Computer Program Teaches Itself to Solve Rubik’s Cubes!

I tried to warn you, fellow puzzlers.

I wrote posts about computer programs that play chess, Scrabble, Go, Atari games, and Jeopardy! I wrote posts about programs that solve crosswords. I even wrote posts about robots that solve Rubik’s Cubes in a fraction of a second.

And they’re getting smarter.

Say hello to DeepCube, an AI program that is now the equal of any master Rubik’s Cube solver in the world at solving 3x3x3 cubes.

And unlike other AI programs that have learned to play games like chess and Go through reinforcement learning — determining if particular moves are bad or good — DeepCube taught itself to play by analyzing each move, comparing it to a completed cube, and reverse-engineering how to get to that move.

It’s labor-intensive, yes, but it also requires no human intervention and no previous information. Chess-playing programs like Deep Blue work by analyzing thousands of previously played games. But DeepCube had no previous history to build on.

It started from scratch. By itself.

And became a Rubik’s Cube master.

In only 44 hours.

Compare that to the 10,000 hours it supposedly takes for a human to become an expert in anything, and that’s a mind-blowing accomplishment.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

From the Gizmodo article on DeepCube:

The system discovered “a notable amount of Rubik’s Cube knowledge during its training process,” write the researchers, including a strategy used by advanced speedcubers, namely a technique in which the corner and edge cubelets are matched together before they’re placed into their correct location.

Yes, the program even independently recreated techniques designed by human speed-solvers to crack the cubes faster.

The next goal for the DeepCube program is to pit it against 4x4x4 cubes, which are obviously more complex. But supposedly, deposing human puzzle solvers as the top dogs on the planet isn’t the finish line.

No, this sort of three-dimensional puzzle-solving is only an intermediate goal, with the ultimate endgame of predicting protein shapes, analyzing DNA, building better robots, and other advanced projects.

But first, they’re coming for our puzzles.


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The Robots Are Here and They Can Spell

[Image courtesy of World of Weird Things.]

I warned you, fellow puzzlers. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

The robots are coming, and they want our puzzles and games.

Let’s look at the hit list:

  • Deep Blue defeated Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints
  • IBM’s supercomputer Watson bested previous Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize
  • An AI program called DeepMind taught itself to play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency
  • There are several robots constructed out of LEGOs that solve Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat
  • Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program, competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and in a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament
  • Just last year, an AI developed by Google, AlphaGo (a product of DeepMind), twice defeated Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world

And Scrabble fans, you’re the next ones in the crosshairs of the machines.

During last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Industrial Technology Research Institute out of Taiwan debuted the IVS Robot — aka The Intelligent Vision System for Companion Robots — a machine capable of defeating human competitors at Scrabble.

[Image courtesy of ABC News.]

Instead of tiles and a standard Scrabble board, the IVS reads letter cubes (similar to a child’s alphabet blocks) played on a slightly larger gameboard. But time limits for play and standard rules still apply.

From an article on Engadget:

It’s hard not to be impressed by all the moving parts here. For one, the robot has to learn and understand the rules of the game and the best strategies for winning. It also needs to be able to see and recognize the game pieces and the spots on the board. That means it can read the letters on the cubes and identify the double-letter and triple-word score spots.

And, last but not least, it needs the dexterity to place the pieces on the board and not disturb the existing letters — which is especially difficult when you’re laying down two words next to each other to rack up those two-letter combos.

A quick Google search confirms that the robot bested practically every reporter, tech-savvy or otherwise, that crossed its path.

In the video below, North American Scrabble champion Will Anderson teams up with reporter Lexy Savvides to battle the robot, but a technical error prevents the game from getting very far:

Still, you can see the potential here. I’m sure it won’t be long before the IVS Robot is making appearances at Scrabble tournaments, attempting to establish machine dominance over another puzzly activity.

Stay strong, fellow puzzlers.


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Rise of the Machines!

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I don’t mean to alarm you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, but the machines may be taking over.

First, there was Deep Blue, defeating Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints.

Then, there was IBM’s supercomputer Watson, sitting at the buzzer on Jeopardy!, besting previous champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize.

An AI program called Deep Mind can play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency.

These days, you can design robots with LEGOs that are capable of solving Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat.

And, of course, crossword fans probably know of Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program that competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament each year. In a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament.

drfill_400x400

Now, the machines are coming for Go players next. Google has developed an artificial intelligence known as AlphaGo which twice conquered Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world.

This strategy board game is played with white and black gamepieces called stones, and the objective is to surround a greater total amount of territory on the game board than your opponent. Along the way, you can surround your opponent’s pieces in order to capture them and remove them from play.

Wikipedia aptly describes the depth and difficulty of the game:

Despite its relatively simple rules, Go is very complex, even more so than chess, and possesses more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the visible universe. Compared to chess, Go has both a larger board with more scope for play and longer games, and, on average, many more alternatives to consider per move.

go-game

People have been playing Go for over 2,500 years, and yet, machines have already surpassed our greatest player.

Science fiction movies have been warning us about this for years. I just never expected them to come after our games and hobbies first.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Trebek Raps edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to quickly revisit two of my most recent blog posts.

In last week’s Follow-Up Friday post, we celebrated the 144th birthday of creator of the crossword Arthur Wynne, and I set up a little puzzly challenge for my fellow PuzzleNationers: How many words of four or more letters can you make from the letters in ARTHUR WYNNE’s name?

Here are the 110 words I came up with:

Anew, Ante, Aren’t, Artery, Arty, Aunt, Awry, Earn, Earth, Earthy, Entry, Errant, Hare, Hart, Hate, Hater, Haunt, Hear, Heart, Hearty, Heat, Henna, Hewn, Hunt, Hunter, Hurray, Hurry, Hurt, Hyena, Nary, Nature, Near, Neat, Neath, Nehru, Newt, Rant, Ranter, Rare, Rate, Rater, Rather, Rawer, Rear, Rent, Reran, Rerun, Retry, Return, Rune, Runner, Runny, Runt, Runty, Runway, Tanner, Tannery, Tare, Tarry, Tawny, Tear, Teary, Tern, Ternary, Terra, Than, Thane, Thaw, Then, They, Threw, Thru, Thruway, Tray, Trey, True, Truer, Tuna, Tune, Tuner, Turn, Unearth, Unwary, Wane, Want, Ware, Warn, Warren, Wart, Wary, Water, Watery, Wean, Wear, Weary, Went, What, Wheat, When, Whet, Whey, Wrath, Wreath, Wren, Wryer, Yarn, Yawn, Yeah, Year, Yearn.

I’m sure I missed some, so let me know what words you came up with!


[Image courtesy of hlntv.com.]

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the newer trivia-based game shows on TV these days. I didn’t really discuss Jeopardy!, easily the most popular trivia game show of all-time, simply because I didn’t have anything new to say on the topic at the moment.

Well, lo and behold, last night I stumbled across a video clip from Monday night’s episode that I simply have to share with the PuzzleNation audience.

In this brief clip, host Alex Trebek gives us a rare glimpse into a rap career that never was — and channels William Shatner’s peculiar rhythmic cadence — as he sings a bit of the theme song from the beloved NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Enjoy:

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Three ways to TV trivia!

Trivia-based game shows seem to be having a bit of a resurgence these days, between ABC’s 500 Questions, Fox’s BOOM!, and GSN’s The Chase.

Unlike Jeopardy!, television’s longest-running trivia-based game show, which relies mostly on the questions themselves to generate interest, this new class of game shows adds all sorts of gimmicky flair to dress up the trivia, be it pursuit by other players (500 Questions) or an in-house trivia master (The Chase) or the threat of being covered in something slimy (BOOM!).

I thought I’d take a look at each of these shows from the standpoint of a self-confessed trivia fiend.

[Image courtesy of reviewjournal.com.]

In BOOM!, the splatter appeal of shows like Double Dare is mixed with the multiple choice style of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, hoping to ratchet up the tension with a wrong answer resulting in some serious messes.

You’ve got multiple answers to a question, and all but one of them are correct. (For instance, you’ll be given the titles of four movies, and then told 3 out of the 4 have been inspired by books.) Each of those answers is color-coded to a wire on the bomb, and the contestant must cut each wire they think is correct in the time allotted in order to defuse the bomb.

[Image courtesy of fresnobee.com.]

If you cut all the right wires, the money for that question goes into your bank. If you get a wrong answer, the bomb “explodes” and you get splattered (there has been pesto, alfredo sauce, maple syrup, and yellow mustard), your team loses the money for that question, and you’re eliminated.

When every team member is splattered, you’re done. If any member of your team survives the six trivia bombs, you go after the Mega Money bomb, which if defused will multiply your banked money by a factor of 4. A perfect run will yield $500,000 for the team.

The show debuted last week on FOX.

[Image courtesy of abc.go.com.]

In 500 Questions, a contestant tackles ten rounds of 50 questions each. Three consecutive wrong answers will knock a contestant out of the competition (correct answers can erase one or two wrong answers).

Along the way, a challenger dogs the contestant at every turn, hoping to knock the contestant out by choosing tough categories if the contestant has acquired two wrongs in a row. The challenger only has one 50-question round to eliminate the contestant; if the challenger fails, a new challenger emerges for the next round.

[Image courtesy of usmagazine.com.]

For every board of 50 questions completed, the contestant is guaranteed the money earned in that round. However, any wrong answers acquired will follow the contestant into the next round.

It’s worth noting that these rules may only apply during the first 200 questions. Since no one has ever completed the fourth round, there could be alternate rules or new wrinkles awaiting contestants and challengers in round five and above.

The show ran for seven straight weeknights, and it’s unknown at this point if it will return.

[Host Brooke Burns and trivia pro The Beast.
Image courtesy of The Blog is Right.]

In The Chase (which is based on a British game show of the same name), a team of contestants pits their trivia wits against the chaser — known as The Beast — who is waiting to capitalize on any mistakes they make. In the early rounds, each contestant faces off against The Beast one-on-one, answering a certain number of questions in a row in order to lock in their prize money and continue in the game.

Any mistakes made by the contestant create opportunities for The Beast to catch them, preventing them from banking any prize money. If the contestant stays ahead of The Beast by answering more questions correctly, the prize money gets banked and the contestant moves on to the Final Chase.

[Image courtesy of variety.com.]

In the Final Chase, whichever contestants survived their individual chase rounds work together to answer as many questions as possible in two minutes. They move a space ahead on the gameboard for every correct answer. The goal here is to build as big a lead as they can before The Beast takes his turn.

The Beast then answers a different set of questions, with each correct answer bringing him one space closer to catching the contestants. If he answers a question wrong, the Chase is paused and the contestants get a shot at answering that question. A correct answer increases their lead by one space; an incorrect answer simply continues the game.

If the contestants can outpace the Beast, they win, splitting the banked money equally; if the Beast catches them, they go home with nothing.

The show’s fourth season on GSN resumes on July 16.

Now, I must admit, 500 Questions didn’t appeal to me because I don’t enjoy feeling obligated to watch something every single night. I understand it’s meant to be a special event and all that, but oversaturation, even in the short term, tends to leave me disinterested. (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? committed the same mistake by airing far too frequently for my tastes, and I quickly abandoned the show.)

I quite enjoy The Chase, but less as a viewer and more as a competitor, since I like to test myself against The Beast. Although I tend to do well, he has bested me more than once. He is a worthy foe.

Although only one episode of BOOM! has aired so far, I find myself watching it less for the trivia — which is very common sense and common knowledge, thus far — and more for whether the contestant botches the question and gets splattered. Whether that remains enough to keep me tuning in week after week… only time will tell.

Are you watching any of these newer trivia game shows, fellow PuzzleNationers, or do you stick with the classics? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Apps and Alex edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’ve got two terrific announcements for you all!

First and foremost, we’ve updated our Apps and iBooks page to reflect the latest puzzles and platforms available! Crosswords, Classic Word Search, and Sudoku puzzles await you there, ready for your mobile devices! Enjoy!

And second, since we’ve been talking about trivia recently, it seems utterly apropos that I stumbled across this video on the Guinness Book of World Records website this week.

It’s host Alex Trebek accepting the certificate for Most Game Show Episodes Hosted by the Same Presenter (Same Program), officially documented by Guinness (hardly the show’s first world record, but easily its most impressive).

For the record (and the Record!), Alex zoomed into first place by hosting his 6,829th episode of Jeopardy!:

Thank you for checking out Follow-Up Friday! If there have been any posts or puzzle-centric stories featured here that you’d like us to follow up on, let us know! It could be the subject of next week’s Follow-Up Friday post!