Games & Humor

The Shortest Possible Monopoly Game

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The Two-Way Blog

Dan Myers of Notre Dame University talks to Robert Siegel about his claim that he's figured out what theoretically the shortest possible game of Monopoly would be. That is: If everything went just the right way, with just the right sequence of rolls, Chance and Community Chest cards, and so on, what is the quickest way one player could go bankrupt?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Monopoly, the board game, requires many things. And at the top of that list would be time and patience. It seems you can pass Go and collect your $200 for days before someone, anyone, at the table actually manages to win.

So Dan Myers, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, wondered how long the shortest possible game of Monopoly would take. And after deriving what we shall call Myers' Theorem, he and his son acted out their theoretical shortest possible Monopoly game.

Mr. DAN MYERS (Sociology Professor, University of Notre Dame): Ready? Go. Twelve, electric company. Twelve, a light company. Nine, Community Chest, collect $200. Four, income tax; 11, (unintelligible). Four, Park Place; I'll take it. Two, Boardwalk, I'll take it. Four, Baltic Avenue, turn it out for going around. I'll take five houses. Seven, Chance, go to Boardwalk. I'm bankrupt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Twenty-one seconds. Professor Myers, how many moves, actually, would there be in such a short game?

Mr. MYERS: There's actually two turns per player, and it's a total of nine rolls of the dice, actually.

SIEGEL: Because somebody rolls doubles.

Mr. MYERS: Right, and so their turn continues after the doubles.

SIEGEL: Well, take us through the game here. What happens in the beginning?

Mr. MYERS: One player moves around the board very quickly to buy Boardwalk and Park Place and places houses on that, and the other one ends up drawing a Chance card that sends them to Boardwalk. And they don't have enough money to pay the rent with three houses, and the game is over.

SIEGEL: And you and your son were sort of playing at high speed and did it all under half a minute. But in reality, such a game could take just a couple of minutes if people...

Mr. MYERS: That's right.

SIEGEL: If those rolls of the dice actually happen.

Mr. MYERS: That's right and it's very, very unlikely, of course. And people out in the blogosphere have calculated the odds of that game happening now, and it's in the one-in-quadrillion range. But it's a theoretically possible game, yes.

SIEGEL: Has peer review in the blogosphere generally approved of you as having the shortest game, or has somebody come up with a theoretically shorter game so far?

Mr. MYERS: Well, there have been some proposals for some that are shorter, and so we're going to have to check those out, but we're confident we're in the top handful, even if we're not number one.

SIEGEL: How long did it take you to come up with this theory of the shortest Monopoly game?

Mr. MYERS: This is actually a project that started a long time ago, just me and my son trying to figure out how to play shorter and shorter games of Monopoly. But it's been about three weeks now that we decided that we wanted to see what the shortest possible game could be, and we spent a couple of days working through different possibilities to come up with the one that we present on the YouTube video.

SIEGEL: Monopoly, famously, was popular in the Great Depression, when people were going broke. And now, you've come back during the Great Recession of the 21st century, with this theory.

Mr. MYERS: Yeah, well, there have been some comments out on the blogosphere about how it's representative of what's going on in our economy, that people could go bankrupt so quickly. We didn't intend to parallel but certainly, it's been drawn by a number of people out there.

SIEGEL: Well, what will fill the void, now, that's occupied you for the past few weeks?

Mr. MYERS: Well, we've been getting suggestions from those out in the blog world. So the next one is to try to play the shortest possible game of Risk.

SIEGEL: Which you think might be more complicated or...

Mr. MYERS: I think it will because making someone go bankrupt isn't quite as complicated as world domination.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, professor Myers, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MYERS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Dan Myers, sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame. He has developed, along with his son, the shortest possible game of Monopoly.

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