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Solving this chess puzzle could net you a $1 mn prize

Computer programmers who can find a solution to a “simple” chess puzzle stand a chance to win a $1 mn prize, but providing a solution to the problem could be so hard that it could take them thousands of years, say researchers.

Any computer programme capable of solving the famous “Queens Puzzle” efficiently, would be so powerful, it would be capable of solving tasks currently considered impossible, such as decrypting the toughest security on the internet, the team of researchers from University of St Andrews in Britain.

In a paper published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, the team said the rewards to be reaped by such a programme would be immense, not least in financial terms with firms rushing to use it to offer technological solutions, and also a $1m prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in the US.

“If you could write a computer programme that could solve the problem really fast, you could adapt it to solve many of the most important problems that affect us all daily,” said Professor Ian Gent.

“This includes trivial challenges like working out the largest group of your Facebook friends who don’t know each other, or very important ones like cracking the codes that keep all our online transactions safe,” Gent added.

Devised in 1850, the Queens Puzzle originally challenged a player to place eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no two queens could attack each other.

This means putting one queen in each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal.

Although the problem has been solved by human beings, once the chess board increases to a large size no computer program can solve it.

The team found that once the chess board reached 1000 squares by 1000, computer progams could no longer cope with the vast number of options and sunk into a potentially eternal struggle.

The reason these problems are so difficult for computer programmes, is that there are so many options to consider that it can take many years.

“In practice, nobody has ever come close to writing a programme that can solve the problem quickly. So what our research has shown is that – for all practical purposes – it can’t be done,” Peter Nightingale said.

“There is a $1,000,000 prize for anyone who can prove whether or not the Queens Puzzle can be solved quickly so the rewards are high,” Christopher Jefferson said.

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