Pandora's Problem with Combinatorial Cost

Ben Berger, Tomer Ezra, Michal Feldman, Federico Fusco

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Pandora's problem is a fundamental model in economics that studies optimal search strategies under costly inspection. In this paper we initiate the study of Pandora's problem with combinatorial costs, capturing many real-life scenarios where search cost is non-additive. Weitzman's celebrated algorithm [1979] establishes the remarkable result that, for additive costs, the optimal search strategy is non-adaptive and computationally feasible.We inquire to which extent this structural and computational simplicity extends beyond additive cost functions. Our main result is that the class of submodular cost functions admits an optimal strategy that follows a fixed, non-adaptive order, thus preserving the structural simplicity of additive cost functions. In contrast, for the more general class of subadditive (or even XOS) cost functions the optimal strategy may already need to determine the search order adaptively. On the computational side, obtaining any approximation to the optimal utility requires super polynomially many queries to the cost function, even for a strict subclass of submodular cost functions.The full version of the paper is available at

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEC 2023 - Proceedings of the 24th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery, Inc
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9798400701047
StatePublished - 9 Jul 2023
Event24th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, EC 2023 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jul 202312 Jul 2023

Publication series

NameEC 2023 - Proceedings of the 24th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation


Conference24th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, EC 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


FundersFunder number
NSF-BSF788893, 2020788
PNRRPE0000013-FAIR, IR0000013-SoBigData
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme866132
European Research Council
Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca


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