In early seasons during the Time Hunt stage they played a game of 20 sticks - a participant played with Maître de jeu and has always been the one to make a first move.

I found out they played a variation of Nim game, which has a pretty simple mathematical solution! Which means that first mover could guarantee a win using a special tactics no matter what the opponent does:

You have to take 3 sticks to leave 17. Then leave 13, 9 and 5. The opponent will have to take 1-3 sticks, which leaves 2-4 to you and you'll take 1-3 to leave the opponent with 1 remaining stick to take. If you're the one to make a first move, the opponent cannot push you into this "17,13,9,5" death row! And your job is simple - to keep him there.

My question is - how the hell did participants manage to lose this game occasionally during multiple seasons?!

Added: Simpler and more straightforward guide:

  1. You start with 20 sticks and it's your move.
  2. Take 3 sticks (17 left).
  3. Your opponent takes N sticks, where N equals 1, 2 or 3.
  4. Take 4 - N sticks: if your opponent took 3, you take 1. If 2, take 2. If 1, take 3.
  5. Repeat steps 3, 4 until you win.

Also, "solution" of the game gives different benefits. Checkers had also been solved, but the solution does not allow you to win in 100% cases, only guarantees a draw.

  • that's the game plan? I dunno. anyway, could you please simplify and edit your question to be a one with better understanding? that'd be helpful on getting a good answer. Welcome to Movies and TV SE!
    – Vishwa
    Oct 19, 2018 at 3:38
  • 1
    Seems like the question is either "why would the game show use a game that has a known solution?" and/or "how could people lose a game that has a known solution?" Answer is that just because the solution is known doesn't mean its known to everyone. That's the nature of a puzzle.
    – sanpaco
    Oct 19, 2018 at 4:00
  • Yes, players don't have to know. But shouldn't masters of the game do? Season 1 Ep. 5, 1997, Game Master has 7 sticks and he takes 3, literally giving away the victory to the participant! Even if you're a novice, you could deduce in seconds that handing 4 sticks over to your opponent is almost a 100% failure. Something's clearly not right here and I became curious about the backstage.
    – ogurets
    Oct 19, 2018 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


When I watched that I also realised that the starting player had a winning strategy, and yet I could see that in most cases the contestant lost (even though the "master" (the translation of what I think they were called in danish) didn't play optimally for his first few moves (if the first player doesn't perform the optimal move, the second player gets a winning strategy).

So obviously most the contestants didn't realise that it was simple to win that game, maybe because the conditions didn't invite to spending 20 seconds to think the game through.

So it basically comes down to it being a simple and quick game, that nobody would claim was unfairly weighted against the contestants - that means it is good for television.

And at least for some seasons (I don't think I watched them all) the contestants were "celebrities" raising money for a good cause, the production company might actually have wanted them to win as much as they could for that and selected games (and challenges in the earlier stage(s)) based on that.

  • I've also had similar thoughts: that sometimes (or even often) Game Masters intentionally lost the duel. Observations like that could lead to interesting discoveries about the inner mechanisms of the show, which are thoroughly kept secret.
    – ogurets
    Oct 19, 2018 at 20:47

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