Coins in a Row is a simple game that I have used in lots of classrooms at different grade levels. It is a great way to tackle some mental math and logical reasoning. I first learned about this game in an article from Ivar Peterson's Math Trek. The game originally appeared in Peter Winkler's Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur's Collection (2004). The Rules: Arrange a bunch of coins of various denomination in a row (any even number of coins will do). The first player chooses a coin from one of the ends and slide it over to her pile. Your opponent then chooses a coin from one of the ends of the row of remaining coins. You and your opponent take turns removing a coin in this manner until they are gone. The player with the highest total value of coins wins. The fun part of this game is that it is unfair. Unfair games are a great way to get out of doing some chores while you're visiting inlaws over the holiday break (e.g. "Lets play a game, the loser has to wash the dishes"). The player who goes first can always win if they know the correct strategy. After playing this game a few times, I let students know that it is an unfair game and ask them if they can find a winning strategy. Here is how the winning strategy works. Label the coins from 1 to n going from left to right. Add up the value of all the odd labeled coins then add up the value of all the even labeled coins. The first player can choose either an odd or even labeled coin. The second player only has two evens to choose from if the first player took the first coin from the row. The second player only has two odd coins to choose from if the first player to the coin from the end of the row. The first player then just takes a coin from whichever end the second player chose from and the first player can guarantee that they get either all the odd or even labeled coins. This strategy guarantees at least a tie for the first player. It is not necessarily the "best" strategy however. According to Ivars Peterson, no one has yet worked out an optimal strategy that works for any number of coins.
Alternate versions are quite easy to create for this game. For example, Coins in a Circle. In this version, the first player can pick any coin, then play continues as in the previous version. Another way to play would be to use a deck of cards (remove the face cards) and deal out 10 cards in a row. EL
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