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A handy guide for adults who are really into ‘Where’s Waldo?’

Data tinkerer Randy Olson spent the weekend developing the only guide you’ll ever need to finding the bespectacled main character of the “Where’s Waldo?” books. First, Olson reproduced a plot with all 68 of Waldo’s coordinates in the seven primary editions of the “Where’s Waldo?” books, then performed a kernel density estimation of those points. The results showed that Waldo almost never appears in the top left corner and is rarely located on the edges or the very bottom of the right page.

Olson then used this data to devise a strategy for scanning the page. He approached the task as a “traveling salesman problem,” a common computer science problem that finds the shortest possible route through a given list of geographic destinations. Because 68 points can be arranged in ~2.48 x 10^96 ways – more possible arrangements than the number of atoms in the universe – he simplified the process by using a genetic algorithm. The gif above shows how the algorithm tinkers with the solution until it can’t find a better solution anymore. The viewer should look first at the blue segment, then at the orange, green and finally the red.

Here’s to finding Waldo.

Ana Swanson | February 4, 2015 at 10:51 am
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