"With 48 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 1.24 x 1061 possible routes to find the shortest one," Olson writes on the project page. "To provide some context: If you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you'd find the optimal route in about 3.98 x 1049 years -- long after the Sun has entered its red giant phase and devoured the Earth."
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That seemed a tad long, so Olson unleashed his genetic algorithms. Based on concepts of biological evolution, genetic algorithms use a kind of natural selection process to get results. In this case, they delivered optimal driving directions for hitting 48 state capitols in about a week.
"Instead of exhaustively looking at every possible solution, genetic algorithms start with a handful of random solutions and continually tinker with these solutions -- always trying something slightly different from the current solutions and keeping the best ones -- until they can't find a better solution any more," Olson writes.
So there you have it: Better road-tripping through technology. The state capitol trip is designed so that you can start anywhere along the route, follow the loop, and end up back home secure in the knowledge that you were as efficient as possible. As an added bonus, Olson even threw in a quick jaunt to Washington, D.C., without adding any extra miles.
Have fun! Take pictures!