Tag Archives: spirals

Girls’ Angle, Spiral Tilings, and Coins

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

GirlsAngleCoverGirls’ Angle is a math club for girls. Since 2007 it has helped girls to grow their love of math through classes, events, mentorship, and a vibrant mathematical community. Girls’ Angle is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but its ideas and resources reach around the world through the amazing power of the internet. (And don’t you worry, gentlemen—there’s plenty for you to enjoy on the site as well.)

Amazingly, the site contains an archive of every issue of Girls’ Angle Bulletin, a wonderful bimonthly journal to “foster and nurture girls’ interest in mathematics.” In their most recent issue, you’ll find an interview with mathematician Karen E. Smith, along with several articles and puzzles about balance points of shapes.

There’s so much to dig into at Girls’ Angle! In addition to the Bulletins, there are two pages of mathematical videos. The first page shares a host of videos of women in mathematics sharing a piece of math that excited them when they were young. The most recent one is by Bridget Tenner, who shares about Pick’s Theorem. The second page includes several videos produced by Girls’ Angle, including this one called “Summer Vacation”.

Girls’ Angle can even help you buy a math book that you’d like, if you can’t afford it. For so many reasons, I hope you’ll find some time to explore the Girls’ Angle site over your summer break. (And while you’ve got your explorer’s hat on, maybe you’ll tour around Math Munch, too!)

I did a Google search recently for “regular tilings.” I needed a few quick pictures of the usual triangle, square, and hexagon tilings for a presentation I was making. As I scrolled along, this image jumped out at me:


What is that?! It certainly is a tiling, and all the tiles are the “same”—even if they are different sizes. Neat!

Clicking on the image, I found myself transported to a page all about spiral tilings at the Geometry Junkyard. The site is a whole heap of geometrical odds and ends—and a place that I’ve stumbled across many times over the years. Here are a few places to get started. I’m sure you’ll enjoy poking around the site to find some favorite “junk” of your own.



Circles and spheres

Circles & spheres



Last up this week, you may have seen this coin puzzle before. Can you make the triangle point downwards by moving just three pennies?triangleflip

There are lots of variants of this puzzle. You can find some in an online puzzle game called Coins. In the game you have to make arrangements of coins, but the twist is that you can only move a coin to a spot where would it touch at least two other coins. I’m enjoying playing Coins—give it a try!

I solved this Coins puzzle in four moves. Can you? Can you do better?

I solved this Coins puzzle in four moves. Can you? Can you do better?

That’s it for this week’s Math Munch. Bon appetit!


A Periodic Table, Linkages, and Dance Squared

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.14.36 PM

I like finding new ways of organizing information. That’s part of why I enjoy this Periodic Table of Mathematicians.

The letters in the table are the abbreviations of the chemical elements—like gold, helium, and iron—that are found on the usual periodic table. With a little creativity, they can also be abbreviations for the names of a bunch of celebrated mathematicians. Clicking on a square brings up the mathematician’s biography. I like guessing who might pop up!

The table was created by Erich Friedman, a mathematician who works at Stetson University in Florida. We’ve previously shared Erich’s holiday puzzles (here) and weight puzzles (here) and monthly research contest (here), but there’s even more to explore on his site. I’m partial to his Packing Center, which shows the best ways that have been found to pack shapes inside of other shapes. You might also enjoy his extensive listing of What’s Special About This Number?—a project in the same spirit as Tanya Khovanova’s Number Gossip.

A dense packing of 26 squares within a square that Erich discovered.

A dense packing of 26 squares within a square that Erich discovered.


I wonder what a multiplicative persistence is?

ttree_q150x150autoNext up, another Erik—Erik Demaine, whose work we’ve also often featured. What does he have for us this time? Some fantastic uncurling linkages, that’s what!

In 2000, Erik worked with Robert Connelly and Günter Rote to show that any wound-up 2D shape made of hinged sticks can be unwound without breaking, crossing, or lifting out of the plane. In the end, the shape must be convex, so that it doesn’t have any dents in it. For a while Erik and his colleagues thought that some linkages might be “locked” and unwinding some of the examples they created took months. You can find some great animations shared on the webpage that describes their result that locked linkages don’t in fact exist.

One thing that amazes me about Erik’s mathematical work is how young the problems are that he works on and solves. You might think a problem that can be put in terms of such simple ideas would have been around for a while, but in fact this problem of unwinding linkages was first posed only in the 1970s! It just goes to show that there are new simple math problems just waiting to be invented all the time.

Finally, I was so glad to run across this short film called Dance Squared. It was made by René Jodoin, a Canadian director and producer. Check out how much René expresses with just a simple square!

There’s a wonderful celebration of René titled When I Grow Up I Want To Be René Jodoin—written back in 2000 when René was “only” 80 years old. Now here’s 92! Making math is for people of all ages. You might also enjoy watching René’s Notes on a Triangle.

Bon appetit!

Reflection Sheet – A Periodic Table, Linkages, and Dance Squared

Partial Cubes, Open Cubes, and Spidrons

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Recently the videos that Paul and I made about the Yoshimoto Cube got shared around a bit on the web. That got me to thinking again about splitting cubes apart, because the Yoshimoto Cube is made up of two pieces that are each half of a cube.

A part of Wall Drawing #601 by Sol LeWitt

A part of Wall Drawing #601
by Sol LeWitt

A friend of mine once shared with me some drawings of cubes by the artist Sol LeWitt. The cubes were drawn as solid objects, but parts of them were cut away and removed. It was fun trying to figure out what fraction of a cube remained.

On the web, I found a beautiful image that Sol made called Wall Drawing #601. In the clipping of it to the left, I see 7/8 of a cube and 3/4 of a cube. Do you? You can view the whole of this piece by Sol on the website of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation.

The Cube Vinco by Vaclav Obsivac.

The Cube Vinco by Vaclav Obsivac.

There are other kinds of objects that break a cube into pieces in this way, like this tricky puzzle by Vaclav Obsivac and this “shaved” Rubik’s cube modification. Maybe you’ll design a cube dissection of your own!

As I further researched Sol LeWitt’s art, I found that he had investigated partial cubes in other ways, too. My favorite of Sol’s tinkerings is the sculpture installation called “Variations of Incomplete Cubes“. You can check out this piece of artwork on the SFMOMA site, as well as in the video below.

In the video, a diagram appears that Sol made of all of the incomplete open cubes. He carefully listed out and arranged these pictures to make sure that he had found them all—a very mathematical task. It reminds me of the list of rectangle subdivisions I wrote about in this post.


Sol’s diagram got me to thinking and making: what other shapes might have interesting “incomplete open” variations? I started working on tetrahedra. I think I might try to find and make them all. How about you?

Two open tetrahedra I made. Can you find some more?

Two open tetrahedra I made. Can you find some more?

Finally, as I browsed Google Images for “half cube”, one image in particular jumped out at me.


What are those?!?!

Dániel's original spidron from 1979

Dániel’s original spidron from 1979

These lovely rose-shaped objects are called spidrons—or more precisely, they appear to be half-cubes built out of fold-up spidrons. What are spidrons? I had never heard of them, but there’s one pictured to the right and they have their own Wikipedia article.

The first person who modeled a spidron was Dániel Erdély, a Hungarian designer and artist. Dániel started to work with spidrons as a part of a homework assignment from Ernő Rubik—that’s right, the man who invented the Rubik’s cube.

A cube with spidron faces.

A cube with spidron faces.

Two halves of an icosahedron.

Two halves of an icosahedron.

A hornflake.

A hornflake.

Here are two how-to videos that can help you to make a 3D spidron—the first step to making lovely shapes like those pictured above. The first video shows how to get set up with a template, and the second is brought to you by Dániel himself! Watching these folded spidrons spiral and spring is amazing. There’s more to see and read about spidrons in this Science News article and on Dániel’s website.

And how about a sphidron? Or a hornflake—perhaps a cousin to the flowsnake? So many cool shapes!

To my delight, I found that Dániel has created a video called Yoshimoto Spidronised—bringing my cube splitting adventure back around full circle. You’ll find it below. Bon appetit!

Reflection Sheet – Partial Cubes, Open Cubes, and Spidrons

MoMA, Pop-Up Books, and A Game of Numbers

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in our Math Munch “share campaign” over the past two weeks. Over 200 shares were reported and we know that even more sharing happened “under the radar”. Thanks for being our partners in sharing great math experiences and curating the mathematical internet.

Of course, we know that the sharing will continue, even without a “campaign”. Thanks for that, too.

All right, time to share some math. On to the post!

N_JoshiTo kick things off, you might like to check out our brand-new Q&A with Nalini Joshi. A choice quote from Nalini:

In contrast, doing math was entirely different. After trying it for a while, I realized that I could take my time, try alternative beginnings, do one step after another, and get to glimpse all kinds of possibilities along the way.

By Philippe Decrauzat.

By Philippe Decrauzat.

I hope the math munches I share with you this week will help you to “glimpse all kinds of possibilities,” too!

Recently I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. (Warning: don’t confuse MoMA with MoMath!) On display was an exhibit called Abstract Generation. You can view the pieces of art in the exhibit online.

As I browsed the galley, the sculptures by Tauba Auerbach particularly caught my eye. Here are two of the sculptures she had on display at MoMA:

CRI_244599 CRI_244605

Just looking at them, these sculptures are definitely cool. However, they become even cooler when you realize that they are pop-up sculptures! Can you see how the platforms that the sculptures sit on are actually the covers of a book? Neat!

Here’s a video that showcases all of Tauba’s pop-ups in their unfolding glory. Why do you think this series of sculptures is called [2,3]?

This idea of pop-up book math intrigued me, so I started searching around for some more examples. Below you’ll find a video that shows off some incredible geometric pop-ups in action. To see how you can make a pop-up sculpture of your own, check out this how-to video. Both of these videos were created by paper engineer Peter Dahmen.

Taura Auerbach.

Tauba Auerbach.

Tauba got me thinking about math and pop-up books, but there’s even more to see and enjoy on her website! Tauba’s art gives me new ways to connect with and reimagine familiar structures. Remember our post about the six dimensions of color? Tauba created a book that’s a color space atlas! The way that Tauba plays with words in these pieces reminds me both of the word art of Scott Kim and the word puzzles of Douglas Hofstadter. Some of Tauba’s ink-on-paper designs remind me of the work of Chloé Worthington. And Tauba’s piece Componants, Numbers gives me some new insight into Brandon Todd Wilson’s numbers project.

0108 MM MM-Tauba-Auerbach-large

This piece by Tauba is a Math Munch fave!

For me, both math and art are all about playing with patterns, images, structures, and ideas. Maybe that’s why math and art make such a great combo—because they “play” well together!

Speaking of playing, I’d like to wrap up this week’s post by sharing a game about numbers I ran across recently. It’s called . . . A Game of Numbers! I really like how it combines the structure of arithmetic operations with the strategy of an escape game. A Game of Numbers was designed by a software developer named Joseph Michels for a “rapid” game competition called Ludum Dare. Here’s a Q&A Joseph did about the game.

A Game of Numbers.

A Game of Numbers.

If you enjoy A Game of Numbers, maybe you’ll leave Joseph a comment on his post about the game’s release or drop him an email. And if you enjoy A Game of Numbers, then you’d probably enjoy checking out some of the other games on our games page.

Bon appetit!

PS Tauba also created a musical instrument called an auerglass that requires two people to play. Whooooooa!

Reflection Sheet – MoMA, Pop-Up Books, and A Game of Numbers

Dots-and-Boxes, Choppy Waves, and Psi Day

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

And happy Psi Day! But more on that later.


Click to play Dots-and-Boxes!

Recently I got to thinking about the game Dots-and-Boxes. You may already know how to play; when I was growing up, I can only remember tic-tac-toe and hangman as being more common paper and pencil games. If you know how to play, maybe you’d like to try a quick game against a computer opponent? Or maybe you could play a low-tech round with a friend? If you don’t know how to play or need a refresher, here’s a quick video lesson:

In 1946, a first grader in Ohio learned these very same rules. His name was Elwyn Berlekamp, and he went on to become a mathematician and an expert about Dots-and-Boxes. He’s now retired from being a professor at UC Berkeley, but he continues to be very active in mathematical endeavors, as I learned this week when I interviewed him.

Elwyn Berlekamp

Elwyn Berlekamp

In his book The Dots and Boxes Game: Sophisticated Child’s Play, Elwyn shares: “Ever since [I learned Dots-and-Boxes], I have enjoyed recurrent spurts of fascination with this game. During several of these burst of interest, my playing proficiency broke through to a new and higher plateau. This phenomenon seems to be common among humans trying to master any of a wide variety of skills. In Dots-and-Boxes, however, each advance can be associated with a new mathematical insight!”

Elwyn's booklet about Dots-and-Boxes

Elwyn’s booklet about

In his career, Elywen has studied many mathematical games, as well as ideas in coding. He has worked in finance and has been involved in mathematical outreach and community building, including involvement with Gathering for Gardner (previously).

Elywn generously took the time to answer some questions about Dots-and-Boxes and about his career as a mathematician. Thanks, Elywn! Again, you should totally check out our Q&A session. I especially enjoyed hearing about Elwyn’s mathematical heros and his closing recommendations to young people.

As I poked around the web for Dots-and-Boxes resources, I enjoyed listening to the commentary of Phil Carmody (aka “FatPhil”) on this high-level game of Dots-and-Boxes. It was a part of a tournament held on a great games website called Little Golem where mathematical game enthusiasts from around the world can challenge each other in tournaments.

What's the best move?A Sam Loyd Dots-and-Boxes Puzzle

What’s the best move?
A Dots-and-Boxes puzzle by Sam Loyd.

And before I move on, here are two Dots-and-Boxes puzzles for you to try out. The first asks you to use the fewest lines to saturate or “max out” a Dots-and-Boxes board without making any boxes. The second is by the famous puzzler Sam Loyd (previously). Can you help find the winning move in The Boxer’s Puzzle?

Next up, check out these fantastic “waves” traced out by “circling” these shapes:

Click the picture to see the animation!

Lucas Vieira—who goes by LucasVB—is 27 years old and is from Brazil. He makes some amazing mathematical illustrations, many of them to illustrate articles on Wikipedia. He’s been sharing them on his Tumblr for just over a month. I’ll let his images and animations speak for themselves—here are a few to get you started!

A colored-by-arc-length Archimedean spiral.

A colored-by-arc-length Archimedean spiral.


A sphere-like degenerate torus.

A Koch cube.

A Koch cube.

There’s a great write-up about Lucas over at The Daily Dot, which includes this choice quote from him: “I think this sort of animated illustration should be mandatory in every math class. Hopefully, they will be some day.” I couldn’t agree more. Also, Lucas mentioned to me that one of his big influences in making mathematical imagery has always been Paul Nylander. More on Paul in a future post!

Psi is the 23rd letter in the Greek alphabet.

Psi is the 23rd letter in the Greek alphabet.

Finally, today—March 11—is Psi Day! Psi is an irrational number that begins 3.35988… And since March is the 3rd month and today is .35988… of the way through it–11 out of 31 days—it’s the perfect day to celebrate this wonderful number!

What’s psi you ask? It’s the Reciprocal Fibonacci Constant. If you take the reciprocals of the Fibonnaci numbers and add them add up—all infinity of them—psi is what you get.


Psi was proven irrational not too long ago—in 1989! The ancient irrational number phi—the golden ratio—is about 1.61, so maybe Phi Day should be January 6. Or perhaps the 8th of May—8/5—for our European readers. And e Day—after Euler’s number—is of course celebrated on February 7.

That seems like a pretty good list at the moment, but maybe you can think of other irrational constants that would be fun to have a “Day” for!

And finally, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d love to see a psi or Fibonacci-themed “Gangham Style” video. Get it?

Bon appetit!


EDIT (3/14/13): Today is Pi Day! I sure wish I had thought of that when I was making my list of irrational number Days…

Music Box, FatFonts, and the Yoshimoto Cube

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

The Whitney Music Box

Jim Bumgardner

Solar Beat

With the transit of Venus just behind us and the summer solstice just ahead, I’ve got the planets and orbits on my mind. I can’t believe I haven’t yet shared with you all the Whitney Music Box. It’s the brainchild of Jim Bumgardner, a man of many talents and a “senior nerd” at Disney Interactive Labs. His music box is one of my favorite things ever–so simple, yet so mesmerizing.

It’s actually a bunch of different music boxes–variations on a theme. Colored dots orbit in circles, each with a different frequency, and play a tone when they come back to their starting points. In Variation 0, for instance, within the time it takes for the largest dot to orbit the center once, the smallest dot orbits 48 times. There are so many patterns to see–and hear! There are 21 variations in all. Go nuts! In this one, only prime dots are shown. What do you notice?

You can find a more astronomical version of this idea at SolarBeat.

Above you’ll find a list of the numerals from 1 to 9. Or is it 0 to 9?

Where’s the 0 you ask? Well, the idea behind FatFonts is that the visual weight of a number is proportional to its numerical size. That would mean that 0 should be completely white!

FatFonts can also be nested. The first number below is 64. Can you figure out the second?

This is 64 in FatFonts.

What number is this?
Click to zoom!

FatFonts was developed by the team of Miguel NacentaUta Hinrichs, and Sheelagh Carpendale. You can see some uses that FatFonts has been put to on their Gallery page, and even download FatFonts to use in your word processor. Move over, Times New Roman!

This past week, Paul pointed me to this cool video by George Hart about interlocking complementary polyhedra that together form a cube. It reminded me of something I saw for the first time a few years ago that just blew me away. You have to see the Yoshimoto Cube to believe it:

In addition to its more obvious charms, something that delights me about the Yoshimoto Cube is how it was found so recently–only in 1971, by Naoki Yoshimoto.  (That other famous cube was invented in 1974 by Ernő Rubik.) How can it be that simple shapes can be so inexhaustible? If you’re feeling inspired, Make Magazine did a short post on the Yoshimoto Cube a couple of years that includes a template for making a Yoshimoto Cube out of paper. Edit: These template and instructions aren’t great. See below for better ones!

Since it’s always helpful to share your goals to help you stick to them, I’ll say that this week I’m going to make a Yoshimoto Cube of my own. Begone, back burner! Later in the week I’ll post some pictures below. If you decide to make one, share it in the comments or email us at


We’d love to hear from you.

Bon appetit!


Here are the two stellated rhombic dodecahedra that make the Yoshimoto Cube that Paul and I made! Templates, instructions, and video to follow!

Here are two different templates for the Yoshimoto cubelet. You’ll need eight cubelets to make one star.

And here’s how you tape them together:

Slides and Twists, Life in Life, and Star Art

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

I ran across the most wonderful compendium of slidey and twisty puzzles this past week when sharing the famous 15-puzzle with one of my classes.  It’s called Jaap’s Puzzle Page and it’s run by a software engineer from the Netherlands named Jaap Scherphuis. Jaap has been running his Puzzle Page since 1999.

Jaap Scherphuis
and some of his many puzzles

Jaap first encountered hands-on mathematical puzzles when he was given a Rubik’s Cube as a present when he was 8 or 9. He now owns over 700 different puzzles!

Jaap’s catalogue of slidey and twisty puzzles is immense and diverse. Each puzzle is accompanied by a picture, a description, a mathematical analysis, and–SPOILER ALERT–an algorithm that you can use to solve it!

On top of this, all of the puzzles in Jaap’s list with asterisks (*) next to them have playable Java applets on their pages–for instance, you can play Rotascope or Diamond 8-Ball. Something that’s especially neat about Jaap’s applets is that you can sometimes customize their size/difficulty. If you find the 15-puzzle daunting, you can start with the 8-puzzle or even the 3-puzzle instead. The applets also have a built in solver. I really enjoy watching the solver crank through solving a puzzle–it’s so relentless, and sometimes you can see patterns emerge.

Over ten solves, I found that the autosolve for the 15-puzzle averaged 7.1 seconds. How long do you think on average the 63-puzzle would take to solve?

You can read more about Jaap in this interview on speedcubing.com or on his about page.


The 15-puzzle


Diamond 8-ball

Next, I recently read about an amazing feat: Brice Due created a copy of Conway’s Game of Life inside of a Game of Life! This video shows you what it’s all about. It starts zoomed in on some activity, following the rules of Life. The it zooms out to show that this activity conspires to make a large unit cell that is “turned on.” This large cell was dubbed a “OTCA metapixel” by its creator, where OTCA stands for Outer Totalistic Cellular Automata.

Finally, the video zooms out even more to show that this cell and others around it interact according to the rules of Life! The activity at the meta-level that is shown at the end exactly corresponds to the activity on the micro-level that we began with.  Check it out!

This metapixel idea has been around since 2006, but the video was created just recently by Philip Bradbury. It was made using Golly, a cellular automata explorer that is one of my favorite mathematical tools.

Last up, some star art! (STart? STARt? st-art?)  It turns out that the Math Munch team members all converged toward doing some StArT this semester as a part of our mathematical art (MArTH) seminar. Here is some of our work, for your viewing pleasure. Bon appetit!

by Anna Weltman

by Anna Weltman

Stars of the Mind’s Sky
by Paul Salomon

Star Ring 24
by Paul Salomon

300 Stars in Orbit
by Paul Salomon

by Justin Lanier