March 4, 2011
The children’s game Chutes and Ladders, pictured at right, is a chase game in which one or more players, moving alternately, move their tokens along the numbered spaces of a board according to the roll of a die; the tokens are initially off-the-board at what is effectively space zero. Tokens that land on the bottom end of a ladder are promoted to the space at the top end of the ladder, and tokens that land on the top end of a chute are demoted to the space at the bottom end of the chute. Space 100 must be reached by exact roll of the die; if the roll of the die would take the token past space 100, the token remains where it is and play passes to the next player. The winner of the game is the first token to reach space 100.
There are several interesting questions that can be asked about the game. First, what is the minimum number of rolls required to reach space 100. Second, for a single player, what is the average number of rolls required to reach space 100. And third, for k players, what is the average number of rolls until one of the players reaches space 100 and wins the game. S. C. Althoen, L. King and K. Schilling studied these and other questions in their paper “How Long Is a Game of Snakes and Ladders?” The Mathematical Gazette, Volume 77, Number 478, March 1993, pages 71-76.
Your task is to write programs that will answer those questions. When you are finished, you are welcome to read or run a suggested solution, or to post your own solution or discuss the exercise in the comments below.