Author Archives: Anna Weltman

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

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?

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-58-52-pm

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!

Squaring, Water Calculator, and Snap the Turtle

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

I’ve been really into squares lately. Maybe it’s because I recently ran across a new puzzle involving squares– something called Mrs. Perkin’s quilt.

Mrs. Perkin's quilt 1

69 by 69 Mrs. Perkin’s quilt.

The original version of the puzzle was published way back in 1907, and it went like this: “For Christmas, Mrs. Potipher Perkins received a very pretty patchwork quilt constructed of 169 square pieces of silk material. The puzzle is to find the smallest number of square portions of which the quilt could be composed and show how they might be joined together. Or, to put it the reverse way, divide the quilt into as few square portions as possible by merely cutting the stitches.”

Mrs. Perkin's quilt 18

18 by 18 Mrs. Perkin’s quilt

Said in another way, if you have a 13 by 13 square, how can you divide it up into the smallest number of smaller squares? Don’t worry, you get to solve it yourself– I’m not including a picture of the solution to that version of the puzzle because there are so many beautiful pictures of solutions to the puzzle when you start with larger and smaller squares. Some are definitely more interesting than others. If you want to start simple, try the 4 by 4 version. I particularly like the look of the solution to the 18 by 18 version.

Mrs. Perkin's quilt 152

152 by 152 Mrs. Perkin’s quilt

Maybe you’re wondering where I got all these great pictures of Mrs. Perkin’s quits. And– wait a second– is that the solution to the 152 by 152 version? It sure is– and I got it from one of my favorite math websites, the Wolfram Demonstrations Project. The site is full of awesome visualizations of all kinds of things, from math problems to scans of the human brain. The Mrs. Perkin’s quilts demonstration solves the puzzle for up to a 1,098 by 1,098 square!

Next up, we here at Math Munch are big fans of unusual calculators. Marble calculators, domino calculators… what will we turn up next? Well, here for your strange calculator enjoyment is a water calculator! Check out this video to see how it works:

I might not want to rely on this calculator to do my homework, but it certainly is interesting!

Snap the TurtleFinally, meet Snap the Turtle! This cute little guy is here to teach you how to make beautiful math art stars using computer programming.

On the website Tynker, Snap can show you how to design a program to make intricate line drawings– and learn something about computer programming at the same time. Tynker’s goal is to teach kids to be programming “literate.” Combine computer programming with a little math and art (and a turtle)– what could be better?

I hope something grabbed your interest this week! Bon appetit!

Combinatorial Games, Redistricting Game, and Graph Music

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Have you ever played tic-tac-toe? If so, maybe you’ve noticed that unless you or your opponent makes a bad move, the game always ends in a tie! (Oops– spoiler alert!) Why is that? And what makes tic-tac-toe different from other games that have unpredictable outcomes, like Monopoly or the card game War?

strategy-for-x

We wrote about tic-tac-toe in this post! Click to learn more.

Tic-tac-toe is similar to other kinds of game that mathematicians call combinatorial games— or games where there is no chance involved in the outcome and neither player has information that the other one doesn’t. This means that depending on who starts, where they go, and where each player decides to go next, the outcome is completely predictable and everyone playing could know what it is before it even happens. No surprises!

Now, this might also sound like NO FUN to you (why play the game at all if everyone knows what’s going to happen?) but I think it introduces a new kind of fun– figuring out what the outcomes could be! One of my favorite combinatorial games is the game NIM.

NIM 1

Here’s an example of a starting NIM board. If you go first, can you win? (Assuming your opponent never makes a mistake.)

NIM is a two-player game. You start with several piles or rows of objects (here they’re matches). On each turn, a player removes some objects from a pile– any number they want. BUT the player who’s forced to remove the last match loses!

 

There’s no chance in NIM– no dice determining how many matches you can remove, for example. Also both players know the rules and how many matches are in the piles at all times. That means that if you thought about it for a while, you could figure out who should win or lose any game of NIM. Maybe playing the game NIM isn’t super fun– but thinking about it like a puzzle is!

More versions of online NIM can be found here and here. And to read about combinatorial games we’ve written about in the past, check out this interview with mathematician Elwyn Berlekamp!

Next up, it’s presidential election time here again in the U.S.! Did you know that there’s a lot of mathematics behind what makes elections work? Four years ago, before the last presidential election, we shared a great series of YouTube videos about the math of elections.

redistricting game

A map in the redistricting game.

A big way that math gets involved in elections is through how politicians decide to draw districts, or regions of states that get to elect their own representative to the House of Representatives and elector to the Electoral College. The math behind drawing districts ranges from simple arithmetic to graph theory, or the field of math that deals with how parts of a shape or diagram are connected. To learn more about drawing election districts and the math behind it, check out the Re-Districting Game! In this game, you play the part of a map maker who works with the Congress, governor of your state, and courts to make a district map that meets everyone’s needs.

Finally, I recently ran across a series of graph music videos! What’s that? Videos in which a graph (made on Desmos) dances along to music, much like people would in a regular music video. Here’s one of my favorites:

The equations on the left-hand side of the screen create the images you see and the rhythm of the animation. Want to make your own graph music video? Share it with us!

Bon appetit!

Halving-Fun, Self-Tiling Tile Sets, and Doodal

This post comes to us all the way from June of 2014! Enjoy this blast from the past!

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Print out two copies of this pattern, cut them out, and fold each along the dotted lines, making two identical solids. Then fit these two pieces together to make a regular tetrahedron.

Print out two copies of this pattern, cut them out, and fold each along the dotted lines, making two identical solids. Then fit these two pieces together to make a regular tetrahedron.

Our first bit of fun comes from a blog called Futility Closet (previously featured). It’s a neat little cut-and-fold puzzle. The shape to the right can be folded up to make a solid with 5 sides. Two of them can be combined to make a solid with only 4 sides, the regular tetrahedron. If you’d like, you can use our printable version, which has two copies on one sheet.

What do you know, I also found our second item on Futility Closet! Check out the cool family of tiles below. What do you notice?

A family of self-tiling tiles

A family of self-tiling tiles

Did you notice that the four shapes in the middle are the same as the four larger shapes on the outside? The four tiles in the middle can combine to create larger versions of themselves! They can make any and all of the original four!!

Lee Sallows

Recreational Mathematician, Lee Sallows

Naturally, I was reminded of the geomagic squares we featured a while back (more at geomagicsquares.com), and then I came to realize they were designed by the same person, the incredible Lee Sallows! (For another amazing one of Lee Sallows creations, give this incredible sentence a read.) You can also visit his website, leesallows.com.

reptile3

A family of 6 self-tiling tiles

For more self-tiling tiles (and there are many more amazing sets) click here. I have to point out one more in particular. It’s like a geomagic square, but not quite. It’s just wonderful. Maybe it ought to be called a “self-tiling latin square.”

And for a final item this week, we have a powerful drawing tool. It’s a website that reminds me a lot of recursive drawing, but it’s got a different feel and some excellent features. It’s called Doodal. Basically, whatever you draw inside of the big orange frame will be copied into the blue frames.  So if there’s a blue frame inside of an orange frame, that blue frame gets copied inside of itself… and then that copy gets copied… and then that copy…!!!

To start, why don’t you check out this amazing video showing off some examples of what you can create. They go fast, so it’s not really a tutorial, but it made me want to figure more things out about the program.

I like to use the “delete frame” button to start off with just one frame. It’s easier for me to understand if its simpler. You can also find instructions on the bottom. Oh, and try using the shift key when you move the blue frames. If you make something you like, save it, email it to us, and we’ll add it to our readers’ gallery.

Start doodaling!

Make something you love. Bon appetit!

A fractal Math Munch Doodal

A fractal Math Munch Doodal

Forest Fires, Scrubbing Calculator, and Bongard Problems

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Last summer where I live, in California, there were a lot of forest fires. We’re having a big drought, and that made fires started for lots accidental of reasons– lightning, downed power lines, things like that– get much bigger than usual. I thought I’d learn a little about forest fires so that I can be a more responsible resident of my state.

And I found this great website with an awesome computer simulation that you can manipulate to experiment with the factors that lead to forest fires!

Forest fire.png

My forest fire, just starting to burn. Click on this picture to play with the simulation! (Note: It doesn’t work as well in certain browsers. I recommend Firefox.)

 

This site was built by Nicky Case, who studies things that mathematicians and scientists call complex systems. Basically, a complex system is some phenomenon that has a simple set of causes but unpredictable results. An environment with forest fires is a good example– a simple lightning strike in a drought-ridden forest can cause a wildfire to spread in patterns that firefighters struggle to predict. It turns out that simulations are perfect for modeling complex systems. With just a few simple program rules we can create a huge number of situations to study. Even better, we can change the rules to see what will happen if, say, the weather changes or people are more careful about where and when they set fires.

Forest fire what if

What do you think? Click the picture to see Nicky’s simulation.

You can use Nicky’s program to change the probability that trees grow, a burning tree sets its neighbors on fire, and many other factors. You can even invent your own and model them with emojis. What if there were two kinds of trees and one was more flammable than the other? What if trees grew quickly but lightning was common? As Nicky shows, simulations are useful for exploring what-if questions in complex systems. Use your imagination and explore!

Next up, have you ever heard of a scrubbing calculator? No, it’s not a calculator that doubles as a sponge. It’s a calculator that helps you solve for unknowns in equations by “scrubbing,” or approximating, the answer until you find a number that works.

Scrubbing calculator equation

Here’s how it works: Say you’re trying to solve for an unknown, like the x in the equation above (maybe for some practical reason or just because you’re doing your homework). You could do some pretty complicated algebraic manipulations so that the x alone equals some number. But what if you could make a guess and change it until the equation worked?

Scrubbing calculator

Click on this image to see a scrubbing calculator in action!

If your guess was too big, you’d know because the expression wouldn’t equal 768 anymore– it would equal something larger. And if you had a calculator that instantly told you the solution based on your guess, you could do this guessing and checking pretty quickly.

Well, lucky for you I found a scrubbing calculator that you can use online! It’s very simple– just type in your equation and your guess, and click on the number you want to change (most likely the guess) to make it larger or smaller. It’s useful for solving equations, like I said. But I actually find it most interesting to watch how the whole expression changes as you change one of the numbers in it. For instance, check out the Pythagorean triple calculator I built. What do you notice as you gradually change one of the numbers in the expression?

https://www.cruncher.io/?/embed/xiY1IjwUJS

Finally, I’m excited to share with you one of my favorite kinds of puzzles– Bongard problems!
Bongard 1A Bongard problem has two sets of pictures, with six pictures in each set. All of the pictures on the left have something in common that the pictures on the right do not. The challenge is to figure out what distinguishes the two groups of pictures.

Bongard 2

This problem was made by Douglas Hofstadter, who introduced Bongard problems to the U.S. I haven’t figured it out yet. Can you?

I got the Bongard problems shown above from a collection of problems put together by cognitive scientist Harry Foundalis. He has almost 300 of them, some made by Mikhail Bongard himself, who developed these problems while studying how to train computers to recognize patterns.

Harry also has guidelines for how to develop your own Bongard problems. He encourages people to send their problems to him and says he might even put them up on his site!

Bon appetit!

Mobiles, Mathematical Objects, and Math Magazine

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Before we start, a little business. You may have noticed that posts have been few and far between lately. Those of you who know us, the members of the Math Munch Team, know that we’ve all made a lot of life changes in the past year or two. We started out together teaching in the same school in New York– but now we live on far corners of the country and spend our time doing very different things. In case you’re curious, here are some pictures of the things we’ve been up to!

stack

Justin’s genus 19, rotationally symmetric surface

But even though we’ve moved apart physically, we’ve decided that we really want to keep the Math Munch Team together. We LOVE sharing our love of math with you– and we love hearing from you about the amazing things you make and do with math, too.

So, we’ve decided to revamp our posting process and came up with a schedule for when you can expect posts. There will be a new post every Thursday. (Though if Anna is posting from the West Coast, it might come out in the wee hours of Friday morning for some of you!) And here’s the monthly schedule of Thursday posts:

  • The first Thursday of the month will be a post from Justin
  • The second Thursday of the month will be a rerun!! Did you know we have over 150 posts on this site?? And we’ve been posting for almost five years??
  • The third Thursday of the month will be a post from Anna
  • The last Thursday of the month will be a post from Paul

And for those mysterious months with five Thursdays (ooh, when will that be, I wonder?)… There will be a surprise!

And now… for some math!

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.44.50 AMFirst up is a little game called SolveMe Mobiles! This game is full of little puzzles in which you have to figure out what each of the different shapes in a mobile weighs. You’re given different clues in different puzzles. So, for instance, in the puzzle to the left, you’re given the weight of the red circle and you have to figure out how much a blue triangle is. But you’re not given the weight of the whole mobile… Hmmm…

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.53.04 AMAnd this one, to the right, gives you the weight of one of the shapes and of the whole mobile– but now there are three shapes! Tricky!

Even better, you can build your own mobile puzzle for others to solve! I made this one, shown below– like my use of a mobile within a mobile?

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 2.04.48 AM

Next up, I found a beautiful Tumblr account that I’d like to share with you full of pictures of found mathematical objects. It’s called… Mathematical Objects! (How clever.) The author of the site writes that the aim of the blog is to “show that mathematics, aside from its practicality, is also culturally significant. In other words, mathematics not only makes the trains run on time but also fundamentally influences the way we view the world.

tumblr_mkkrp6acm11rnwsgbo1_540

“Counting to One Hundred with my Four-Color Pen”

tumblr_n07pvisVvm1rnwsgbo2_1280Some of the images are mathematical art, like the one above; others are more “practical,” such as plans for buildings or images drawn from science.

Do you ever see an interesting mathematical object in the wild and feel the urge to take a picture of it? If so, go ahead and send it to us! We’d love to see what you find.

I’m very excited to share this last find with you all. It was sent to me by a wonderful math teacher, Mark Dittmer, and his math students. This year, they were inspired by Math Munch to make their own fun online math sites! I think what they made is super awesome– and I want to share it with you. I’ll be featuring some of their work in my next few posts, one thing at a time to give each its own day in the sun. First up is this adorable adventure story about the residents of Number Land. I hope you enjoy it!

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Bon appétit!