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Where's Waldo: Computing the Optimal Search Strategy

(Hiding in the Dark t-shirt on sale at the NeatoShop)

Randy Olson is a postdoctoral fellow in informatics at the University of Pennsylvania. Waldo can't hide from him because Olson uses his advanced mathematical knowledge to predict where Waldo will be

Waldo may think that he's being random, but he's not. Olson compiled and sorted the data about Waldo's past behavior to predict his most likely hiding spots. He reached a few conclusions:

  • Waldo almost never appears in the top left corner. That’s because there was always some postcard from Waldo in the top left corner describing the setting and some interesting facts about it.
  • Waldo is rarely located on the edges. Slate’s Ben Blatt hypothesized that this was done on purpose because the edges are “locations that might be construed as too obvious” and are “where children and adults alike might begin their search.”
  • Waldo is never located on the very bottom of the right page. I was unsure about the reason for this at first, but Chris Metzger offered a probable explanation: Whenever you flip to the next page in a book, the bottom of the right page is the first thing you see. Thus, the bottom of the right page would be one of the worst places to hide Waldo because that’s the most-viewed part of the book.

Olson then calculated the ideal search path:

Now go get him!

-via Jonah Goldberg

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The best game of "Where's Waldo" I ever played was in a hotel during Dragon*Con ten years ago. About six floors up and looking down into the huge lobby full of both attendees and cosplayers --including one-to-three Waldos.
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