Digital Dice: Computational Solutions to Practical Probability Problems

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9780691126982: Digital Dice: Computational Solutions to Practical Probability Problems


Some probability problems are so difficult that they stump the smartest mathematicians. But even the hardest of these problems can often be solved with a computer and a Monte Carlo simulation, in which a random-number generator simulates a physical process, such as a million rolls of a pair of dice. This is what Digital Dice is all about: how to get numerical answers to difficult probability problems without having to solve complicated mathematical equations.


Popular-math writer Paul Nahin challenges readers to solve twenty-one difficult but fun problems, from determining the odds of coin-flipping games to figuring out the behavior of elevators. Problems build from relatively easy (deciding whether a dishwasher who breaks most of the dishes at a restaurant during a given week is clumsy or just the victim of randomness) to the very difficult (tackling branching processes of the kind that had to be solved by Manhattan Project mathematician Stanislaw Ulam). In his characteristic style, Nahin brings the problems to life with interesting and odd historical anecdotes. Readers learn, for example, not just how to determine the optimal stopping point in any selection process but that astronomer Johannes Kepler selected his second wife by interviewing eleven women.


The book shows readers how to write elementary computer codes using any common programming language, and provides solutions and line-by-line walk-throughs of a MATLAB code for each problem.


Digital Dice will appeal to anyone who enjoys popular math or computer science.


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From the Inside Flap:

"Paul Nahin's Digital Dice is a marvelous book, one that is even better than his Duelling Idiots. Nahin presents twenty-one great probability problems, from George Gamow's famous elevator paradox (as corrected by Donald Knuth) to a bewildering puzzle involving two rolls of toilet paper, and he solves them all with the aid of Monte Carlo simulations and brilliant, impeccable reasoning."--Martin Gardner

"Nahin's new book is a rich source of tantalizing, real-life probability puzzles that require considerable ingenuity, and in most cases computer simulation, to solve. Though written to be delved into rather than read cover-to-cover, Digital Dice has an engaging and often witty style that makes each chapter a pleasurable read."--Keith Devlin, author of The Math Gene and The Math Instinct

"Open this delightful, matchless book to be sucked into a treasure trove of wonderful conundrums of everyday life. Then, persuaded by straightforward Monte Carlo simulation exercises, emerge refreshed, invigorated, and fully satisfied by the unique experience of learning from Nahin's marvelous Digital Dice."--Joseph Mazur, author of The Motion Paradox

"One of the strengths of Digital Dice is its wealth of historical information. Nahin carefully notes the origin of each problem and traces its history. He also tells a number of amusing anecdotes. I found all the problems interesting, especially Parrondo's Paradox. Anyone who has not met this paradox will be amazed by it! Digital Dice is a very enjoyable read."--Nick Hobson, creator of the award-winning Web site Nick's Mathematical Puzzles

"By presenting problems for which complete theoretical analysis is difficult or currently impossible, Digital Dice is a reminder that mathematics is often advanced by investigation, long before theoretical tools are brought to bear. The book's choice of problems is eclectic and interesting, and the explanations are clear and easy to read. A welcome addition to popular mathematical literature."--Julian Havil, author of Nonplussed!: Mathematical Proof of Implausible Ideas

About the Author:

Paul J. Nahin is the author of many best-selling popular-math books, including "Chases and Escapes, Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula, When Least is Best, Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers", and "An Imaginary Tale" (all Princeton). He is professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

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Paul J. Nahin
Editorial: Princeton University Press (2008)
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Nahin, Paul J.
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