The fastest way to find Waldo, courtesy of an algorithm


People have been trying to find Waldo since 1987, and like any time-consuming endeavor, some of them have gone looking for a better, more efficient method. Slate writer Ben Blatt once claimed to have a foolproof strategy for picking out the elusive children's book character, but Computer Science doctoral student Randy Olson recently decided he could do better. After creating a kernel density estimate from the data of Waldo's hiding spots in the first seven books, he used a genetic algorithm to calculate the optimal search path for readers to take through a two-page Waldo crowd scene.

His suggested route is above, and he offered several other general tips for Waldo-seekers: The character never appears in the top left or the bottom of the right page, and rarely on the edges. After hearing about Olson's feat, the U.S. publishers of the Waldo books sent him the entire series so he could test his strategy. The results were positive: "I zoomed through most every illustration the first book spending <10 seconds on each illustration," wrote Olson, although he warned against taking his Waldo-finding method too seriously. "As with so many things in life, the joy of finding Waldo is in the journey, not the destination."