Gödel, Other Crazy Paradoxes, and Math Factor

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Math can be confusing. Everyone knows that. And, actually, that’s what lots of people love about it. Some things in math are more confusing than others. One such thing, in my opinion, is a theorem developed by this kinda creepy-looking guy:

creepy-godelHis name is Kurt Gödel, and he’s responsible for a theorem that basically says: You know how you thought we had rules for arithmetic that work, don’t contradict each other, and can answer all kinds of questions with numbers? Well, there are problems with numbers (really strange problems, granted) that our arithmetic cannot answer. And if you try to fix your system so that it can answer those problems, you’ll have issues with other problems. There’s no way to repair your system so that it stays complete and answers all problems.

If this sounds disturbing to you (math doesn’t work?!?!), you’re not alone. Lots of mathematicians were upset by this. They thought, as lots of us do, that math is supposed to be logical. It’s supposed to give us the answers we need. We’re supposed to be able to rely on it. Gödel arrived at this theorem by playing with paradoxes, or statements that self-contradict. (Such as, “Today is opposite day.”) The statement that he came up with really rocked the world of math.

If you’d like to learn more about Gödel and his disturbing theorem, listen to this podcast episode from Radiolab. It talks about Gödel’s life and what his theorem meant for math, with an appearance by everyone’s favorite mathematician, Steve Strogatz!

Gödel’s confusing theorem is only one in a long string of crazy, confusing math paradoxes. Another of my favorites is the Barber Paradox, which mathematician Bertrand Russell came up with. Here it is, in dry-humor video form:

If you like that paradox, you’ll probably also like the Pinocchio Paradox— which was developed by 11-year-old Veronique Eldridge-Smith:

This video comes from the YouTube channel, SpikedMathGames. I suggest you check it out!

Finally, I thought it would be nice to close off this loopy Math Munch post with a loop back to podcasts– and a link to a very large archive of math podcasts called Math Factor. Math Factor is a podcast produced out of the University of Arkansas about all kinds of interesting math. They even have an episode about the topic of this week’s Math Munch! Give it a listen.

Have a terrible opposite day, and bon appetit!

roTopo, de Gua, and Bibi-binary

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Today we’re going to look at a few examples of going “up a dimension”. Our first example is what got me thinking about this theme. It’s a game called roTopo. (If you have trouble getting it to load, try using a different browser.)

 rotopo1.png  rotopo2

Maybe you have played the game B-Cubed. RoTopo is similar—trace through a sequence of squares as they get eliminated one by one. I like B-Cubed because it combines spatial thinking with strategic thinking—planning ahead. Rotopo, with its twists and turns in 3D, stretches a player’s spatial thinking even further. I hope you enjoy giving it a try! Maybe you could design a roTopo level of your own with a drawing or with some blocks.

What else can we find when we look “up a dimension”? Maybe the most famous theorem in all of mathematics is the Pythagorean theorem. There are several ways we might try to take a^2+b^2=c^2 up a dimension. If we start to increase the numbers in the exponents, like a^3+b^3=c^3, we head in the direction of Fermat’s Last Theorem. If we add more terms, like a^2+b^2+c^2=d^2, we can find distances in 3D instead of 2D.


A right tetrahedron—the kind needed for de Gua’s Theorem.

And if those aren’t enough to make you go “wow”, then you need to hear about De Gua’s Theorem. The Pythagorean Theorem relates the sides of a right triangle. De Gua’s Theorem relates the faces of a right tetrahedron. The sum of the squares of the areas of the the three “leg” faces is equal to the square of the area of the “hypotenuse” face. So wild! You can read a proof de Gua’s Theorem here. The theorem is named for the 18th-century French mathematician who presented it to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1783 (although it was known to others before him). De Gua’s Theorem in turn is a special case of a still more general theorem. Once mathematicians start upping dimensions, the sky is the limit!

Last up: Bibi-binary. No, that’s not the way that Justin Timberlake counts—although that funny thought is why I Googled “bibibinary” in the first place. But when I did, this totally silly number system popped up!


How to count in Bibi-binary.

Well, I guess it’s not the number system that’s silly so much, since it’s actually just hexadecimal. Hexadecimal is like binary, but up a couple of dimensions. The system uses sixteen symbols to represent numbers, just as the decimal system uses ten symbols and binary uses two. What makes Bibi-binary silly, then, is not its logical structure but how it sounds.

There are sixteen syllables in Bibi-binary, which are made from combinations of four consonants and four vowels. Three is “hi” and eight is “ko”. If you want to have three 16’s and eight more—56—that would be “hiko”. As another example, 66319344 is “hidihidihidiho”. Bibi-binary was invented in 1971 by a French singer and actor named Boby Lapointe.

I think it would be fun to learn to count in Bibi-binary. Can you believe that I could find zero (“ho”) videos online of people counting in Bibi-binary? I wonder if any of our readers might enjoy making one…

img_colormapHexadecimal is not just fun and games. It’s also used for making codes to stand for colors, especially in making webpages. Most of Math Munch is either 683D29 or 6AB690, would you believe. You can explore using hexadecimal to name colors in this applet.

You can learn lots more about Bibi-binary on the great website dCode, and you’ll also find an applet there that can convert between decimal and Bibi-binary. DCode has lots of tools related to cryptography (get it?) and other math topics, too.

Do you have any favorite examples of math that goes “up a dimension”? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Bibi-bi for now! Bon appetit!


Rectangles, Explosions, and Surreals

Hi everyone! We’ll be back with a new post next week. Until then, enjoy this “explosive” post from October 2012.

Math Munch

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

What is 3 x 4?   3 x 4 is 12.

Well, yes. That’s true. But something that’s wonderful about mathematics is that seemingly simple objects and problems can contain immense and surprising wonders.

How many squares can you find in this diagram?

As I’ve mentioned before, the part of mathematics that works on counting problems is called combinatorics. Here are a few examples for you to chew on: How many ways can you scramble up the letters of SILENT? (LISTEN?) How many ways can you place two rooks on a chessboard so that they don’t attack each other? And how many squares can you count in a 3×4 grid?

Here’s one combinatorics problem that I ran across a while ago that results in some wonderful images. Instead of asking about squares in a 3×4 grid, a team at the Dubberly Design…

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The Dice Lab, Sum of Cubes, and Double Polyhedra

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

It’s the final Thursday of September, so it’s time again for a recap of the month’s best from our Facebook page. This month we have a new sort of dice, a beautiful illustration of a numerical fact, and some wonderful new sculpture work from Rinus Roelofs. Let’s dig in.

First, check out this wonderful image. Meditate on it, and see if you can figure out what’s going on, even if you can’t understand the notation.


It’s showing us a simple way to compute a sum of cubes. They can be broken down and reconstructed as a square! Consider the sum of the first 3 cube numbers, for example: 1+8+27=36, and 36 is the square of 6. One step further, 6 is the sum of the first 3 numbers.

So in the picture above, the sum of the first 5 cubes is equal to the square whose side length is the sum of 1 through 5.  AMAZING, and a beautiful illustration. Can you see why it always works, not just for 1 through 5? That’s key! And now test your understanding: What is the sum of the first 100 cube numbers?

dicelablogoUp next, we’ve met Henry Segerman plenty of times on Math Munch, including a look at the project he shares with Robert Fathauer, called The Dice Lab. They make mathematically interesting dice that have, in most cases, never been produced before. There newest creation (also last? see the video to see what I mean) is a 48-sided dice. Very cool. Can you think of a use for a 48-sided die?  It sure looks cool. Reminds me of a rhombic dodecahedron. Do you see the connection?

Finally, another familiar face – the incredible mathematical artist, Rinus Roelofs – has been making incredible things. We met Roelofs in July, but his facebook page has been full of activity since then. His recent work has focused on double-covered polyhedra.  You’ll have to click over and browse to see what I mean. Recently he posted a project I might want to take on. These are fold-up models for his creations. Check out the gallery below.


I’m not 100% sure how that cube one works, but I think I can figure it out, and I bet some of you can too. Of course, I’m sure we’ll make mistakes, but if we keep on learning, I bet we can get this figured out. If anyone ends up making a template of their own, email it to us and we’ll share it on the site.

Until next time, bon appetit!


Demonstrations, a Number Tree, and Brainfilling Curves

This month of September has five Thursdays in it, so enjoy this bonus blast from the past. We hope it will “fill your brain”!

Math Munch

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Maybe you’re headed back to school this week. (We are!) Or maybe you’ve been back for a few weeks now. Or maybe you’ve been out of school for years. No matter which one it is, we hope that this new school year will bring many new mathematical delights your way!

A website that’s worth returning to again and again is the Wolfram Demonstrations Project (WDP). Since it was founded in 2007, users of the software package Mathematica have been uploading “demonstrations” to this website—amazing illuminations of some of the gems of mathematics and the sciences.

Each demonstration is an interactive applet. Some are very simple, like one that will factor any number up to 10000 for you. Others are complex, like this one that “plots orbits of the Hopalong map.”

Some demonstrations are great for visualizing facts about math, like these:

Any Quadrilateral Can…

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Functionized Photos, Projective Games, and Traffic

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Have you ever looked in a distorted mirror– one that stretched and squeezed your face so that you looked very, very silly? If you like that, check out this program called the Function Explorer that distorts your picture according to different functions!

Crazy Mikos

My cat under the “fraction” function

To use the program, you’ll have to turn on your webcam. Then, select one of the functions listed– maybe similarity, log, or fraction. Then, watch as the image in front of your webcam twists, expands, and repeats as the function distorts the picture!

What’s going on here? The program treats your picture like it’s on something called the complex plane— which is kind of like the regular two-dimensional plane we’re used to, except that some of the numbers multiply strangely. One of the dimensions on the complex plane is made of regular, normal numbers– which, in this situation, are called the “real numbers”– while the other dimension is made of different numbers, called “imaginary numbers.” These are the numbers that do weird things when you multiply them together. Maybe you’ve heard that you can’t take the square-root of a negative number. Well, on the complex plane you can. And when you do, you get an imaginary number!


Windows, under 1/z

If you’re curious about these crazy creatures called imaginary numbers and how they work to make images go wild on the complex plane, I recommend you check out this site. It gives a great interactive explanation of imaginary numbers (and teaches you about fractals, too!). But I also wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to spend a few hours holding things in front of your webcam and seeing what happens to them under different function transformations!

Gummy bears

Gummy bears! Which function did this?


Meet Donna

Next up, I’d like to share a fun collection of games with you. They’re all made by mathematician Donna Dietz, and they all have to do with a particular kind of math that I find very interesting– projective geometry! You can still enjoy the games even if you know nothing about projective geometry (and you might learn something at the same time).

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-19-29-pmThe rules are pretty simple: Donna gives you a bunch of cards with symbols on them. For example, in the version shown here, you get 13 cards with 4 symbols on them each. There are a bunch of different symbols. Your task is to pick four cards to discard and arrange the remaining nine so that the cards in each row, column, and diagonal share exactly one symbol.

Donna’s projective geometry games page has links to lots more games (if you think the game with cards in three rows and columns is too easy, try one with five) and information about them.

“What does this have to do with geometry?” you might be wondering. These games show a very important property of points and lines in projective geometry. In regular geometry (which you could also call Euclidean geometry), you can have two lines that don’t share any points– meaning that they’d be parallel. But this isn’t possible in projective geometry. All pairs of lines share exactly one point. How is this related to Donna’s games? If lines are rows, columns, and diagonals of cards, and points the symbols on them…

If you’d like to learn more about how and why Donna developed these games, check out this page!

Finally, I’ve been driving a lot lately. I live in the Bay Area, and there is SO MUCH TRAFFIC AAAAAAAA!!! I went searching for solutions, and I came across this great video by our friend CGP Grey (who also made these great videos about voting theory). There’s a lot of math going on here, even if it isn’t immediately apparent. Can you find the math? (Oh, and can you stop causing traffic jams? Thanks.)

Don’t Math Munch and drive, and bon appetit!

Sphericon, National Curve Bank, and Cardioid Art

Check out this re-run post from March, 2016! I still can’t get enough of Sphericons… Enjoy!

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Behold the Sphericon!

What is that? Well, it rolls like a sphere, but is made of two cones attached with a twist– hence, the spheri-con! The one in the video is made out of pie (not sure why…), but you can make sphericons out of all kinds of materials.

Wooden sphericonIt was developed by a few people at different times– like many brilliant new objects. But it entered the world of math when mathematician Ian Stewart wrote about it in his column in Scientific American. The wooden sphericon was made by Steve Mathias, an engineer from Sacramento, California, who read Ian’s article and thought sphericons would be fun to make. To learn more about how Steve made those beautiful wooden sphericons, check out his site!

Even if you’re not a woodworker, like Steve, you can still make your own sphericon. You can start with two cones and make one this way, by attaching the cones at their bases, slicing the whole thing in half, rotating one of the halves 90 degrees, and attaching again:How to make a sphericon

Or you can print out this image, cut it out, fold it up, and glue (click on the image for a larger printable size):

Sphericon pattern

If you do make your own sphericon (which I recommend, because they’re really cool), watch the path it makes as it rolls. See how it wiggles? What shape do you think the path is?

ncbmastertitleI found out about the sphericon while browsing through an awesome website– the National Curve Bank. It’s just what it sounds like– an online bank full of curves! You can even make a deposit– though, unlike a real bank, you can take out as many curves as you like. The goal of the National Curve Bank is to provide great pictures and animations of curves that you’d never find in a normal math book. Think of how hard it would be to understand how a sphericon works if you couldn’t watch a video of it rolling?

epicycloidaThere are lots of great animations of curves and other shapes in the National Curve Bank– like the sphericon! Another of my favorites is the “cycloid family.” A cycloid is the curve traced by a point on a circle as the circle rolls– like if you attached a pen to the wheel of your bike and rode it next to a wall, so that the pen drew on the wall. It’s a pretty cool curve– but there are lots of other related curves that are even cooler. The epicycloid (image on the right) is the curve made by the pen on your bike wheel if you rode the bike around a circle. Nice!

You should explore the National Curve Bank yourself, and find your own favorite curve! Let us know in the comments if you find one you like.

String cardioid

String art cardioid

Finally, to round out this week’s post on circle-y curves (pun intended), check out another of my favorite curves– the cardioid. A cardioid looks like a heart (hence the name). There are lots of ways to make a cardioid (some of which we posted about for Valentine’s Day a few years ago). But my favorite way is to make it out of string!

String art is really fun. If you’ve never done any string art, check out the images made by Julia Dweck’s class that we posted last year. Or, try making your own string art cardioid! This site shows you how to draw circles, ovals, cardioids, and spirals using just straight lines– you could follow the same instructions, replacing the straight lines you’d draw with pieces of string attached to tacks! If you’re not sure how the string part would work, check out this site for basic string art instructions.

Bon appetit!