Author Archives: Justin Lanier

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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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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Squricangle, Magic Angle Sculpture, and …

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

There’s a neat old problem/puzzle that goes like this: make a 3-D shape that could fit snugly through each of three holes—one a square, one a circle, and one a triangle. To make a shape that works for just two holes isn’t so tricky. For example, a cylinder that is just as tall as it is across would fit snugly through a circle hole and a square hole. Can you think of what would work for each of the other two shape combos? What about all three?


Three holes, three shapes…and what’s that over in the corner??

If you’re curious about the answer, you might enjoy this post by Kit Wallace or this page by George Hart or—believe it or not— I don’t know the origin of this puzzle and would love to. I haven’t found any info about it after to poking around the internet for a while. So if you locate any information about the backstory of the squircangle—which is not its real name, just one that I made up—please let us know!

Even though I knew about the square-circle-triangle problem, I was not at all prepared to encounter the solution to the jet-butterfly-dragon problem!


Dragon Butterfly Jet is just one of several “magic angle sculptures” created by artist, chemist, and PhD, and high school dropout John V. Muntean. John writes the following in his Artist Statement:

As a scientist and artist, I am interested in the how perception influences our theory of the universe. … Every 120º of rotation, the amorphous shadows evolve into independent forms. Our scientific interpretation of nature often depends upon our point of view. Perspective matters.

There’s much more to see on John’s website. And you can check out Dragon Butterfly Jet in action in the video below, along with Knight Mermaid Pirate-Ship. I also recommend this video made by John where he demonstrates how his sculpture works himself. It also includes a stop-frame animation of the sculpture being built! So cool.


No, not ellipses…

And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for…


That’s right! My final share of the week is that most outspoken of punctuation marks, the ellipsis. Because often what you don’t say says a whole lot! That’s true when writing a story or some dialogue, and it’s also true in mathematics. Watch: 1+2+3+…+100. See? Pretty neat! Those three dots sure say a mouthful…

The ellipsis is probably my second favorite punctuation mark—after the em dash, of course. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, check out this article about the history and uses—mathematical and otherwise—of the humble ellipsis. Author Cameron Hunt McNabb writes:

Thus the ellipsis has been used to indicate anything from the erroneous to the irrational, and its intrigue lies in resistance to meaning. As long as we have things to say, we will have things to omit.


The very first equals sign, in 1557.

I could go on and on about the ellipsis, just like pi does: 3.1415… But anyway, while we’re on the subject of punctuation, let me point you to one of my favorite sites on the mathematical internet: the Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols page, maintained by Jeff Miller. Jeff teaches high school math in Florida and also has some other great pages, too, including this one about mathematicians featured on stamps.




A nice visualization of the squircangle by Matt Henderson


Lucea, Fiber Bundles, and Hamilton

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

The Summer Olympics are underway in Brazil. I have loved the Olympics since I was a kid. The opening ceremony is one of my favorite parts—the celebration of the host country’s history and culture, the athletes proudly marching in and representing their homeland. And the big moment when the Olympic cauldron is lit! This year I was just so delighted by the sculpture that acted as the cauldron’s backdrop.

Isn’t that amazing! The title of this enormous metal sculpture is Lucea, and it was created by American sculptor Anthony Howe. You can read about Anthony and how he came to make Lucea for the Olympics in this article. Here’s one quote from Anthony:

“I hope what people take away from the cauldron, the Opening Ceremonies, and the Rio Games themselves is that there are no limits to what a human being can accomplish.”

Here’s another view of Lucea from Anthony’s website:

Lucea is certainly hypnotizing in its own right, but I think it jumped out at me in part because I’ve been thinking a lot about fiber bundles recently. A fiber bundle is a “twist” on a simpler kind of object called a product space. You are familiar with some examples of products spaces. A square is a line “times” a line. A cylinder is a line “times” a circle. And a torus is a circle “times” a circle.


Square, cylinder, and torus.

So, what does it mean to introduce a “twist” to a product space? Well, it means that while every little patch of your object will look like a product, the whole thing gets glued up in some fancy way. So, instead of a cylinder that goes around all normal, we can let the line factor do a flip as it goes around the circle and voila—a Mobius strip!


Now, check out this image:


It’s two Mobius strips stuck together! Does this remind you of Lucea?! Instead of a line “times” a circle that’s been twisted, we have an X shape “times” a circle.

Do you think you could fill up all of space with an infinity of circles? You might try your hand at it. One answer to this puzzle is a wonderful example of a fiber bundle called the Hopf fibration. Just as you can think about a circle as a line plus one extra point to close it up, and a sphere as a plane with one extra point to close it up, the three-sphere is usual three-dimenional space plus one extra point. The Hopf fibration shows that the three-sphere is a twisted product of a sphere “times” a circle. For a really lovely visualization of this fact, check out this video:

That is some tough but also gorgeous mathematics. Since you’ve made it this far in the post, I definitely think you deserve to indulge and maybe rock out a little. And what’s the hottest ticket on Broadway this summer? I hope you’ll enjoy this superb music video about Hamilton!

William Rowan Hamilton, that is. The inventor of quaternions, explorer of Hamiltonian circuits, and reformulator of physics. Brilliant.

citymapHere are a couple of pages of Hamiltonian circuit puzzles. The goal is to visit every dot exactly once as you draw one continuous path. Try them out! Rio, where the Olympics is happening, pops up as a dot in the first one. You might even try your hand at making some Hamiltonian puzzles of your own.

Happy puzzling, and bon appetit!

Fractions, Sam Loyd, and a MArTH Journal

This week we’re rewinding to July 2012 for some fun with the fabulous Farey Fractions—which have been on my mind recently—plus lots more! Bon appetit!

Math Munch

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Check out this awesome graph:

What is it?  It’s a graph of the Farey Fractions, with the denominator of the (simplified) fraction on the vertical axis and the value of the fraction on the horizontal axis, made by mathematician and professor at Wheelock College Debra K. Borkovitz (previously).  Now, I’d never heard of Farey Fractions before I saw this image – but the graph was so cool that I wanted to learn all about them!

So, what are Farey Fractions, you ask?  Debra writes all about them and the cool visual patterns they make in this post.  To make a list of Farey Fractions you first pick a number – say, 5.  Then, you list all of the fractions between 0 and 1 whose denominators are less than or equal to the number you picked.  So, as Debra writes in…

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Wild Maths, Ambiguous Cylinders, and 228 Women

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

You should definitely take some time to explore Wild Maths, a site dedicated to the creative aspects of mathematics. Wild Maths is produced by the Millennium Mathematics Project, which also makes NRICH and Plus.


I won!

One fun things you’ll find on Wild Maths is a game called Square It! You can play it with a friend or against the computer. The goal is to color dots on a square grid so that you are the first to make a square in your color. It is quite challenging! To the left you’ll find my first victory against the computer after losing the first several matches.

You’ll find lots more on Wild Maths, including an equal averages challenge, a number grid journey, and some video interviews with mathematicians Katie Steckles and Nira Chamberlain. Wild Maths also has a Showcase of work that has been submitted by their readers, much like our own Readers’ Gallery. (We love hearing from you and seeing your creations!)

Next up is a video of an amazing illusion:

Now, I am as big of a fan of squircles as anyone, but this video really threw me for a loop. The illusion just gets crazier and crazier! The illusion was designed by Kokichi Sugihara of Meiji University in Japan. It recently won second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest.

We are fortunate that Dave Richeson has hit it out of the park again, this time sharing both an explanation of the mathematics behind the illusion and a paper template you can use to make your own ambiguous cylinder!

PWinmathFinally this week, I’d like to share a fascinating document with you. It is a supplement to a book called Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940s PhD’s by Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke.

The supplement gives biographies of all 228 American women who earned their PhD’s in mathematics during the first four decades of the 20th century. You might enjoy checking out this page from the National Museum of American History, which describes some about the origin of the book project.


Judy Green, Jeanne LaDuke, and fifteen women who received their PhD’s in math before 1940.

I hope you will find both pleasure and inspiration in reading the stories of these pioneers in American mathematics. I have found them to be a lot of fun to read.

Bon appetit!