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Collecting Coupons with Random Initial Stake

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Motivated by a problem in the theory of randomized search heuristics, we give a very precise analysis for the coupon collector problem where the collector starts with a random set of coupons (chosen uniformly from all sets). We show that the expected number of rounds until we have a coupon of each type is $nH_{n/2} - 1/2 \pm o(1)$, where $H_{n/2}$ denotes the $(n/2)$th harmonic number when $n$ is even, and $H_{n/2}:= (1/2) H_{\lfloor n/2 \rfloor} + (1/2) H_{\lceil n/2 \rceil}$ when $n$ is odd. Consequently, the coupon collector with random initial stake is by half a round faster than the one starting with exactly $n/2$ coupons (apart from additive $o(1)$ terms). This result implies that classic simple heuristic called \emph{randomized local search} needs an expected number of $nH_{n/2} - 1/2 \pm o(1)$ iterations to find the optimum of any monotonic function defined on bit-strings of length $n$.


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