Liar Games, Optimal Codes, and Deterministic Simulation of Random Walks

Combinatorics Seminar
Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 11:00
1 hour (actually 50 minutes)
Skiles 255
Department of Mathematics, University of South Carolina
We consider the Ulam "liar" and "pathological liar" games, natural and well-studied variants of "20 questions" in which the adversarial respondent is permitted to lie some fraction of the time. We give an improved upper bound for the optimal strategy (aka minimum-size covering code), coming within a triply iterated log factor of the so-called "sphere covering" lower bound. The approach is twofold: (1) use a greedy-type strategy until the game is nearly over, then (2) switch to applying the "liar machine" to the remaining Berlekamp position vector. The liar machine is a deterministic (countable) automaton which we show to be very close in behavior to a simple random walk, and this resemblance translates into a nearly optimal strategy for the pathological liar game.