Math student creates, presents Monopoly model

In January, Mitchell Eithun ’17, a mathematics major from New London, Wisconsin, presented his Monte Carlo simulation of Monopoly at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. About 6,000 mathematicians were present.

In “Modeling Monopoly with Monte Carlo Simulations,” Eithun discussed how, while the board game Monopoly often is criticized for its lack of strategy and extremely long playing time, he was able to explore the effects of different Monopoly strategies on the outcome and length of the game. In particular, he looked at the most landed-on properties, different “house rules” and different property buying strategies.

The project started out as Eithun’s final project for Assistant Professor Andrea Young’s Math 246 course. At the time, his knowledge of coding was limited, and his simulation was made in a very slow program. After the semester, he approached Young, wanting to continue working on his simulation.

Young and Eithun worked together to improve his Monte Carlo, which Young says uses a random number generator to simulate many games of Monopoly at once. He presented his early results at the spring meeting of the Wisconsin Mathematics Association of America in April 2014.

Over last summer, Eithun and Young, now joined by Assistant Professor and Department Chair McKenzie Lamb, rewrote the Monte Carlo in a much faster program known as Python. Now, Eithun’s program can play about 1,000 games of Monopoly in 4 seconds.

“It’s interesting to be able work with professors who have different perspectives,” Eithun says. “They each have their own background and knowledge that helps me think about ideas in different ways.”

Eithun and Young now are working with Braxton Schafer ’15 of North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to write a paper about the Monte Carlo. The paper will be submitted by the end of the semester.

About another student collaboration, Young says she applied for a grant for undergraduate research from the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics and now has several students researching with her: Erin Frassetto ’17 of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Lincoln Wurtz ’17 of Ripon, Wisconsin; Michael Gableman ’16 of Greendale, Wisconsin; and Tyler Shimek ’16 of Greendale, Wisconsin. They are helping her research discrete differential geometry. As part of her grant, the five presented their findings at the joint meeting of Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics and the Mathematical Association of America at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City.

“The best thing about working with undergraduates is getting to see the skills that they develop,” Young says. “It’s wonderful to see them present their results and see the value of a liberal arts and sciences education in their speaking skills. Their talks are always phenomenal.”

Eithun says collaborating with his professors was a helpful experience for him. “I feel much more confident with my programming abilities now,” he says. “I used to write ‘spaghetti code’ (sloppy, unorganized code), but now I have a good handle on how to use Python. I also recognize how difficult it can be to work on an large-scale project. Unlike a class project, ‘real research’ does not have right answers and requires constant creativity.”

Marshall Sohr ’18
Oshkosh, Wisconsin