An exploration by Professor Dan Myers (Notre Dame) of the shortest possible game of Monopoly® inspired this post. Below are the absolute shortest possible versions of popular games—board game or sport, actual or theoretical.
Baseball—28 pitches. At the start, I’d hoped the shortest possible baseball game would be “super-perfect,” a perfect game in which a pitcher throws 81 pitches, all strikes. To keep it as short as possible, every batter on the pitcher’s team would fly out or get tagged out on the first pitch, except for the final batter, who’d need a first-pitch homer. Assuming we are talking about the visiting team, they would face 27 pitches, making it a 108-pitch game. (How very Lost.) But if one team can make it through in just 27…
The shortest possible 9-inning game, sez Book of Odds research lead Jon, sees all batters on both teams fly/tagged out on the first pitch, except the last batter, who drills an immediate homer. The visiting team, who bats in the top of each inning, faces a total of 27 pitches. For the home team, it’s 25—two fewer since, in the bottom of the ninth, the first batter can end the game. It’s a weird game: the home pitcher pitches the worst-thrown perfect game of all time, his fielders receive medals or something for doing all the work, and the visiting team suffers the most heartbreaking near-perfect game imaginable.
But it turns out that still isn’t the shortest complete game. It can be shaved down even further by an act of God: a rainout in the 5th.
According to official MLB rules, a game is considered complete if, at minimum, the first half of the 5th inning has been completed (by the visiting team), and the home team is ahead. The final rundown: the visiting team faces 15 pitches, all first-pitch outs. The home team faces 13 pitches, 12 first-pitch outs and one first-pitch homer, for a game total of 28 pitches.
For the record, the shortest 9-inning game in MLB history, by pitches thrown, was the Boston Braves’ 2-0 shutout against the Cincinnati Reds, August 10, 1944. In all, Braves pitcher Red Barrett threw 58 pitches, without a single strikeout or walk. The quickest 9-inning game in MLB history was New York vs. Philadelphia, game 1 of a doubleheader, September 28, 1919: in all, it lasted 51 minutes.
Chess—2 moves. The recipe for the shortest possible victory in the game of kings calls for one player to be thickheaded, or a kamikaze. It’s the fool’s mate: 2 moves long, 4 pieces moved altogether. Since White has to be either a novice or trying to lose, and Black must be alert enough to catch it, it’s a pretty rare outcome.
Golf—18 strokes (32 for mortals). The shortest theoretical game of golf would be 18 strokes, all holes-in-one. The problem, sez Book of Odds staffer Greg, is that unless you’re this guy, there’s no way you’re hitting a hole-in-one on a par-4 or higher. Let’s say you drive 300 yards, max. If a typical championship golf course has around four par-3’s (~175 yds), 10 par-4’s (~350 yds), and four par-5’s (~525 yds), the shortest game you’d be physically capable of is 32 strokes, with 4 holes-in-one, 10 eagles, and 4 double eagles (or “albatrosses”).
Trivial Pursuit—13 rolls of the die. There are a million variants of Trivial Pursuit®, but they all have the same layout—a circle of 42 spaces connected to the center, or “hub,” by six 5-space spokes—with more or less the same rules. Since TP involves one die only, the shortest possible complete game is 13 rolls: 1 roll (a 6) to reach the first pie-piece space, 10 more rolls to reach the other five consecutively (to sum to 7 and take advantage of the “Roll Again” spaces, all of these must be combinations of 2 and 5), then 1 more roll (a 6) to reach the center. Should this fortunate/loathsome trivia god answer the seventh question correctly, the game is over…almost.
Assuming the minimum two players, there’s still one roll to go. The official rules state that, in the unlikely event that a player accomplishes this feat, “any player who has not yet had a turn is permitted a chance to duplicate the feat and create a tie.” In our scenario, player two rolls something, anything, and bombs.
And where would we be without a little monomaniacal calculation: the odds of the necessary 13 rolls occurring end-to-end—(1/6)*((2/36)^5)*(1/6)*(6/6)—are 1 in 68,024,448.
Tennis—2 or 3 golden sets. A “golden set” is one in which a player doesn’t drop a single point. The shortest possible tennis game would consist of two (or in some cases, three) immaculate golden sets by a player—“immaculate” in that one player deals out nothing but aces and return winners and has no faults. That is: 24 aces + 24 return winners (6 breaks of serve) in a best-of-3 match, or 36 aces + 36 return winners (9 breaks of serve) in a best-of-5 match. In the first, there are a total of only 72 racket strokes. In the second, 108 (Lost doesn’t just go away because it’s over).
To give you some idea of how difficult a task that would prove to be—only one golden set has ever occurred in professional tennis: Bill Scanlon’s second set against Marcos Hocevar on February 22, 1983. He won 6-2, 6-0.
Rubik’s Cube—25 turns or less. Theoretically, your standard Rubik’s Cube® (the 3x3x3 variety) can be solved from any scrambled position in 25 turns or less—here’s the math at arXiv, should you care to blow a fuse. In practice, it is possible, though extremely difficult, to figure out such a short solution. It can be done: the official record for a fewest-moves solve is 22 turns, by Jimmy Coll in 2009. He figured it out in an hour.
Darts—3 throws, 9 darts. Darts is played to 501 points, or, more accurately, begins at 501 and is played down to exactly zero. A player can do it in 3 throws, 3 darts a throw. There are quite a few ways to score exactly 501 with 9 darts. A common one is 180 (three triple-20’s), 180 (three triple-20’s), and 141 (two triple-20’s and a triple-7). It’s supposed to be difficult even for championship darts players.
And of course, Monopoly—7 rolls. Myers points out on NPR that since posting his 9-roll Monopoly game, many commenters have written in with slightly shorter versions. The shortest I’ve found so far is this 7-roll game by Krusta80, slightly modified below. Including roll-variations (like 6,3 instead of 5,4), the odds of these seven rolls and three card-drawings are 1 in 9,403,699,692,520. Reminder: rolling doubles means a player goes again, and three doubles in a row sends them directly to Jail:
Player 1 rolls a…
5,5: Just Visiting
6,6: Chance—”Advance to Nearest Utility” (Buy “Water Works.” $1,150 left.)
[Note: even if P1 does not buy the Water Works and P2 does, at auction for a dollar, its $75 mortgage value would not be enough to cover the $101 gap.]
5,4: Park Place (Buy it. $1,000 left.)
3,1: Income Tax, Pay $200 ($1,300 left.)
1,1: Boardwalk (Buy it. $600 left.)
2,1: Community Chest—”Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200 + $200 for passing GO ($1,000 left.)
Before turn is over, purchase 3 houses on Boardwalk, 2 houses on Park Place ($0 left, but not bankrupt due to property values.)
2,1: Chance—”Advanced to Boardwalk” (Rent owed: $1,400.)
Think you know a shorter way? Comment on any of these games below.