# Virtual Hyenas, Markov Chains, and Random Knights

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

It’s amazing how a small step can lead to a chain reaction of adventure.

Arend Hintze

Recently a reader named Nico left a comment on the Math Munch post where I shared the game Loops of Zen. He asked why the game has that name. Curious, I looked up Dr. Arend Hintze, whose name appears on the game’s title page. This led me to Arend’s page at the Adami Lab at Michigan State University. Arend studies how complex systems—especially biological systems—evolve over time.

Here is a video of one of Arend’s simulations. The black and white square is a zebra. The yellow ones are lions, the red ones are hyenas, and guess who’s hungry?

Arend’s description of the simulation is here. The cooperative behavior in the video—two hyenas working together to scare away a lion—wasn’t programmed into the simulation. It emerged out of many iterations of systems called Markov Brains—developed by Arend—that are based upon mathematical structures called Markov chains. More on those in a bit.

You can read more about how Arend thinks about his multidisciplinary work on biological systems here. Also, it turns out that Arend has made many more games besides Loops of Zen. Here’s Blobs of Zen, and Ink of Zen is coming out this month! Another that caught my eye is Curve, which reminds me of some of my favorite puzzle games. Curve is still in development; here’s hoping we’ll be able to play it soon.

Arend has agreed to do an interview with Math Munch, so share your questions about his work, his games, and his life below!

Eric Czekner

Arend’s simulations rely on Markov chains to model animal behavior. So what’s a Markov chain? It’s closely related to the idea of a random walk. Check out this video by digital artist, musician, and Pure Data enthusiast Eric Czekner. In the video, Eric gives an overview of what Markov chains are all about and shows how he uses them to create pieces of music.

On this page, Eric describes how he got started using Markov chains to make music, along with several of his compositions. It’s fascinating how he captures the feel of a song by creating a mathematical system that “generates new patterns based on existing probabilities.”

Now there’s a big idea: exploring something randomly can capture structures that might be hard to perceive otherwise. Here’s one last variation on the Markov chain theme that involves a pure math question. This blog post ponders the question: what happens when a knight takes a random walk—or random trot?—on a chessboard? It includes some colorful images of chessboards along the way.

 How likely it is that a knight lands on each square after five moves, starting from b1. How likely it is that a knight lands on each square after 200 moves, starting from b1.

The blogger—Leonid Kovalev—shows in his analysis what happens in the long run: the number of times a knight will visit a square will be proportional to the number of moves that lead to that square. For instance, since only two knight moves can reach a corner square while eight knight moves can reach a central square, it’s four times as likely that a knight will finish on a central square after a long, long journey than on a corner square. This idea works because moving a knight around a chessboard is a “reversible Markov chain”—any path that a knight can trace can also be untraced. The author also wrote a follow-up post about random queens.

It’s amazing the things you can find by chaining together ideas or by taking a random walk. Thanks for the inspiration for this post, Nico. Keep those comments and questions coming, everyone—we love hearing from you.

Bon appetit!

# Numenko, Turning Square, and Toilet Paper

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Have you ever played Scrabble or Bananagrams? Can you imagine versions of these games that would use numbers instead of letters?

Meet Tom Lennett, who imagined them and then made them!

Tom playing Numenko with his grandkids.

Numemko is a crossnumber game. Players build up number sentences, like 4×3+8=20, that cross each other like in a crossword puzzle. There is both a board game version of Numenko (like Scrabble) and a bag game version (like Banagrams). Tom invented the board game years ago to help his daughter get over her fear of math. He more recently invented the bag game for his grandkids because they wanted a game to play where they didn’t have to wait their turn!

The Multichoice tile.

One important feature of Numenko is the Multichoice tile. Can you see how it can represent addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or equality?

How would you like to have a Numenko set of your own? Well, guess what—Tom holds weekly Numenko puzzle competitions with prizes! You can see the current puzzle on this page, as well as the rules. Here’s the puzzle at the time of this post—the week of November 3, 2013.

Challenge: replace the Multichoice tiles to create a true number sentence.

I can assure you that it’s possible to win Tom’s competitions, because one of my students and I won Competition 3! I played my first games of Numenko today and really enjoyed them. I also tried making some Numenko puzzles of my own; see the sheet at the bottom of this post to see some of them.

Tom in 1972.

In emailing with Tom I’ve found that he’s had a really interesting life. He grew up in Scotland and left school before he turned 15. He’s been a football-stitcher, a barber, a soldier, a distribution manager, a paintball site operator, a horticulturist, a property developer, and more. And, of course, also a game developer!

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Tom? Send it in through the form below, and we’ll try to include it in our upcoming Q&A!

The level editor.

Say, do you like Bloxorz? I sure do—it’s one of my favorite games! So imagine my delight when I discovered that a fan of the game—who goes by the handle Jz Pan—created an extension of it where you can make your own levels. Awesome, right? It’s called Turning Square, and you can download it here.

(You’ll need to uncompress the file after downloading, then open TurningSquare.exe. This is a little more involved than what’s usual here on Math Munch, but I promise it’s worth it! Also, Turning Square has only been developed for PC. Sorry, Mac fans.)

The level I made!

But wait, there’s more! Turning Square also introduces new elements to Bloxorz, like slippery ice and pyramids you can trip over. It has a random level generator that can challenge you with different levels of difficulty. Finally, Turning Square includes a level solver—it can determine whether a level that you create is possible or not and how many steps it takes to complete.

Jz Pan is from China and is now a graduate student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, majoring in mathematics and studying number theory. Jz Pan made Turning Square in high school, back in 2008.

Jz Pan has agreed to answer some of your questions! Use the form below to send us some.

If you make a level in Turning Square that you really like, email us the .box file and we can share it with everyone through our new Readers’ Gallery! Here is my level from above, if you want to try it out.

Jz Pan has also worked on an even more ambitious extension of Bloxorz called Turning Polyhedron. The goal is the same, but like the game Dublox, the shape that you maneuver around is different. Turning Polyhderon features several different shapes. Check out this video of it being played with a u-polyhedron!

And if you think that’s wild, check out this video with multiple moving blocks!

Last up this week, have you ever heard that it’s impossible to fold a piece of paper in half more than eight times? Or maybe it’s seven…? Either way, it’s a “fact” that seems to be common knowledge, and it sure seems like it’s true when you try to fold up a standard sheet of paper—or even a jumbo sheet of paper. The stack sure gets thick quickly!

Britney and her 11th fold.

Well, here’s a great story about a teenager who decided to debunk this “fact” with the help of some math and some VERY big rolls of toilet paper. Her name is Britney Gallivan. Back in 2001, when she was a junior in high school, Britney figured out a formula for how much paper she’d need in order to fold it in half twelve times. Then she got that amount of paper and actually did it!

Due to her work, Britney has a citation in MathWorld’s article on folding and even her own Wikipedia article. After high school, Britney went on to UC Berkeley where she majored in Environmental Science. I’m trying to get in touch with Britney for an interview—if you have a question for her, hold onto it, and I’ll keep you posted!

EDIT: I got in touch with Britney, and she’s going to do an interview!

A diagram that illustrates how Britney derived her equation.

The best place to read more about Britney’s story in this article at pomonahistorical.org—the historical website of Britney’s hometown. Britney’s story shows that even when everyone else says that something’s impossible, that doesn’t mean you can’t be the one to do it. Awesome.

I hope you enjoy trying some Numenko puzzles, tinkering with Turning Square, and reading about Britney’s toilet paper adventure.

Bon appetit!

PS Want to see a video of some toilet-paper folding? Check out the very first “family math” video by Mike Lawler and his kids.

Reflection Sheet – Numenko, Turning Square, and Toilet Paper

# Digital Art, Mastermind, and Pythagoras

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch… on (approximately) Math Munch’s second birthday! Hooray!

Check out this video of mathematical art made by artist Nathan Selikoff:

Cool, right? This piece is called “Beautiful Chaos.” The curves on the screen are made from equations (if you’ve ever graphed a line or a parabola you’ll know what I mean). As the viewer waves her hands around, the equations change– and as the equations change, so do the curves! The result is something that might remind you of the images your computer makes when you play music on it or maybe of something you’d make using a spirograph. All in all, a beautiful and interactive piece of mathematical art.

Nathan lives and works as a mathematical artist in Orlando, Florida. As he writes on his website, Nathan uses computer code along with other materials to make art that plays with the mathematical ideas of space, motion, and interaction between objects. To see more of how Nathan does this, check out his giant, interactive marionette or this song that explores the first, second, third, and fourth dimensions:

My school is really lucky to be hosting Nathan this week! We didn’t want any of you, dear readers, to miss out on the excitement, though– so Nathan has kindly agreed to answer your interview questions! Got a question for Nathan? Write it in the box below. He’ll answer seven of your best questions in two weeks!

Next up, who doesn’t love to play Mastermind? It’s a great combination of logic, patterns, and trickery… but I just hate having to use all those tiny pegs. Well, guess what? You can play it online— no pegs (or opponent) necessary!

As I was playing Mastermind, I started wondering about strategy. What’s the best first guess to make? If I were as smart as a computer, is there a number of guesses in which I could guess any Mastermind code? (This kind of question reminds me of God’s Number and the Rubik’s cube…)

Well, it turns out there is a God’s Number for Mastermind – and that number is five. Just five. If you played perfectly and followed the strategy demonstrated by recreational mathematician Toby Nelson on his website, you could guess ANY Mastermind code in five guesses or less. Toby shares many more interesting questions about Mastermind on his website— I suggest you check it out.

What ARE those irrational numbers, so weird that they get their own bubble??

Finally, sometime in your mathematical past you may have heard of irrational numbers. These are numbers like the square-root of 2 or pi or e that can’t be written as a fraction– or so people claim. When you start thinking about this claim, however, it may seem strange. There are A LOT of fractions– and none of them equal the square-root of 2? Really? What kind of number is that? It seems like only an irrational person would believe that, at least without proof.

Vi Hart to the rescue! Irrational numbers were encountered long, long ago by the ancient Greek mathematician (and cult leader) Pythagoras– and he didn’t like them much. In this great video, Vi tells all about Pythagoras and the controversial discovery of numbers that aren’t fractions.

If you didn’t follow her explanation of why the square-root of 2 is irrational on your first watch, don’t worry– it’s a complicated idea that’s worth a second (or third or fourth) run-through.

Thanks for a great two years of Math Munch! Bon appetit!

# MoMA, Pop-Up Books, and A Game of Numbers

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in our Math Munch “share campaign” over the past two weeks. Over 200 shares were reported and we know that even more sharing happened “under the radar”. Thanks for being our partners in sharing great math experiences and curating the mathematical internet.

Of course, we know that the sharing will continue, even without a “campaign”. Thanks for that, too.

All right, time to share some math. On to the post!

To kick things off, you might like to check out our brand-new Q&A with Nalini Joshi. A choice quote from Nalini:

In contrast, doing math was entirely different. After trying it for a while, I realized that I could take my time, try alternative beginnings, do one step after another, and get to glimpse all kinds of possibilities along the way.

By Philippe Decrauzat.

I hope the math munches I share with you this week will help you to “glimpse all kinds of possibilities,” too!

Recently I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. (Warning: don’t confuse MoMA with MoMath!) On display was an exhibit called Abstract Generation. You can view the pieces of art in the exhibit online.

As I browsed the galley, the sculptures by Tauba Auerbach particularly caught my eye. Here are two of the sculptures she had on display at MoMA:

Just looking at them, these sculptures are definitely cool. However, they become even cooler when you realize that they are pop-up sculptures! Can you see how the platforms that the sculptures sit on are actually the covers of a book? Neat!

Here’s a video that showcases all of Tauba’s pop-ups in their unfolding glory. Why do you think this series of sculptures is called [2,3]?

This idea of pop-up book math intrigued me, so I started searching around for some more examples. Below you’ll find a video that shows off some incredible geometric pop-ups in action. To see how you can make a pop-up sculpture of your own, check out this how-to video. Both of these videos were created by paper engineer Peter Dahmen.

Tauba Auerbach.

Tauba got me thinking about math and pop-up books, but there’s even more to see and enjoy on her website! Tauba’s art gives me new ways to connect with and reimagine familiar structures. Remember our post about the six dimensions of color? Tauba created a book that’s a color space atlas! The way that Tauba plays with words in these pieces reminds me both of the word art of Scott Kim and the word puzzles of Douglas Hofstadter. Some of Tauba’s ink-on-paper designs remind me of the work of Chloé Worthington. And Tauba’s piece Componants, Numbers gives me some new insight into Brandon Todd Wilson’s numbers project.

This piece by Tauba is a Math Munch fave!

For me, both math and art are all about playing with patterns, images, structures, and ideas. Maybe that’s why math and art make such a great combo—because they “play” well together!

Speaking of playing, I’d like to wrap up this week’s post by sharing a game about numbers I ran across recently. It’s called . . . A Game of Numbers! I really like how it combines the structure of arithmetic operations with the strategy of an escape game. A Game of Numbers was designed by a software developer named Joseph Michels for a “rapid” game competition called Ludum Dare. Here’s a Q&A Joseph did about the game.

A Game of Numbers.

If you enjoy A Game of Numbers, maybe you’ll leave Joseph a comment on his post about the game’s release or drop him an email. And if you enjoy A Game of Numbers, then you’d probably enjoy checking out some of the other games on our games page.

Bon appetit!

PS Tauba also created a musical instrument called an auerglass that requires two people to play. Whooooooa!

Reflection Sheet – MoMA, Pop-Up Books, and A Game of Numbers

# TesselManiac, Zeno’s Paradox, and Platonic Realms

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Before we begin, we’d like to thank all of you who have checked out the site in the past week. Since we’ve kicked off our share campaign, we’ve had so many new visitors and heard from many of them, too! Reading your feedback – whether a recommendation, some praise, a question, or just a brief, “Hello!” – brings us great joy and helps us to know that you all are out there.

Whether you’re a regular reader or visiting the site for the first time, we’d like to ask you for a little favor. If you see some math you like, share it with someone who you think would like it, too! Do you love the burst of excitement that you get from reading about a new mathematical idea, seeing an original piece of math artwork, or trying out a new game? Do you know someone who would love that, too? Then tell them about Math Munch – we’d love to spread the joy.

If you enjoy Math Munch, join in our “share campaign” this week.

You can read more about the share campaign here. There are lots of ways to participate, and you can let us know about your sharing through this form. We’d love to see the share total rise up to 1000 over the course of the next week.

Now for the post!

***

This beautiful tessellated wooden box was made by computer scientist and mathematical artist Kevin Lee. I met Kevin two weeks ago at the MOVES conference (which Justin and Paul have both written about already). Kevin teaches computer science at Normandale Community College in Minnesota. He makes woodcut tessellations (which won an award for the “Best Textile, Sculpture, or Other Medium” at the Joint Mathematics Meetings art exhibition this year!). He’s also used a combination of his knowledge of computer science and his love of Escher-type tessellations to make software that helps you create tessellations. His new software, TesselManiac!, is due out soon (watch this short movie Kevin made about it for the Bridges conference), but you can download an older version of the software here and play a preview version of The Flipping Tile Game.

To play this game, you must fill in an outline of a tessellation with the piece given. You can use any of four symmetry motions – translation (or shift), rotation, reflection, or glide reflection (which reflects the tile and then translates it along a line parallel to the line of reflection). You get points for each correct tile placed (and lose points if you have to delete). Translations are the simplest, and only give you 5 points each. Reflections are the most difficult – you get 20 points for each one used!

While you’re downloading The Flipping Tile Game, try one of Kevin’s Dot-to-Dot puzzles. These are definitely not your typical dot-to-dot. Only the portion of the image corresponding to one tile in the tessellation is numbered. Once you figure out the shape of that single tile, you have to figure out how to number the rest of the puzzle!

Lucky for us, Kevin has agreed to answer some questions about his life and work as a math artist and computer scientist. Leave a question for Kevin here. (We’ll take questions for the next two weeks.)

I’ve recently been thinking about a paradox that has puzzled mathematicians for centuries. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s one of the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno‘s paradoxes of motion, and it goes like this: Achilles (a really fast Greek hero) and a tortoise are going to run a race. Achilles agrees to give the tortoise a head-start, because the tortoise is so slow. Achilles then starts to run. But as Achilles catches up with the tortoise, the tortoise moves a little further. So the tortoise is still ahead. And as Achilles moves to catch up again, the tortoise moves even further! Sounds like Achilles will never catch up to the tortoise, let alone pass him… But that doesn’t make sense…

Will Achilles lose the race??? Check out this great video from Numberphile that explains both the paradox and the solution.

While I was looking for information about this paradox, I stumbled across a great math resource site called Platonic Realms. The homepage of this site has a daily historical fact, mathematical quote, and puzzle.

The site hosts a math encyclopedia with explanations of all kinds of math terms and little biographies of famous mathematicians. You can also read “mini-texts” about different mathematical topics, such as this one about M. C. Escher (the inspiration behind the art at the beginning of this post!) or this one about coping with math anxiety.

I hope we here at Math Munch have given you something to tantalize your mathematical taste buds this week! If so, we’d love it if you would pass it along.

Thank you for reading, and bon appetit!

P.S. – We’ve posted a new game, suggested to us by one of our readers! It’s an online version of Rush Hour. Check it out!

# MOVES, the Tower of Hanoi, and Mathigon

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

The Math Munch team just wrapped up attending the first MOVES Conference, which was put on by the Museum of Math in NYC. MOVES is a recreational math conference and stands for Mathematics of Various Entertaining Subjects. Anna coordinated the Family Activities track at the conference and Paul gave a talk about his imbalance problems. I was just there as an attendee and had a blast soaking up wonderful math from some amazing people!

Who all was there? Some of our math heroes—and familiar faces on Math Munch—like Erik Demaine, Tanya Khovanova, Tim and Tanya Chartier, and Henry Segerman, just to name just a few. I got to meet and learn from many new people, too! Even though I know it’s true, it still surprises me how big and varied the world of math and mathematicians is.

Suzanne Dorée at MOVES.

One of my favorite talks at MOVES was given by Suzanne Dorée of Augsburg College. Su spoke about research she did with a former student—Danielle Arett—about the puzzle known as the Tower of Hanoi. You can try out this puzzle yourself with this online applet. The applet also includes some of the puzzle’s history and even some information about how the computer code for the applet was written.

Danielle Arett

A piece of a Tower of Hanoi graph with three pegs and four disks.

But back to Su and Danielle. If you think of the different Tower of Hanoi puzzle states as dots, and moving a disk as a line connecting two of these dots, then you can make a picture (or graph) of the whole “puzzle space”. Here are some photos of the puzzle space for playing the Tower of Hanoi with four disks. Of course, how big your puzzle space graph is depends on how many disks you use for your puzzle, and you can imagine changing the number of pegs as well. All of these different pictures are given the technical name of Tower of Hanoi graphs. Su and Danielle investigated these graphs and especially ways to color them: how many different colors are needed so that all neighboring dots are different colors?

Images from Su and Danielle’s paper. Tower of Hanoi graphs with four pegs.

Su and Danielle showed that even as the number of disks and pegs grows—and the puzzle graphs get very large and complicated—the number of colors required does not increase quickly. In fact, you only ever need as many colors as you have pegs! Su and Danielle wrote up their results and published them as an article in Mathematics Magazine in 2010.

Today Danielle lives in North Dakota and is an analyst at Hartford Funds. She uses math every day to help people to grow and manage their money. Su teaches at Ausburg College in Minnesota where she carries out her belief “that everyone can learn mathematics.”

Do you have a question for Su or Danielle—about their Tower of Hanoi research, about math more generally, or about their careers? If you do, send them to us in the form below for an upcoming Q&A!

UPDATE: We’re no longer accepting questions for Su and Danielle. Their interview will be posted soon! Ask questions of other math people here.

Last up, here’s a gorgeous website called Mathigon, which someone shared with me recently. It shares a colorful and sweeping view of different fields of mathematics, and there are some interactive parts of the site as well. There are features about graph theory—the field that Su and Danielle worked in—as well as combinatorics and polyhedra. There’s lots to explore!

Bon appetit!

# Prime Gaps, Mad Maths, and Castles

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

It has been a thrilling last month in the world of mathematics. Several new proofs about number patterns have been announced. Just to get a flavor for what it’s all about, here are some examples.

I can make 15 by adding together three prime numbers: 3+5+7. I can do this with 49, too: 7+11+31. Can all odd numbers be written as three prime numbers added together? The Weak Goldbach Conjecture says that they can, as long as they’re bigger than five. (video)

11 and 13 are primes that are only two apart. So are 107 and 109. Can we find infinitely many such prime pairs? That’s called the Twin Prime Conjecture. And if we can’t, are there infinitely many prime pairs that are at most, say, 100 apart? (video, with a song!)

 Harald Helfgott Yitang “Tom” Zhang

People have been wondering about these questions for hundreds of years. Last month, Harald Helfgott showed that the Weak Goldbach Conjecture is true! And Yitang “Tom” Zhang showed that there are infinitely many prime pairs that are at most 70,000,000 apart! You can find lots of details about these discoveries and links to even more in this roundup by Evelyn Lamb.

What’s been particularly fabulous about Tom’s result about gaps between primes is that other mathematicians have started to work together to make it even better. Tom originally showed that there are an infinite number of prime pairs that are at most 70,000,000 apart. Not nearly as cute as being just two apart—but as has been remarked, 70,000,000 is a lot closer to two than it is to infinity! That gap of 70,000,000 has slowly been getting smaller as mathematicians have made improvements to Tom’s argument. You can see the results of their efforts on the polymath project. As of this writing, they’ve got the gap size narrowed down to 12,006—you can track the decreasing values down the page in the H column. So there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are at most 12,006 apart! What amazing progress!

Two names that you’ll see in the list of contributors to the effort are Andrew Sutherland and Scott Morrison. Andrew is a computational number theorist at MIT and Scott has done research in knot theory and is at the Australian National University. They’ve improved arguments and sharpened figures to lower the prime gap value H. They’ve contributed by doing things like using a hybrid Schinzel/greedy (or “greedy-greedy”) sieve. Well, I know what a sieve is and what a greedy algorithm is, but believe me, this is very complicated stuff that’s way over my head. Even so, I love getting to watch the way that these mathematicians bounce ideas off each other, like on this thread.

 Andrew Sutherland Andrew. Click this! Scott Morrison

Andrew and Scott have agreed to answer some of your questions about their involvement in this research about prime gaps and their lives as mathematicians. I know I have some questions I’m curious about! You can submit your questions in the form below:

I can think of only two times in my life where I was so captivated by mathematics in the making as I am by this prime gaps adventure. Andrew Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was on the fringe of my awareness when it came out in 1993—its twentieth anniversary of his proof just happened, in fact. The result still felt very new and exciting when I read Fermat’s Enigma a couple of years later. Grigori Perelman’s proof of the Poincare Conjecture made headlines just after I moved to New York City seven years ago. I still remember reading a big article about it in the New York Times, complete with a picture of a rabbit with a grid on it.

This work on prime gaps is even more exciting to me than those, I think. Maybe it’s partly because I have more mathematical experience now, but I think it’s mostly because lots of people are helping the story to unfold and we can watch it happen!

Next up, I ran across a great site the other week when I was researching the idea of a “cut and slide” process. The site is called Mad Maths and the page I landed on was all about beautiful dissections of simple shapes, like circles and squares. I’ve picked out one that I find especially charming to feature here, but you might enjoy seeing them all. The site also contains all kinds of neat puzzles and problems to try out. I’m always a fan of congruent pieces problems, and these paper-folding puzzles are really tricky and original. (Or maybe, origaminal!) You’ll might especially like them if you liked Folds.

Christian’s applet displaying the original four-room castle.

Finally, we previously posted about Matt Parker’s great video problem about a princess hiding in a castle. Well, Christian Perfect of The Aperiodical has created an applet that will allow you to explore this problem—plus, it’ll let you build and try out other castles for the princess to hide in. Super cool! Will I ever be able to find the princess in this crazy star castle I designed?!

My crazy star castle!

And as summer gets into full swing, the other kind of castle that’s on my mind is the sandcastle. Take a peek at these photos of geometric sandcastles by Calvin Seibert. What shapes can you find? Maybe Calvin’s creations will inspire your next beach creation!

Bon appetit!