Ever since English illustrator Martin Handford created the red-and-white-striped hat and sweater character that we are always happy to see, one question has puzzled the minds of many: "Where's Waldo?"
Finding him is not an easy feat, however. While finally finding him in a sea of people can be euphoric, looking at the pages of the books until you go cross-eyed can be a bit daunting too.
Well, for those out there who don't mind getting a bit of help, an algorithm can tell you where you should look to find him in the shortest time possible.
How does one hide Waldo?
Before we dive into the algorithm, it is always nice to know what goes behind in the papers. Handford, one cold The New York Times back in 1990 that it takes him around eight weeks to finish one scene, Bored Panda reports.
"I work in stages across the page, from left to right. I start out with a list of about 20 gags I want to put in a picture, but more come to me as I am working."
Hiding Waldo apparently comes naturally as he goes through characters. "As I work my way through a picture, I add Wally when I come to what I feel is a good place to hide him."
AI does it better
Amid a sea of detailed, countless characters, AI, as almost-always, can find him better than we do. This algorithm, written by data scientist Dr. Randal Olson by using data collected from all 68 of Handford's books, allows you to optimize your research and makes a huge difference.
Olson was quite determined to compute the optimal search strategy for finding Waldo and he knew what he had to do.
Finding the fastest route to Waldo
After locating Waldo's coordinates in the books, he performed a kernel density estimation of those locations and computed a strategy by approaching it as a traveling salesman problem, which is the challenge of finding the shortest yet most efficient route for a person to take given a list of specific destinations.
Having used an algorithm to study the data, he found a way to improve your speed of finding Waldo by optimizing the fastest route.
Here is the route someone's eye should take across the page to find him:
Here are his tips:
- The bottom of the left page is a good place to start. If Waldo isn’t on the bottom half of the left page, then he’s probably not on the left page at all.
- The upper quarter of the right page is the next best place to look. Waldo seems to prefer to hide in the upper quarter of the right page.
- Next, check the bottom right half of the right page. Waldo also has an aversion to the bottom left half of the right page. Don’t bother looking there until you’ve exhausted the other hot spots.
The joy of finding Waldo is in the journey
While this is all fun and interesting, what's really the point of finding Waldo immediately if you are not going to waste hours ogling at the pages? Olson concluded his blog post on a similar note:
"This was all done in good humor and - barring a situation where someone puts a gun to your head and forces you to find Waldo faster than their colleague - I don’t recommend actually using this strategy for casual Where’s Waldo? reading. As with so many things in life, the joy of finding Waldo is in the journey, not the destination."