History of Hex

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Early History

The game was invented by the Danish mathematician Piet Hein. The first article describing the game, which Piet Hein called "Polygon", appeared in the Danish newspaper Politiken on 26 December 1942 but the game was introduced to an association of math students at The University of Copenhagen called "The Parenthesis" during a lecture on conditions for good games.

In 1948 or 1949, the game was rediscovered by the mathematican John Nash, who was then a Ph.D. student at Princeton University. Nash's fellow players at first called the game "Nash". According to Martin Gardner, some of the Princeton students also referred to the game as "John", because it was often played on the hexagonal tiles of bathroom floors. However, according to Jack van Rijswijck, this story is unfortunately apocryphal (of unknown authorship or doubtful origin).

In 1952 Parker Brothers marketed a version of the game. They called their version "Hex" and the name stuck.

Amusingly, as early as 1953 there was an AI playing Hex. More on this in History of computer Hex.

Controversy about Nash's independence claim

There is some uncertainty about whether John Nash rediscovered Hex independently, as he himself claimed, or whether he was exposed to the game, perhaps unconsciously, by Danish students who are known to have played Hex at Princeton in early 1948.

The origin of Hex was extensively probed by Martin Gardner in preparation for his 1957 Scientific American column in which he introduced Hex to a large American and worldwide audience. Gardner corresponded with both Nash and Hein, as well as others who were directly involved in the early history of Hex, such as Nash's colleague David Gale. The details, including extensive excerpts from the correspondence between Gardner and Hein, are presented in Hayward and Toft's book "Hex, the full story". The following is a brief summary of the controversy.

What is undisputed is that Nash discovered, or became aware of, Hex at Princeton several years after Piet Hein, probably in late winter 1949 according to Gale, although on another occasion Gale stated that the date was winter 1948 (and he may have meant the 1948/49 school year). At that time, there had been a number of Danish students at Princeton who were playing Hex, including Aage Bohr, the son of Niels Bohr and a friend of Piet Hein, who later recalled "having shown the game to people in the U.S. including, he thought, John Nash" [Letter by Hein to Gardner]. Nash, in turns, acknowledged in conversation with Gardner that "someone, probably Bohr, had shown him a version of the game" [Letter by Martin Gardner to Hein]. Consequently, in his original column, Gardner credited only Hein as having invented Hex, and stated that Aage Bohr introduced the game at Princeton.

According to Gardner, Nash became upset at this, and clarified "that he had invented and analyzed the game before he had seen [Hein's] prior game" [Letter by Gardner to Hein], i.e., that he had talked to someone, possibly Bohr, about it only after having already independently invented the game. Nash demanded that Gardner issue a correction to his column, which Gardner decided was "the charitable thing to do", given Nash's reputation and the fact that the only alternative course of action would have been to accuse Nash of lying [Letter of Gardner to Hein]. Gardner privately confessed to Hein that he thought the most likely explanation was "a 'flash of a suggestion' which came to Mr. Nash from a Danish source, and which he later forgot about" [Letter of Gardner to Hein]. He also reassured Hein that "My article made perfectly clear that you were the inventor, and I am sure that readers who read the later note realize that Nash’s claim is something that cannot possibly be proved." [Letter of Gardner to Hein]

Recent History

The first book devoted to Hex and only Hex has been available since 2000. Hex Strategy Making the Right Connections, by Cameron Browne.

As of 2008, Poland dominates the game of Hex.

Here we could add something about the development of the different online communities.

Hex and Go

Hex has many similarities to the game Go. One similarity is that both have a wiki dedicated to them, and each wiki has a page pointing to the opposite wiki: Go and Sensei's library: Hex.

Sensei's library: other games considered unprogrammable lists other games similar to Go and Hex.

See also

History of computer Hex