Article révisé par les pairs
|Consider N towers each made up of a number of counters. At each step a tower is chosen at random, a counter removed which is then added to another tower also chosen at random. The probability distribution for the time needed to empty one of the towers is obtained in the case N = 3. Arguments are set forward as to why no simple formulae can be expected for N > 3. An asymptotic expression for the mean time before one of the towers becomes empty is derived in the case of four towers when they all initially contain a comparably large number of counters. We then study related problems, in particular the ruin problem for three players. Here we use simple martingale methodology as well as a solution proposed by T. S. Ferguson for a slightly modified problem. Throughout the paper it is our main objective to shed light on the reasons why the case N > 3 is so substantially different from the case N ≤ 3.