counter man. Again, hard to argue with these Nim masters!

Beans? Beans are gross; who wants to think about playing games with food that will later be cooked. Didn't your parents teach you anything?

Candy, however, is another matter. Candy is delicious (and doesn't get cooked). Who wants to play Candy Nim?

Pennies and various coins make sense, except that the goal of the game is not to make money, but to make (or not make) the last move. Still, I bet these are often used as the "counters".

I'm still not sure what to use, but I'm going to keep with sticks until someone convinces me otherwise!

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