Advanced Mathematics With Legos In A Washing Machine

Science with colorful bricks


Every generation, a scientific paper comes along that rocks the very foundations of research, upturns our sense of the world, leaves us collapsed, in awe at everything that we, for all of our work, still fail to comprehend about the universe. “Random Structures from Lego Bricks and Analog Monte Carlo Procedures” is not that paper. It is about throwing Legos in a washing machine. And it is wonderful.

Ingo Althöfer of Friedrich-Schiller University in Germany is the author of the minor masterpiece. From the introduction to the paper, allow Dr. Althöfer to explain:

Yes! Good. But why do this? To see how many Lego(TM) bricks end up stuck together after they’ve all been spun, naturally. In other words–in the paper’s words–to see what “complexes arise” when you tumble those bricks. The project “is a primitive analog Monte Carlo agent.” Here is a solid primer if you’re interested in the specifics, but basically, Monte Carlo procedures are ways of using algorithms to map everything that might happen in a complex event, then determine from that which events are _most likely _to happen. Spin enough bricks and you could chart the probability of which bricks get stuck together. Oh, also, it is good for this stuff:

Lego Roulette

In the paper, Althöfer describes games/research that you, too, can play/research. Instructions for Lego washing roulette: Make your own brick combinations. Then dump a bunch of individual Legos in the machine and see if you guessed what would appear. Most complex guess wins. (Althöfer reports no success with this method.) Or, build something with multiple bricks stuck together, toss it in the machine, and if it doesn’t collapse during the spin, you win. Or, best of all, play your very own game of Lego eugenics!

Stop when playing Lego God has become tiresome.

Following these instructions are hopes for the future, including:

Because are we not all the same, really, despite geographic boundaries? If we stare at a full-size Lego X-Wing, are we not struck by rapture? If we step on a Lego, do our feet not bleed?

Please, view the entire paper here.