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Winning the War by (Strategically) Losing Battles: Settling the Complexity of Grundy-Values in Undirected Geography

by   Kyle Burke, et al.

We settle two long-standing complexity-theoretical questions-open since 1981 and 1993-in combinatorial game theory (CGT). We prove that the Grundy value (a.k.a. nim-value, or nimber) of Undirected Geography is PSPACE-complete to compute. This exhibits a stark contrast with a result from 1993 that Undirected Geography is polynomial-time solvable. By distilling to a simple reduction, our proof further establishes a dichotomy theorem, providing a "phase transition to intractability" in Grundy-value computation, sharply characterized by a maximum degree of four: The Grundy value of Undirected Geography over any degree-three graph is polynomial-time computable, but over degree-four graphs-even when planar and bipartite-is PSPACE-hard. Additionally, we show, for the first time, how to construct Undirected Geography instances with Grundy value ∗ n and size polynomial in n. We strengthen a result from 1981 showing that sums of tractable partisan games are PSPACE-complete in two fundamental ways. First, since Undirected Geography is an impartial ruleset, we extend the hardness of sums to impartial games, a strict subset of partisan. Second, the 1981 construction is not built from a natural ruleset, instead using a long sum of tailored short-depth game positions. We use the sum of two Undirected Geography positions to create our hard instances. Our result also has computational implications to Sprague-Grundy Theory (1930s) which shows that the Grundy value of the disjunctive sum of any two impartial games can be computed-in polynomial time-from their Grundy values. In contrast, we prove that assuming PSPACE ≠ P, there is no general polynomial-time method to summarize two polynomial-time solvable impartial games to efficiently solve their disjunctive sum.


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