Historical note by originator John Bennett*
" Ferranti had undertaken to display a computer at the 1951 Festival of Britain, and late in 1950 it became evident that this promise could not be fulfilled. I suggested that a machine to play the game of NIM against all comers should be constructed with a versatile display to illustrate the algorithm and programming principles involved. The design was implemented by a Ferranti engineer, Raymond Stuart-Williams, who later joined RCA.

In its simplest form, two players with several piles of, say, matches play the game of Nim. The players move alternately, each removing one or more of the matches from any one pile. Whoever removes the last match wins.

The machine was a great success but not quite in the way intended, as I discovered during my time as spruiker on the Festival stand. Most of the public were quite happy to gawk at the flashing lights and be impressed. A few took an interest in the algorithm and even persisted to the point of beating the machine at the game. Only occasionally did we receive any evidence that our real message about the basics of programming had been understood."

* From p.55 of "Computing in Australia - The development of a profession" edited by J.M.Bennett, Rosemary Broomham, P.M.Murton, T.Pearcey, R.W.Rutledge (Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1994). The section is "Autobiographical Snippets" by John M. Bennett.

John Bennett is an Australian who went to Cambridge to do a PhD in Computer Science under Maurice Wilkes. He became involved in the design and construction of EDSAC and joined Ferranti as a logical design engineer in 1950.

In 1956 John Bennett returned to Australia to direct programming and teaching for the University of Sydney's first computer "SILLIAC". He retired as Professor of Computing in 1986.

Text courtesy of John Deane,
Australian Computer Museum Society.