'Where's Waldo' used to be a simple pasttime for toddlers, a beacon of innocence and simplicity in a sea of iPads. But no more. Now it is just another problem to be disrupted along the path to endless efficiency.

Allegedly snowed in last weekend (a likely story), computer science researcher Randal S. Olson decided to devise the optimal strategy for finding Waldo, with the help of some machine learning:

I was going to pull out every machine learning trick in my tool box to compute the optimal search strategy for finding Waldo. I was going to crush Slate's supposed foolproof strategy and carve a trail of defeated Waldo-searchers in my wake.

Olson took a pre-existing map of where Waldo hides in the classic books, and used that to come up with a strategy for finding him. Using an iterative genetic algorithm — which tries something slightly different each time until it lands on a better solution — Olson landed on the following graph:

He also has a series of handy tips to share with any up-and-coming Waldo-hunters out there:

  1. 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.
  2. The upper quarter of the right page is the next best place to look. Waldo seems to prefer to hide on the upper quarter of the right page.
  3. 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.

Remember, kids: it's not the taking part that counts, it's all about soullessly crushing the opposition. [Randal Olson via The Guardian]