Tag Archives: polyominoes

Mathpuzzle, Video Contests, and Snowflakes

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!


One of my favorite math sites on the internet is mathpuzzle. It’s written and curated by recreational mathematician Ed Pegg Jr. About once a month, Ed makes a post that shares a ton of awesome math—interesting tilings, tricky puzzles, results about polyhedra and polyominos, and so much more. Below are some of my favorite finds at mathpuzzles. Go to the site to discover much more to explore!


Shapes that three kinds of polyominoes can tile.


Erich Friedman’s 2012 holiday puzzles


A slideable, flexible hypercube you can hold in your hands! Video below.


Next, have you ever wanted to be a movie star? How about a math movie star? Then there are two math video contests that you should know about. The first is for middle schoolers— the Reel Math Challenge. It’s run by MATHCOUNTS, which has for many years run a middle school problem solving contest. (I competed in it when I was in middle school.) This is only the second year for the Reel Math Challenge, but lots of videos have already been created. You can check them out here.

MathovisionThe second contest is for high schoolers and is called Math-O-Vision. The challenge is to make a video that shows “the way Math fills our world.” Math-O-Vision is sponsored by the Dartmouth College Math Department and the Neukom Institute.

makeaflakeFinally, here’s a fun little applet I found called Make-a-Flake. You can use it to make intricate digital snowflake designs.


Two snowflakes from the Make-a-Flake gallery.

Of course, it’s a lot of fun to make non-virtual snowflakes as well—find a pair of scissor and some paper and go for it! For basic instructions, head over to snowflakes.info. And for some inspiration, check out this Flickr group!

Bon appetit!

Newroz, a Math Factory, and Flexagons

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

You’ve probably seen Venn diagrams before. They’re a great way of picturing the relationships among different sets of objects.

But I bet you’ve never seen a Venn diagram like this one!

Frank Ruskey

That’s because its discovery was announced only a few weeks ago by Frank Ruskey and Khalegh Mamakani of the University of Victoria in Canada. The Venn diagrams at the top of the post are each made of two circles that carve out three regions—four if you include the outside. Frank and Khalegh’s new diagram is made of eleven curves, all identical and symmetrically arranged. In addition—and this is the new wrinkle—the curves only cross in pairs, not three or more at a time. All together their diagram contains 2047 individual regions—or 2048 (that’s 2^11) if you count the outside.

Frank and Khalegh named this Venn diagram “Newroz”, from the Kurdish word for “new day” or “new sun”. Khalegh was born in Iran and taught at the University of Kurdistan before moving to Canada to pursue his Ph.D. under Frank’s direction.

Khalegh Mamakani

“Newroz” to those who speak English sounds like “new rose”, and the diagram does have a nice floral look, don’t you think?

When I asked Frank what it was like to discover Newroz, he said, “It was quite exciting when Khalegh told me that he had found Newroz. Other researchers, some of my grad students and I had previously looked for it, and I had even spent some time trying to prove that it didn’t exist!”

Khalegh concurred. “It was quite exciting. When I first ran the program and got the first result in less than a second I didn’t believe it. I checked it many times to make sure that there was no mistake.”

You can click these links to read more of my interviews with Frank and Khalegh.

I enjoyed reading about the discovery of Newroz in these articles at New Scientist and Physics Central. And check out this gallery of images that build up to Newroz’s discovery. Finally, Frank and Khalegh’s original paper—with its wonderful diagrams and descriptions—can be found here.

A single closed curve—or “petal”— of Newroz. Eleven of these make up the complete diagram.

A Venn diagram made of four identical ellipses. It was discovered by John Venn himself!

For even more wonderful images and facts about Venn diagrams, a whole world awaits you at Frank’s Survey of Venn Diagrams.

On Frank’s website you can also find his Amazing Mathematical Object Factory! Frank has created applets that will build combinatorial objects to your specifications. “Combinatorial” here means that there are some discrete pieces that are combined in interesting ways. Want an example of a 5×5 magic square? Done! Want to pose your own pentomino puzzle and see a solution to it? No problem! Check out the rubber ducky it helped me to make!

A pentomino rubber ducky!

Finally, Frank mentioned that one of his early mathematical experiences was building hexaflexagons with his father. This led me to browse around for information about these fun objects, and to re-discover the work of Linda van Breemen. Here’s a flexagon video that she made.

And here’s Linda’s page with instructions for how to make one. Online, Linda calls herself dutchpapergirl and has both a website and a YouTube channel. Both are chock-full of intricate and fabulous creations made of paper. Some are origami, while others use scissors and glue.

I can’t wait to try making some of these paper miracles myself!

Bon appetit!

Bridges, Meander Patterns, and Water Sports

This past week the Math Munch team got to attend the Bridges 2012. Bridges is a mathematical art conference, the largest one in the world. This year it was held at Towson University outside of Baltimore, Maryland. The idea of the conference is to build bridges between math and the arts.

Participants gave lectures about their artwork and the math that inspired or informed it. There were workshop sessions about mathematical poetry and chances to make baskets and bead bracelets involving intricate patterns. There was even a dance workshop about imagining negative-dimensional space! There were also some performances, including two music nights (which included a piece that explored a Fibonacci-like sequence called Narayana’s Cows) and a short film festival (here are last year’s films). Vi Hart and George Hart talked about the videos they make and world-premiered some new ones. And at the center of it all was an art exhibition with pieces from around the world.

The Zen of the Z-Pentomino by Margaret Kepner

Does this piece by Bernhard Rietzl
remind you of a certain sweater?

5 Rhombic Screens by Alexandru Usineviciu

Pythagorean Proof by Donna Loraine

To see more, you should really just browse the Bridges online gallery.

A shot of the gallery exhibition

I know that Paul, Anna, and I will be sharing things with you that we picked up at Bridges for months to come. It was so much fun!

David Chappell

One person whose work and presentation I loved at Bridges is David Chappell. David is a professor of astronomy at the University of La Verne in California.

David shared some thinking and artwork that involve meander patterns. “Meander” means to wander around and is used to describe how rivers squiggle and flow across a landscape. David uses some simple and elegant math to create curve patterns.

Instead of saying where curves sit in the plane using x and y coordinates, David describes them using more natural coordinates, where the direction that the curve is headed in depends on how far along the curve you’ve gone. This relationship is encoded in what’s called a Whewell equation. For example, as you walk along a circle at a steady rate, the direction that you face changes at a contant rate, too. That means the Whewell equation of a circle might look like angle=distance. A smaller circle, where the turning happens faster, could be written down as angle=2(distance).

Look at how the Cauto River “meanders” across the Cuban landscape.

In his artwork, David explores curves whose equations are more complicated—ones that involve multiple sine functions. The interactions of the components of his equations allow for complex but rhythmic behavior. You can create meander patterns of your own by tinkering with an applet that David designed. You can find both the applet and more information about the math of meander patterns on David’s website.

David Chappell’s Meander #6
Make your own here!

When I asked David about how being a scientist affects his approach to making art, and vice versa, he said:

My research focuses on nonlinear dynamics and pattern formation in fluid systems. That is, I study the spatial patterns that arise when fluids are agitated (i.e. shaken or stirred). I think I was attracted to this area because of my interest in the visual arts. I’ve always been interested in patterns. The science allows me to study the underlying physical systems that generate the patterns, and the art allows me to think about how and why we respond to different patterns the way we do.  Is there a connection between how we respond to a visual image and the underlying “rules” that produced the image?  Why to some patterns look interesting, but others not so much?

For more of my Q&A with David, click here. In addition, David will be answering questions in the comments below, so ask away!

Since bridges and meandering rivers are both water-related, I thought I’d round out this post with a couple of interesting links about water sports and the Olympics. My springboard was a site called Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games.

No wiggle rigs

Arrangements of rowers that are “wiggle-less”

Here’s an article that explores different arrangements of rowers in a boat, focusing on finding ones where the boat doesn’t “wiggle” as the rowers row. It’s called Rowing has its Moments.

Next, here’s an article about the swimming arena at the 2008 Beijing games, titled Swimming in Mathematics.

Paul used to be a competitive diver, and he says there’s an interesting code for the way dives are numbered.  For example, the “Forward 1 ½ Somersaults in Tuck Position” is dive number 103C.  How does that work?  You can read all about it here.  (Degree of difficulty is explained as well.)

Finally, enjoy these geometric patterns inspired by synchronized swimming!

Stay cool, and bon appetit!