November 07, 2009

What is the ELO rating of Frankenstein?

MosaicI love well-executed crossovers between genres, arts, species, whatever. Finding fruitful or bizarre analogies and synergies in disparate domains is so fun! Here is one of the most amusing crossovers I have seen so far: chess-playing novels.

The authors encode novels as sequences of 2-tuples of characters, and map these tuples onto squares in a spiral pattern based on their frequency. This way the most common tuple corresponds to a center square, with more rare tuples near the edges. The program searches through the text for the next tuple that corresponds to a square with a piece that the player can move, and then finds the next tuple corresponding to a valid move. This ways novels can play chess against each other.

In general the novels are not great players, but they are not random monkeys banging on the keyboard either. They claimed French novels to be tougher, individually and as a team:

In our last “world cup,” a five-novel French team (led by Alexandre Dumas) trounced the competition, defeating the second-place English team by a 20% margin (the UK was hurt by poor performance from Disraeli’s The Infernal Marriage of 1834), and leaving the also-ran Italians looking rather like novices.

As to why Constant’s thinly veiled exposé of the intricate erotic politics surrounding Madame de Staël should prove so formidable an adversary, that is a perfect mystery (though it should be noted that both Frankenstein, in the second edition of 1831, and Goethe’s epochal 1774 Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, playing black, successfully fight off forceful opening gambits and record victories against this opponent).

They end with a truly fascinating idea, something for superintelligent Oulipians to try their hand at:

In closing, it is perhaps worth addressing the possibility of composing novels specifically calibrated to win chess tournaments convened by our application. The prospect of a “grand-master,” a kind of all-purpose novel-killing novel, while alluring, strikes us as beyond reach—indeed as probably a formal impossibility. But a novel written to defeat some other specific novel would appear to be an attainable objective, though a little thought suggests this would be by no means a trivial undertaking.
Posted by Anders3 at November 7, 2009 03:48 PM