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Nim game, a binary challenge

by Gianni A. Sarcone
Nim History

match gameNim is a simple combinatory game with finite possibilities. But unlike tic-tac-toe, that other game of limited possibilities, there is tremendous variety in both Nim's conception and implementation. The theory of the Nim game was discovered by mathematics professor Charles Bouton at Harvard University in 1901. In fact, Bouton, who wanted to use the game to demonstrate the advantage of the binary number system, found a simple formula, with which, from the state of play, players can determine correct moves immediately.

Nim is said to have originated in China (where it wasn't called Fan Tan as many assert! But Tsyanshidzi [Jian-shizi?], "picking stones game"), but the origin remains uncertain and the current name of this game is a loan word from the German verb nimm (meaning "take!"). Nim-type games have existed for centuries around the world, and the first European references date from the 15th century. There is also an African variant of the game called tiouk tiouk. Nim was evidently played with what ever counters were at hand and can be played with from one to at least a dozen rows, and the number of counters in a row can vary from one to as many as two dozen. Some versions require that the winner takes the last object; others that the winner avoids taking the last object (misère variant). Curiously enough, Alain Resnais featured this little strategy game in the movie "L'année dernière à Marienbad" (Last Year in Marienbad, 1962).

The "classical" Nimm game (misère or Marienbad variant) is a game by two players. It consists of 16 matches in 4 rows (as shown above). Two players alternately pick a certain number of matches and the one, who takes the last match, loses.


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External Links
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