Pick a Stick Puzzle

Stick Game Puzzle

Pick a stick puzzle has two players who are playing a game where they have several sticks lying in a bunch on a table. On their turn, a player has to pick at most 4 sticks. The player who takes the last stick off the table wins. Suppose the game starts with 17 sticks on the table devise a strategy such that the player who starts first wins.

pick a stick puzzle

Solution for Pick a Stick Puzzle:

Let the player who starts the game be player 1, and the other player be player 2. 

The goal of player 1 should be to reduce the pile to 5 sticks for his opponent in the second last move. Such that player 2 when making his final move (second last of the game) will have 5 sticks on the board. Now player 2 cannot pick all 5 the maximum he can pick is 4. Therefore, whatever number of sticks he picks between 1-4, there will be at least 1 stick on the table. Which player 1 will pick and win.

Now a strategy that player 1 should follow to make this plan successful. He can start by picking 2 sticks, reducing the number of sticks to 15. Depending on the second move (player 2’s first move), the following are the possible ways the game will go:-

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Case 1: Player 2 picks 4 sticks in his first move

Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 11

Player 1:- picks 1

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 6

Player 1:-picks 1

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 11

Player 1:-picks 1

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 7

Player 1:-picks 2

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 11

Player 1:- picks 1

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 8

Player 1:- picks 3

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 11

Player 1:- picks 1

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 9

Player 1:-picks 4

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins

Case 2: Player 2 picks 3 sticks in his first move

Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 12

Player 1:- picks 2

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 6

Player 1:-picks 1

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 12

Player 1:-picks 2

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 7

Player 1:-picks 2

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 12

Player 1:- picks 2

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 8

Player 1:- picks 3

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 12

Player 1:- picks 2

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 9

Player 1:-picks 4

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins

Case 3: Player 2 picks 2 sticks in his first move

Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 13

Player 1:- picks 3

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 6

Player 1:-picks 1

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 13

Player 1:-picks 3

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 7

Player 1:-picks 2

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 13

Player 1:- picks 3

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 8

Player 1:- picks 3

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 13

Player 1:- picks 3

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 9

Player 1:-picks 4

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins

Case 4: Player 2 picks 1 stick in his first move

Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 14

Player 1:- picks 4

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 4

Sticks left 6

Player 1:-picks 1

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 14

Player 1:-picks 4

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 3

Sticks left 7

Player 1:-picks 2

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 14

Player 1:- picks 4

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 2

Sticks left 8

Player 1:- picks 3

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins
Player 1:- picks 2

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 14

Player 1:- picks 4

Stick left 10

Player 2:- picks 1

Sticks left 9

Player 1:-picks 4

Sticks left 5

Player 1 wins

Therefore from the above solutions, we can see that if player 1 picks 2 sticks he will win the game irrespective of where player 2 moves afterward.

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