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There are 25 horses with different speeds. My goal is to rank all of them, by using only runs with 5 horses, and taking partial rankings. How many runs do I need, at minumum, to complete my task?

As a partial answer, I know that is possible to determine the first 3 horses with 7 runs, and, by a slight generalization of the optimal algorithm used to find the first three, have the complete ranking in 20 runs.

Is it possible to do better?

What if we have n horses and want to rank them with runs with k horses?

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You'll need at the very least $\log(25!)/\log(5!)\gt12$ runs. – joriki Oct 9 '12 at 10:37
Use stopwatch and then 5 runs are enough.. – Berci Oct 9 '12 at 11:15
You seem to have a transitive tournament on 25 nodes, do not know the edge directions, and are sampling 5-vertex induced subgraphs until you find all the edge directions. It might be that a "dynamic" scheme (where we can adjust our decisions based on knowledge of earlier partial rankings) might be better than a "static" scheme; is this allowed? – Douglas S. Stones Oct 9 '12 at 13:17
I have an update. If we start with 5 runs with all the 25 horses, and at least 2 of the first 4 horses run together in one of the 5 initial runs, we can find the first 5 horses with 8 runs only. This leads to an adaptive algorithm that gives the complete ranking in about 18.5 runs (average), 20 runs (worst). – Jack D'Aurizio Oct 9 '12 at 16:24
Finding the top three horses was (will have been? it's a later question...) discussed at – Gerry Myerson Jan 24 '13 at 3:13

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