How to beat your family at board games with quantum tricks

Quantum pseudotelepathy is just one of the party tricks that can take the bored out of board games this Christmas, as Philip Ball explains


14 December 2022

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Spencer Wilson

THERE was a time when I could be certain of beating my kids at games. Whether it was chess, cards or my personal favourite, Exploding Kittens, I could sit down confident in my superior abilities. Sadly, those days are gone. My children are teenagers now, and the occasions when I manage to outwit them are dismayingly rare. But this holiday season, I have cooked up a plan to get my own back.

My kids have the advantage of nimble-minded youth. But I am the only one in the family familiar with quantum physics: a famously strange world where, as this year’s Nobel prizewinners in physics showed, objects can seem to be in instant communication over any distance via a phenomenon called entanglement. I have now discovered a handful of games where my knowledge of quantum theory is going to give me the upper hand. They may be a little more exotic than snakes and ladders. They may even require a quantum computer to play properly. But did I mention that I really, really want to beat my kids?

My first discovery is a puzzle set by mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1779. He imagined a group of 36 army officers, each assigned to one of six ranks and six differently coloured regiments. Could these officers be arranged in a 6×6 grid so that no regiment or rank is repeated in any row or column?

I will watch my family struggle, before smugly announcing that it is impossible. In the 1960s, mathematicians showed that, while there are solutions …

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