Tag Archives: cryptography

Math Awareness Month, Hexapawn, and Plane Puzzles

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

April is Mathematics Awareness Month. So happy Mathematics Awareness Month! This year’s theme is “Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery”. It’s inspired by the fact that 2014 would have marked Martin Gardner’s 100th birthday.


A few of the mathy morsels that await you this month on mathaware.org!

Each day this month a new piece of magical or mysterious math will be revealed on the MAM site. The mathematical offering for today is a card trick that’s based on the Fibonacci numbers. Dipping into this site from time to time would be a great way for you to have a mathy month.

It is white

It is white’s turn to move. Who will win this Hexapawn game?

Speaking of Martin Gardner, I recently ran across a version of Hexapawn made in the programming language Scratch. Hexapawn is a chess mini-game involving—you guessed it—six pawns. Martin invented it and shared it in his Mathematical Games column in 1962. (Here’s the original column.) The object of the game is to get one of your pawns to the other side of the board or to “lock” the position so that your opponent cannot move. The pawns can move by stepping forward one square or capturing diagonally forward. Simple rules, but winning is trickier than you might think!

The program I found was created by a new Scratcher who goes by the handle “puttering”. On the site he explains:

I’m a dad. I was looking for a good way for my daughters to learn programming and I found Scratch. It turns out to be so much fun that I’ve made some projects myself, when I can get the computer…

puttering's Scratch version of Conway's Game of Life

puttering’s Scratch version of Conway’s Game of Life

Something that’s super cool about puttering’s Hexapawn game is that the program learns from its stratetgy errors and gradually becomes a stronger player as you play more! It’s well worth playing a bunch of games just to see this happen. puttering has other Scratch creations on his page, too—like a solver for the Eight Queens puzzle and a Secret Code Machine. Be sure to check those out, too!

Last up, our friend Nalini Joshi recently travelled to a meeting of the Australian Academy of Science, which led to a little number puzzle.


What unusual ways of describing a number! Trying to learn about these terms led me to an equally unusual calculator, hosted on the Math Celebrity website. The calculator will show you calculations about the factors of a numbers, as well as lots of categories that your number fits into. Derek Orr of Math Year-Round and I figured out that Nalini’s clues fit with multiple numbers, including 185, 191, and 205. So we needed more clues!

Can you find another number that fits Nalini’s clues? What do you think would be some good additional questions we could ask Nalini? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


A result from the Number Property Calculator

I hope this post helps you to kick off a great Mathematics Awareness Month. Bon appetit!

Lincoln, Blinkin’, and Fraud

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Lincoln problem

Abraham Lincoln, figuring out a word problem.
Can you decipher his steps?

About a month ago I ran across an article about Abraham Lincoln and math. Lincoln is often celebrated as a self-made frontiersman who had little formal education. The article describes how two professors from Illinois State University recently discovered two new pages of math schoolwork done by Lincoln, which may show that he had somewhat more formal schooling than was previously believed. The sheet shows the young Abe figuring problems like, “If 4 men in 5 days eat 7 lb. of bread, how much will be sufficient for 16 men in 15 days?” Here are some further details about the manuscript’s discovery from the Illinois State University website and a high-quality scan of Lincoln’s figuring from the Harvard University Library.

Lincoln is also known for his study of Euclid’s Elements—that great work of mathematics from ancient times. Lincoln began to read the Elements when he was a young lawyer interested in what exactly it means to “prove” something. Euclid’s work even made a brief appearance in the recent movie about Lincoln. Thinking about Lincoln and math got me to wondering about how our presidents in general have interacted with the subject. Certainly they must all have had some kind of experience with math! In my searching and remembering, I’ve run across these tidbits about Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, and President Obama. Still, my searches haven’t turned up so very much. Maybe you’ll keep your eyes open for further bits of mathy presidential trivia?

481121_466454960066144_511840398_nNext up, check out these math problems about blinking on a wonderful online resource called Bedtime Math. Every day, the site posts a few math problems that parents and children can share and ponder at bedtime—just like families often do with storybooks. Bedtime Math was founded by Laura Bilodeau Overdeck. She is involved with several math-related nonprofits and is the mother of three kids. Bedtime Math grew out of the way that Laura shared math problems with her own children. A few of my favorite Bedtime Math posts are “You Otter Know” and “Booking Down the Hall“.

Today’s Bedtime Math is titled “Space Saver” and contains some problems about hexagon tilings and our mathematical chum, the honeybee. Here is today’s “big kid” problem: If a bee builds 5 hexagons flush in a horizontal row, how many total sides did the bee make, given the shared sides? I hope you find some problems to enjoy at Bedtime Math. You can sign up to receive their daily email of problems on the righthand side of the Bedtime Math frontpage.

Zome inventor Paul Hildebrand and a PCMI Fourth of July float!

Zome inventor Paul Hildebrandt and
a mathy PCMI Fourth of July float!

Did you know that people blink differently when they lie? I’ve been thinking a lot these past few weeks about frauds and fakes as I’ve worked with some teacher friends on this year’s PCMI problem sets. PCMI—the Park City Math Institute—is a math event held each summer that gathers math professors, math teachers, and college math students to do mathematics together for three weeks. It all happens in beautiful Park City, Utah. The first week of PCMI coincides with the Fourth of July, and the PCMI crew always makes a mathy entry in the local Independence Day Parade!

The theme of the high school teachers’ program this year is “Probability, Randomization, and Polynomials”. The first problem set introduces the following conundrum:

Suppose you were handed two lists of 120 coin flips, one real and
one fake. Devise a test you could use to decide which was which.
Be as precise as possible.

Which is real? Which is fake?

Which is real? Which is fake?

If you understand what this problem is all about, then you can understand my recent fascination with frauds! Over to the left I’ve shared two sequences I concocted. One I made by actually flipping a coin, while the other I made up out of my head. Can you tell which is which?

For more sleuthing fun, check out this applet on Khan Academy, which challenges you to distinguish lists of coin flips. Some are created by a fair coin, others are made by an unfair coin, and still others are made by human guesses. This coin-flipping challenge is a part of Khan Academy’s Journey into Cryptography series. You should also know that the PCMI problem sets from previous years are all online, filed by years under “Class Notes”. They are rich with fantastic, brain-teasing problems that are woven together in expert fashion.

And finally, to go along with your Bedtime Math, how about a little bedtime poetry? Check out the video below.

Sweet dreams, and bon appetit!