Ivars Peterson's MathTrek
November 24, 2003
On separate 10-by-10 grids of squares, each player deploys a fleet consisting of one battleship (four consecutive horizontal or vertical squares), two cruisers (three squares each), three destroyers (two squares each), and four submarines (one square each). The two players then take turns "shooting" at each other's hidden fleet by calling out the coordinates of a square in the grid. The opponent must say whether a shot has missed or hit, and if a hit, what it has hit. Play continues until a player succeeds in sinking the opposing fleet.
The same sort of idea can be applied to other combinations of grids and geometric objects to create various recreational puzzles.
Mogens Esrom Larsen of the University of Copenhagen has studied a Battleships variant in which the grid is an eight-by-eight checkerboard and the pieces are units called pentominoes.
Whereas a domino is simply two squares stuck together along one edge, a pentomino consists of five adjacent, or "simply connected," squares. There are 12 different pentominoes.
The goal of pentomino battleships is to locate the four unoccupied squares of an opponent's hidden grid. Each player, in turn, shoots a volley of four shots aimed at hitting the empty squares. The opponent states how many shots hit which pentomino.
How would you start?
How many more volleys do you think you would need to locate the four empty squares? Is there an optimal firing strategy?
The general answer to these questions depends on the arrangement of the pentominoes on the hidden grid. It's very likely that some arrangements would be easier to solve than others.
You could, for example, try to take advantage of the F pentomino's asymmetry. Placed in a three-by-three square (below), the F by itself gives four empty squares, and there are eight different ways to place those vacancies.
The strategy then would be to come up with an arrangement that not only incorporates this three-by-three configuration but also places it as far away as possible from a corner of the checkerboard, surrounded by the 11 other pentominoes. Even if an opponent hits the F, he or she would still need several subsequent shots to locate all four empty squares. Is there an arrangement of pentominoes that accommodates such a central or nearly central F square?
That's just one of the puzzles suggested by pentomino battleships. It's an interesting realm ripe for further exploration.
Copyright © 2003 by Ivars Peterson
Gardner, M. 1988. Polyominoes. In Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions: The First Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Games. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Larsen, M.E. 2002. Pentomino battleships. Gathering for Gardner 5 (G4G5). April 5-7. Atlanta.
You can play a traditional form of the game of Battleships at http://www.geocities.com/penpalsparadise/Games/battleships.html.
Comments are welcome. Please send messages to Ivars Peterson at email@example.com.
A collection of Ivars Peterson's early MathTrek articles, updated and illustrated, is now available as the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) book Mathematical Treks: From Surreal Numbers to Magic Circles. See http://www.maa.org/pubs/books/mtr.html.