A game, of which there are many different versions, that involves two players
alternately removing at least one item from one of two or more piles or
rows. The person who picks up the last item wins. In one form of the game,
five rows of matches are laid out in such a way that there is one match
in the first row, two matches in the second, and so on, down to five matches
in the bottom row. Players take turns to remove any non-zero number of matches
from any one row. The game may have originated in China. The name "Nim"
was coined Charles Bouton, an associate professor of mathematics at Harvard
at the turn of the 20th century, who took it from an archaic English word
meaning to steal or to take away. In 1901 he published a full analysis of
Nim and proof of a winning strategy.1
| Nimatron and friend
The first Nim-playing computer, the Nimatron, a one-ton behemoth, was built
in 1940 by the Westinghouse Electrical Corporation and was exhibited at
the New York Worlds Fair. It played 100,000 games against spectators and
attendants, and won an impressive 90% of the time; most of its loses came
at the hands of attendants who were instructed to reassure incredulous onlookers
that the machine could be beaten! In 1951 a Nim-playing robot, the Nimrod,
was shown at the Festival of Britain, and later at the Berlin trade fair.
It was so popular that spectators entirely ignored a bar at the other end
of the room where free drinks were being offered. Eventually the local police
had to be called in to control the crowds.
- Bouton, Charles L. "Nim, a Game with a Complete Mathematical Theory."
Annals of Mathematics, Series 2. 3: 35-39, (1901-1902).
- Gardner, M. Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1959.