How Long Will It Take To Blow Out The Birthday Candles?

A FiveThirtyEight Riddler puzzle.

January 13, 2017

Riddler Express

It’s your 30th birthday (congrats, by the way), and your friends bought you a cake with 30 candles on it. You make a wish and try to blow them out. Every time you blow, you blow out a random number of candles between one and the number that remain, including one and that other number. How many times do you blow before all the candles are extinguished, on average?


from random import randint

num_candles = 30
runs = 10000

total_num = 0
for _ in range(runs):
    candles = num_candles
    n = 0
        blown = randint(1, candles)
        candles -= blown
        n += 1
    total_num += n
print("Average number of blows: ", total_num/runs)

The average number of blows based on the simulation above is \(\approx 4\).

Riddler Classic

You and I stumble across a 100-sided die in our local game shop. We know we need to have this die — there is no question about it — but we’re not quite sure what to do with it. So we devise a simple game: We keep rolling our new purchase until one roll shows a number smaller than the one before. Suppose I give you a dollar every time you roll. How much money do you expect to win?


from random import randint

runs = 10000

def average_winnings(num_sides, runs = runs):
    total = 0
    for _ in range(runs):
        prev_roll = randint(1, num_sides)
        n = 1
            cur_roll = randint(1, num_sides)
            n += 1
            if cur_roll < prev_roll:
                prev_roll = cur_roll
        total += n
    return total/runs

print("Average winnings: ", average_winnings(100))

The average winnings is \(\approx 2.73\).

Extra Credit

Extra credit: What happens to the amount of money as the number of sides increases?


The average winnings doesn’t change with the number of sides.

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