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*Pokémon Go* is an augmented reality game where people with

smartphones walk around and catch Pokémon. As in the classic games, players are

Pokémon “trainers” who have to travel around and collect creatures. Some types

are rarer than others, some have regional habitats or biomes, and so players

explore the game world to find and collect them. Pokémon Go

“augments reality” having these Pokémon spawn in the game world as players

travel around the real world. I like the game; I’ve reached level 30.

On February 16, 2017, a second “generation” of Pokémon were released into the

wild, adding dozens of new species to the game. The rarest among this new

generation is **Unown**. As part of a cruel scheme to torture

completionists, the incredibly rare Unown comes in 26 varieties—one for each

letter of the alphabet. Which brings us to the statistical question behind this

blog post: **How long will it take to encounter all 26 types of Unowns (taking
into account repeats)?** Somewhat more formally, how many random encounters

(i.e., draws while sampling with replacement) will it take until we have

encountered all 26 Unowns?

This general problem is called the **coupon collector’s problem**—hat tip

to r/TheSilphRoad. The Wikipedia

article for the problem includes a table which says that the expected number

of encounters for *n* = 26 is = 101. (The analytic solution is actually

100.2, but we round up because there are no fractional encounters.) So problem

solved?

Well, not quite. Suppose we had never heard of the coupon collector’s problem.

Also, suppose that we want to get a sense of the uncertainty around the

expected value. For example, how many encounters will it take for the

unfortunate trainers in the 95th percentile? How might we tackle this problem?

When analytic solutions are difficult or tedious, we can write simulations and

get very good approximations. That’s what we’re going to do in R.

We will write a function to simulate a single exhaustive set of Unown

encounters. The main workhorse is `sample(..., replace = TRUE)`

to sample with

replacement. Using R’s built-in `LETTERS`

constant, we can simulate a batch of

Unown encounters.

```
sample(LETTERS, size = 1, replace = TRUE)
#> [1] "F"
sample(LETTERS, size = 5, replace = TRUE)
#> [1] "H" "U" "C" "G" "D"
sample(LETTERS, size = 10, replace = TRUE)
#> [1] "T" "K" "K" "D" "Z" "O" "Y" "K" "Q" "Q"
```

The question now is how many samples does it take to get the 26 different

Unowns. An absolute, and frankly miraculous, lower bound on this number would be

26, so let’s draw 26 samples.

```
set.seed(252) # For reproducble blogging
n_unique <- function(xs) length(unique(xs))
# Unowns in the batch
first_batch <- sample(LETTERS, size = 26, replace = TRUE)
first_batch
#> [1] "X" "S" "I" "T" "R" "J" "L" "N" "F" "I" "P" "Q" "K" "D" "Q" "Q" "K"
#> [18] "O" "S" "C" "F" "C" "P" "X" "V" "L"
# Number of unique ones
n_unique(first_batch)
#> [1] 16
# Number of remaining Unowns we have not encountered yet
leftover <- 26 - n_unique(first_batch)
leftover
#> [1] 10
```

We encountered 16 unique Unowns from the first batch of

samples. The best-case lower bound for the number of the encounters remaining is

now 10, so let’s take 10 more samples.

```
second_batch <- sample(LETTERS, size = leftover, replace = TRUE)
second_batch
#> [1] "Y" "X" "S" "F" "P" "Z" "F" "F" "Y" "G"
# Combine the batches
both_batches <- c(first_batch, second_batch)
n_unique(both_batches)
#> [1] 19
leftover <- 26 - n_unique(both_batches)
leftover
#> [1] 7
```

We found 3 new Unowns in this

batch, and we have encountered 19 unique ones so far

from 36 total samples. That means the lower bound is now

7.

```
third_batch <- sample(LETTERS, size = leftover, replace = TRUE)
third_batch
#> [1] "U" "A" "G" "P" "K" "L" "E"
all_batches <- c(both_batches, third_batch)
n_unique(all_batches)
#> [1] 22
leftover <- 26 - n_unique(all_batches)
leftover
#> [1] 4
```

We found 3 new Unowns in this—

Actually, this is getting tedious. We all know where this process is going: Take

a sample, see how many you have left to find, take another sample of that size,

etc. until you have 0 left to find. Pretty simple? Great! Now, I don’t have to

explain how the `while`

loop inside the function works.

```
simulate_unown <- function() {
# Use a sequence of numbers instead of LETTERS
n_unowns <- 26
unown_set <- seq_len(n_unowns)
n_unique <- 0
encountered <- character(0)
# Take 26 samples on first iteration, 26 - n_unique on next iteration, etc.
while (n_unowns - n_unique > 0) {
batch <- sample(unown_set, size = n_unowns - n_unique, replace = TRUE)
encountered <- c(encountered, batch)
n_unique <- length(unique(encountered))
}
length(encountered)
}
```

Each call of the function simulates a process of encountering all 26 Unowns,

returning how many encounters were required to find them all.

```
simulate_unown()
#> [1] 111
simulate_unown()
#> [1] 81
simulate_unown()
#> [1] 116
```

We use `replicate()`

to call this function thousands of times.

```
simulation <- replicate(10000, simulate_unown())
```

We can get summary statistics and other quantiles for these simulations.

```
summary(simulation)
#> Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
#> 41.0 78.0 95.0 100.3 116.0 373.0
quantile(simulation, probs = c(.05, .10, .25, .50, .75, .90, .95))
#> 5% 10% 25% 50% 75% 90% 95%
#> 61 67 78 95 116 141 161
```

The mean in our simulations 100.3 is very close to

the analytic solution of 100.2. The median 95 is less than

the mean, which is a bit of good news: More than half of players will hit 26

in less than the expected 100 encounters. The bad news is that there is a long

tail to these simulations, as the RNG gods have cursed one player by requiring

373 encounters.

We can visualize the distribution with a histogram.

```
library(ggplot2)
p1 <- ggplot(data.frame(x = simulation)) +
aes(x = x) +
geom_histogram(binwidth = 5, color = "white", center = 102.5) +
labs(x = "Num. Unowns encountered until 26 unique Unowns encountered",
y = "Num. samples in 10,000 simulations") +
theme(axis.title.x = element_text(hjust = .995),
axis.title.y = element_text(hjust = .995)) +
ggtitle("A long-tail of unfortunate RNG for Unown completionists")
p1
```

I haven’t seen any of these Pokémon in the month since they were added to the

game. Assuming I see an Unown every month, I can expect to see them all in 100

encounters over the course of 8.3 years. As I said, a cruel

joke for completionists.

## What? SIMULATE_UNOWN is evolving!

One nice thing about using simulations to compute statistics is that we can

easily modify the simulation function to answer related questions. For example:

- The above simulation assumed that we can catch the Unowns 100% of the time.

What if we fail on 5% of the encounters? - Two more Unowns were added to the series in the third Pokémon generation.

What is the expected number of encounters for 28 Unowns? - Suppose we already have 20 Unowns. How many more encounters are required to

collect the remaining 6?

We can add some parameters to our function to address these questions. To

simulate catching, we sample a `TRUE`

or `FALSE`

value for each Unown sampled. The

`prob`

argument for `sample()`

lets us assign probabilities to elements in the

sample, so we can use `c(p_catch, 1 - p_catch)`

as probabilities for sampling

`TRUE`

or `FALSE`

—that is, catching a Pokémon.

To handle already-captured Unowns, we add this information to the initial

values for `encountered`

and `n_unique`

to give those values a head start

before the encounter/catch loop. Afterwards, we have to adjust our encounter

count by that head start.

```
# Defaults to 26 unowns, 0 already caught, and 100% success rate
simulate_unown_catches <- function(n_unowns = 26, n_already = 0, p_catch = 1) {
unown_set <- seq_len(n_unowns)
catch_probs <- c(p_catch, 1 - p_catch)
# Take into account any previously caught ones
n_unique <- n_already
already_encountered <- seq_len(n_already)
already_caught <- already_encountered
encountered <- already_encountered
caught <- already_caught
# Encounter/catch loop
while (n_unowns - n_unique > 0) {
batch <- sample(unown_set, size = n_unowns - n_unique, replace = TRUE)
# Simulate catching success for each Unown
catches <- sample(c(TRUE, FALSE), size = n_unowns - n_unique,
replace = TRUE, prob = catch_probs)
caught_in_batch <- batch[catches]
encountered <- c(encountered, batch)
caught <- c(caught, caught_in_batch)
n_unique <- length(unique(caught))
}
length(encountered) - length(already_encountered)
}
```

With the default settings, the function should reproduce the original behavior

and give us similar results.

```
simulation2 <- replicate(10000, simulate_unown_catches())
summary(simulation2)
#> Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
#> 38.0 78.0 94.0 100.2 115.0 369.0
```

We should expect the average number of required encounters to catch all 26

Unowns to increase by 1.05 if there’s a 95% catch rate. Our simulations confirm

this intuition.

```
simulation_95_rate <- replicate(
n = 10000,
expr = simulate_unown_catches(n_unowns = 26, p_catch = .95))
summary(simulation_95_rate)
#> Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
#> 41.0 82.0 100.0 106.2 124.0 338.0
```

We can also simulate the case for 28 Unowns with a 100% encounter rate, and see

that the average number of required encounters increases by approximately 10.

```
simulation_28_unowns <- replicate(
n = 10000,
expr = simulate_unown_catches(n_unowns = 28, p_catch = 1))
summary(simulation_28_unowns)
#> Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
#> 44.0 85.0 104.0 109.9 127.0 322.0
```

Finally, we can simulate the home stretch of Unown completion where we

have 20 Unowns with 6 more to go.

```
simulation_last_6 <- replicate(
n = 10000,
expr = simulate_unown_catches(n_unowns = 26, n_already = 20, p_catch = 1))
summary(simulation_last_6)
#> Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
#> 8.00 42.00 57.00 63.39 79.00 282.00
```

This result is interesting: It says that we will spend the majority of our time

working on the last 6 Unowns.

## Simulate ‘em all

A natural next step is to run many simulations over a range of parameter

values. Here, we can study the home-stretch behavior by running a simulation

for each value of `n_already`

from 0 to 25.

We will create a function to simulate 2000 home-stretch samples of required

encounters for a given number of starting Unowns. This function will return a

dataframe with one row per simulation sample. We use `Map()`

to apply this

function for each value of `n_already`

from 0 to 25.

```
library(dplyr, warn.conflicts = FALSE)
simulate_2k <- function(n_already) {
n_sims <- 2000
sim_results <- replicate(
n = n_sims,
expr = simulate_unown_catches(n_unowns = 26, n_already, p_catch = 1))
# Package everything together in a dataframe
data_frame(
n_already = rep(n_already, times = n_sims),
simulation = seq_len(n_sims),
n_encounters = sim_results)
}
results <- Map(simulate_2k, n_already = 0:25)
df_results <- bind_rows(results)
df_results
#> # A tibble: 52,000 × 3
#> n_already simulation n_encounters
#>
```
#> 1 0 1 157
#> 2 0 2 125
#> 3 0 3 129
#> 4 0 4 107
#> 5 0 5 69
#> 6 0 6 65
#> 7 0 7 70
#> 8 0 8 147
#> 9 0 9 69
#> 10 0 10 77
#> # ... with 51,990 more rows

We can now plot the expected number of encounters for each starting value.

Variance from random simulation keeps the points from following a neat curve,

so let’s just appreciate the main trends in the results.

```
ggplot(df_results) +
aes(x = n_already, y = n_encounters) +
stat_summary(fun.y = mean, geom = "point") +
labs(x = "Num. Unown types already encountered",
y = "Expected num. encounters to find all 26") +
theme(axis.title.x = element_text(hjust = .995),
axis.title.y = element_text(hjust = .995)) +
ggtitle("The painful home stretch of Unown completion")
```

Because the analytic solution for finding 26 Unowns starting from 0 is 100, we

can also read the *y*-axis as a percentage. In other words, 60% of the work

(number of encounters out of 100) will be spent on the last 5 Unowns.

## Simulation as a way to learn statistics

An underlying theme for this post is best summarized by a line from a talk

called Statistics for Hackers:

“If you can write

forloops, you can do

statistics.” — Statistics for Hackers

Simulation provides a way for “hackers” to leverage one skill (programming) to

learn another domain (statistics). I myself find that I have trouble learning

statistics from equations alone. I need code to play with a problem and develop

intuitions about it.

All of these points about the nice features of simulation must be painfully

obvious to professional statisticians. But strangely, I only used simulations

once or twice in my statistics courses, so it wasn’t part of my statistical tool

kit. Indeed, I had the usefulness of simulation impressed upon me last year by

Gelman and Hill’s textbook. The book advises the

reader to not worry about analytically computing statistics for tricky

calculations—for example, trying to estimate a 95% prediction interval for the

income difference between two groups when the underlying statistical model used

log-dollars. Just have the model generate thousands for predictions, run the

transformation, and find the interval on the transformed data. The book also

uses simulation as a sneaky backdoor into informal Bayesian statistics: Measure

uncertainty by simulating new data from perturbed model parameters. This idea

made enough sense to me to lure me into the chapters on formal Bayesian

inference and learn that statistical framework.

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