Since 1986, the illustrations drawn by Martin Handford have been challenging readers of all ages with the question, Where's Wally? (Known as Waldo in the United States and Canada.)

Now a computer algorithm has plotted a path through the visual chaos, providing the fastest way to locate the iconic young man.

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The algorithm was written by Randal Olson, doctoral student at Michigan State University. Olson writes on his blog that he was snowed in this past weekend and after coming across an old Slate article that claimed that it had a foolproof strategy for finding Waldo, Olson figured he could better it.

Thanks to a chart in the Slate article, Olson was able to plot Wally's locations from all 68 of Handford's books.

Next, Olson ran a kernel density estimation, which is a statistical method for estimating the probability density of a seemingly random occurrence. The kernel density looked like this.

Randal S. Olson

Now he was getting somewhere. Next, he used that information to find an optimal search path across all illustrations that would put the reader in close proximity to all of Waldo's previously known locations.

Olson studies biologically inspired artificial intelligence and evolutionary processes, and so it should come as no surprise that he settled on a type of program called a genetic algorithm to find the optimal search path.

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In Olson's words, “As you can see, genetic algorithms continually tinker with the solution — always trying something slightly different from the current best solution and keeping the better one — until they can't find a better solution any more."

The search path that came up is here.

Since the path is not perfect, Olson offers three tips for your next Waldo/Wally search.

  • Start at the bottom left.
  • Move to the upper quarter of the right page.
  • Scan down to the bottom right half of the right page.

Let us know how you do.

via ScienceAlert

Credit: Randal S. Olson, William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland, Where's Wally World Record / Wikimedia Commons and “Martin Handford Wally & Friends"/ Wikimedia Commons