I've talked before about non-transitive dice. We say that given a pair of dice X and Y, X beats Y if more than half the time when the pair is rolled X has a larger number face up than Y. It turns out one can construct dice A, B and C such that A beats B, B beats C, but C in fact beats A. This is a neat and weird property.

During a recent discussion I used non-transitive dice as an example of a counter-intuitive aspect of mathematics, I was pointed to an even weirder variant. Consider the following set of dice: A has sides (5,5,5,2,2,2), B has sides (4,4,4,4,4,1) and C has sides (6,3,3,3,3,3).

Here A beats B, B beats C and C beats A. But here's the really cool part: Let's say I roll two copies of A, two copies of B or two copies of C. Now things actually reverse! That is, a pair of Bs beats a pair of As and a pair of As beats a pair of Cs and a pair of Cs beats a pair of Bs.

This is a much more sensitive property than just non-transitive dice. Most sets of non-transitive dice will not have this property. We can also describe this sensitivity in a more rigorous fashion. Suppose we have a strictly increasing function f(x). That is, a function such that f(x) is greater than f(y) whenever x is greater than y. Now suppose we take a set of non-transitive dice and relable each value x with f(x). Then they will still be non-transitive. But, given a set of non-transitive, reversable dice, reversibility is not necessarily preserved by the f mapping. This reflects the much more sensitive nature of the reversible dice.

Here's a question I have so far been unable to answer: Is it possible to make a set of die which do an additional reversal? That is, is there a set of dices such rolling three copies the dice results in another reversal direction?

Trolley problem, again

12 hours ago