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An introduction to tractable and intractable algorithms

A game-like introduction to algorithms, heuristics, and their complexity

Michel Wermelinger

Created by Michel Wermelinger
last edited May 23 2017 by Michel Wermelinger



The Jewels of Heuro is a free online activity that takes a gaming task (collecting jewels in a temple) to introduce the following concepts:

  • algorithms and heuristics
  • the travelling salesperson and the shortest path problems, and their theoretical and practical importance
  • brute-force and greedy algorithms
  • complexity of algorithms (quadratic, exponential)
  • Dijkstra’s algorithm for shortest path (just the gist)

The activity shows that two seemingly similar problems (shortest route and shortest path) are actually very different: one can only be tackled with heuristics, the other can be efficiently solved.

Duration: 30min

Level: Beginner - it doesn’t assume previous knowledge of algorithms, not does it involve any programming.

This is one of many Open University free educational resources aimed at the general adult public and I wrote it as such. Due to the subject matter, I believe this activity might be useful for AS/A-level Computing. In fact, it has been used by a publisher as part of a A-level worksheet on algorithms. Any feedback is most welcome.

This resource is copyright by The Open University. Modifying it or writing commercial teaching materials around it requires permission.

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