Computer Scientist Comes Up With An Algorithm That Will Help You Find Waldo Faster

Published 4 years ago

Where’s Wally?, better known as Where’s Waldo? in North America, is a series of puzzle books by illustrator Martin Handford that have been making us squint since 1987. There have been numerous books released throughout the years and each of them provided us with hours of fun, scanning through the pages looking for the elusive, striped shirt-wearing rascal named Waldo. But what if you really want to find him but just don’t have the time to spare? Well, you’re in luck – because Portland-based data scientist Dr. Randal Olson has got you covered. The man came up with a clever algorithm that will make looking for Waldo a real breeze.

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Computer scientist Dr. Randal Olson came up with a clever algorithm that will help you find Waldo in no time

Image credits: Dr. Randal S. Olson

Someone had already published a strategy for finding Waldo faster before, but Randal saw some flaws and felt like he could do better. The man used every machine learning trick that the knew of and produced the ultimate strategy. He analyzed the first seven Where’s Waldo? books and marked all 68 of Waldo’s locations. Then came the tricky part that the scientist tried to explain in his blog: “Those 68 points can be arranged in ~2.48 x 1096 possible ways. To provide some context, that’s more possible arrangements than the number of atoms in the universe. That’s so many possible arrangements that even if finding Waldo became an international priority and the world banded together to dedicate the 8.25 million computing cores from the world’s 10 largest supercomputers to the job, it would still take ~9.53 x 1077years—about 6.35 x 1067x longer than the universe has existed—to exhaustively evaluate all possible combinations.” Sounds kind of difficult, doesn’t it? But bear with us, it will all be clear soon.

He analyzed the 7 primary “Where’s Waldo?” books and marked the coordinates of all 68 locations Waldo hid in

Image credits: Dr. Randal S. Olson

He then performed something called the “kernel density estimation” of each of the points

Image credits: Dr. Randal S. Olson

Randal then used a method called “genetic algorithm” – which produced the most optimal path in as little as five minutes! Here’s what he learned from analyzing the results:
1. The bottom of the left page is a good place to start. If Waldo isn’t on the bottom half of the left page, then he’s probably not on the left page at all.
2. The upper quarter of the right page is the next best place to look. Waldo seems to prefer to hide in the upper quarter of the right page.
3. Next, check the bottom right half of the right page. Waldo also has an aversion to the bottom left half of the right page. Don’t bother looking there until you’ve exhausted the other hot spots.

He then computed the most optimal strategy by treating it like the “traveling salesman” problem

via Gfycat

Image credits: Dr. Randal S. Olson

After some calculations, the computer presented the most optimal search path

Image credits: Dr. Randal S. Olson

In the end, Randal admitted that this project was only done for fun and that he doesn’t really recommend using the strategy for casual Where’s Waldo? reading. “As with so many things in life, the joy of finding Waldo is in the journey, not the destination,” concluded the man – and we couldn’t agree more.

Aušrys Uptas

One day, this guy just kind of figured - "I spend most of my time on the internet anyway, why not turn it into a profession?" - and he did! Now he not only gets to browse the latest cat videos and fresh memes every day but also shares them with people all over the world, making sure they stay up to date with everything that's trending on the web. Some things that always pique his interest are old technologies, literature and all sorts of odd vintage goodness. So if you find something that's too bizarre not to share, make sure to hit him up!

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algorithm, Dr. Randal Olson, machine learning, Martin Handford, math, Waldo, Wally, Where's Waldo
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