# A Closet Full of Puzzles, Sphereland, and Math Doodles

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

After a few weeks off, we’re back with some exciting things to share.  First up is Futility Closet, a blog featuring “an idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements.”  The blog is full of big-worded phrases like that, but I most love the puzzles they often post – everything from chess to numbers, codes, and devilish word play.  I also love that the name of the person who wrote each puzzle accompanies it.  Take a look at the few I’ve posted below and click here for the full list of puzzles.

 Here’s a puzzle called Swine Wave, by Lewis Carroll. The puzzle: Lace 24 pigs in these sties so that, no matter how many times one circles the sties, he always find that the number in each sty is closer to 10 than the number in the previous one. Want to know the solution? Click on the image above to visit Futility Closet. This puzzle is called Project Management, by Paul Vaderlind. The question: If a blacksmith requires five minutes to put on a horseshoe, can eight blacksmiths shoe 10 horses in less than half an hour? The catch: A horse can stand on three legs, but not on two. Click on the image to visit Futility Closet for the solution!

Next, have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another dimension?   In 1884, Edwin A. Abbott wrote about life in the second dimension, in a nice little book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimesnions.  (Fun fact: the “A” in Edwin’s name stands for Abbott.  So his name is Edwin Abbott Abbott.)  Click on that link and you can read the whole book, if you like.  The book is about a world of flat beings who have no idea that the third dimension exists.  In the book, the main character, A Square, is visited by a sphere from the unknown world “above” him.  Kind of makes me wonder whether we’re just like the characters in Flatland, three-dimensional creatures ignorant of the fourth dimension that exists “above” us…

Well, the recently released movie Flatland 2: Sphereland deals with precisely that issue.  The Math Munch team had the opportunity to preview this movie, and we loved it.  In Sphereland, the granddaughter of the Square from Flatland, Hex, and her friend Puncto try to understand some mysterious triangles that Puncto thinks will cause the disastrous end of a space exploration mission and go on an adventure to help their three-dimensional friend Spherius with a problem he brought back from the fourth dimension.

Higher dimensions can be very difficult to wrap your head around.  This movie does a great job of helping the movie-watcher to understand how higher and lower dimensions relate to each other through the plot twists and challenges that the characters face.  You can really learn a lot about dimensions and the shape of space by watching this movie.  Plus, the characters are engaging and the images are fun.  Sphereland features the voices of a number of really great actors, including Kristen Bell, Danny Pudi, Michael York, and Danica McKellar.

And, here’s an interview with Danny Pudi, the voice of Puncto, and Tony Hale, who does a fantastic job as the King of Pointland:

By the way, the makers of Sphereland also made a movie of Flatland!  The Math Munch team loved that one, too.  Here’s a link to the trailer.

Finally, check out this beautiful blog of mathematical doodles by high school math student and artist Chloé Worthington!  Chloé started mathematically doodling a few years ago in… well, in class.  When she doodles in class, Chloé is better able to focus on what’s going on and makes beautiful art.   (We at Math Munch encourage you to pay attention in class while you doodle.)

Chloé does all of her doodles by hand with ink pens.  She does a lot of work with triangles, as shown here.  One of her signature doodles is this nested puzzle piece doodle:

Doodling mathematically is one of the ways that Chloé does math and shares what she loves about it with the world.  She’s a trigonometry student, too.  How do you share what you love about math – or any other subject?

Bon appetit!

# Rectangles, Explosions, and Surreals

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 Office in San Francisco investigated the question: how many of ways can a 3×4 grid can be partitioned—or broken up—into rectangles? Here are a few examples:

How many different ways to do this do you think there are? Here’s the poster that they designed to show the answer that they found! You can also check out this video of their solution.

In their explanation of their project, the team states that “Design tools are becoming more computation-based; designers are working more closely with programmers; and designers are taking up programming.” Designing the layout of a magazine or website requires both structural and creative thinking. It’s useful to have an idea of what all the possible layouts are so that you can pick just the right one—and math can help you to do it!

If you’d like to try creating a few 3×4 rectangle partitions of your own, you can check out www.3x4grid.com. [Sadly, this page no longer works. See an archive of it here. -JL, 10/2016]

Next up, explosions! I could tell you about the math of the game Minesweeper (you can play it here), or about exploding dice. But the kind of explosion I want to share with you today is what’s called a “combinatorial explosion.” Sometimes a problem that appears to be an only slightly harder variation of an easy problem turns out to be way, way harder. Just how BIG and complicated even simple combinatorics problems can get is the subject of this compelling and also somewhat haunting video.

Donald Knuth

Finally, all of this counting got me thinking about big numbers. Previously we’ve linked to Math Cats, and Wendy has a page where you can learn how to say some really big numbers. But thinking about counting also made me remember an experience I had in middle school where I found out just how big numbers could be! I was in seventh grade when I read this article from the December 1995 issue of Discover Magazine. It’s called “Infinity Plus One, and Other Surreal Numbers” and was written by Polly Shulman. I remember my mind being blown by all of the talk of infinitely-spined aliens and up-arrow notation for naming numbers. Here’s an excerpt:

Mathematicians and precocious five-year-olds have long been fascinated by the endlessness of numbers, and they’ve named the endlessness infinity. Infinity isn’t a number like 1, 2, or 3; it’s hard to say what it is, exactly. It’s even harder to imagine what would happen if you tried to manipulate it using the arithmetic operations that work on numbers. For example, what if you divide it in half? What if you multiply it by 2? Is 1 plus infinity greater than, less than, or the same size as infinity plus 1? What happens if you subtract 1 from it?

After I read this article, John Conway and Donald Knuth became heros of mine. (In college, I had the amazing fortune to have breakfast with Conway one day when he was visiting to give a lecture!) Knuth has a book about surreals that’s the friendliest introduction to the surreal numbers that I know of, and in this video, Vi Hart briefly touches on surreal numbers in discussing proofs that .9 = 1. Boy, would I love to see a great video or online resource that simply and beautifully lays out the surreal numbers in all their glory!

It was fun for me to remember that Discover article. I hope that you, too, run across some mathematics that leaves a seventeen-year impression on you!

Bon appetit!

# Pentomino Puzzles, Knight’s Tours, and Decimal Maxing

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Have a pentomino tiling problem that’s got you stumped?  Then perhaps the Pentominos Puzzle Solver will be right up your alley! Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about using computer programming and search algorithms to solve mathematical problems, and the Pentomino Puzzle Solver is a great example of the power of coding.  Written by David Eck, a professor of math and computer science at Brandeis University, the solver can find tilings of a variety of shapes.  Watch the application in slow-mo to see how it works; put it into high-gear to see the power of doing mathematics with computers!

Next, here’s a wonderful page about knight’s tours maintained by George Jelliss, a retiree from the UK.  He says on his introductory page, “I have been interested in questions related to the geometry of the knight’s move since the early 1970s.” George has investigated “leapers” or “generalized knights”—pieces that move in other L-shapes than the traditional 2×1—and he even published his own chess puzzle magazine for a number of years.  His webpage includes a great section about the history of knights tours, and I’m a fan of the beautiful catalog of “crosspatch” tours. Great stuff!

Multiplication, addition, division: which gives the biggest result?

Last but not “least”, to the left you’ll find a tiny chunk of a very large table that was constructed and colored by Debra Borkovitz, a math professor at Wheelock College.  Debra describes how, “Students often have poor number sense about multiplication and division with numbers less than one.”  She created an investigation where students decide, for any pair of decimals, which is biggest–multiplying them, adding them, or subtracting them.  For 1.0 and 1.0 the answer is easy–you should add them, so that you get 2.  .5 and 1 is trickier–adding yields 1.5, multiplying gives .5, but dividing 1 by .5 makes 2, since there are two halves in 1. Finding the biggest value possible given some restrictions is called “maximization” in mathematics, and it’s a very popular type of problem with many applications.

This investigation about makes me wonder: what other kinds of tables could I try to make?

Debra mentions that she got the inspiration for this problem from a newsletter put out by the Association of Women in Mathematics.  There’s lots to explore on their website, including an essay contest for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and undergraduates.

I hope you found something here to enjoy.  Bon appetit!