Capturing the Drunk Robber on a Graph

  • Natasha Komarov
  • Peter Winkler
Keywords: Graph theory, Random walks, Pursuit games on graphs


We show that the expected time for a smart "cop"' to catch a drunk "robber" on an $n$-vertex graph is at most $n + {\rm o}(n)$. More precisely, let $G$ be a simple, connected, undirected graph with distinguished points $u$ and $v$ among its $n$ vertices. A cop begins at $u$ and a robber at $v$; they move alternately from vertex to adjacent vertex. The robber moves randomly, according to a simple random walk on $G$; the cop sees all and moves as she wishes, with the object of "capturing" the robber—that is, occupying the same vertex—in least expected time. We show that the cop succeeds in expected time no more than $n {+} {\rm o}(n)$. Since there are graphs in which capture time is at least $n {-} o(n)$, this is roughly best possible. We note also that no function of the diameter can be a bound on capture time.

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