Tag Archives: symmetry

Temari, Function Families, and Clapping Music

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Carolyn Yackel

Carolyn Yackel

As Justin mentioned last week, the Math Munch team had a blast at the MOVES conference last week.  I met so many lovely mathematicians and learned a whole lot of cool math. Let me introduce you to Carolyn Yackel. She’s a math professor at Mercer University in Georgia, and she’s also a mathematical fiber artist who specializes in the beautiful Temari balls you can see below or by clicking the link. Carolyn has exhibited at the Bridges conference, naturally, and her 2012 Bridges page contains an artist statement and some explanation of her art.

temari15 temari3 temari16



Truncated Dodecahedron

Truncated Dodecahedron



Temari is an ancient form of japanese folk art. These embroidered balls feature various spherical symmetries, and part of Carolyn’s work has been figure out how to create and exploit these symmetries on the sphere.  I mean how do you actually make it that symmetric? Can you see in the pictures above how the symmetry of the Temari balls mimic the Archimedean solids? Carolyn has even written about using Temari to teach mathematics, some of which you can read here, if you like.

Read Carolyn Yackel’s Q&A with Math Munch.


Edmund Harriss

Edmund Harriss

Up next, you may remember Edmund Harriss from this post, and you might recall Desmos from this post. Well the two have come together! On his blog, Maxwell’s Demon, Edmund shared a whole bunch of interactive graphs from Desmos, in a post he called “Form Follows Function.” Click on the link to read the article, and click on the images to get graphs full of sliders you can move to alter the images. In fact, you can even alter the equations that generate them, so dig in, play some, and see what you can figure out.

graph2 graph1 graph3

Finally, I want to share a piece of music I really love. “Clapping Music” was written by Steve Reich in 1972. It is considered minimalist music, perhaps because it features two performers doing nothing but clapping. If you watch this performance of “Clapping Music” first (and I suggest you do) it might just sound like a bunch of jumbled clapping. But the clapping is actually built out of some very simple and lovely mathematical patterns. Watch the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Did you see the symmetries in the video? I noticed that even though the pattern shifts, it’s always the same backwards as forwards. And I also noticed that the whole piece is kind of the same forwards and backwards, because of the way that the pattern lines back up with itself. Watch again and see if you get what I mean.

Bonus: Math teacher, Greg Hitt tweeted me about “Clapping Music” and shared this amazing performance by six bounce jugglers!!!  It’s cool how you can really see the patterns in the live performance.

I hope you find something you love and dig in. Bon appetit!

World’s Oldest Person, Graphing Challenge, and Escher Sketch

265282-jiroemon-kimura-the-world-s-oldest-living-man-celebrated-his-115th-birOn April 19th, Jiroeman Kimura celebrated his 116th birthday. He was – and still is – the world’s oldest person, and the world’s longest living man – ever. (As far as researchers know, that is. There could be a man who has lived longer that the public doesn’t know about.) The world’s longest living woman was Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and a half!

Most people don’t live that long, and, obviously, only one person can hold the title of “Oldest Person in the World” at any given time. So, you may  be wondering… how often is there a new oldest person in the world? (Take a few guesses, if you like. I’ll give you the answer soon!)

stackSome mathematicians were wondering this, too, and they went about answering their question in the way they know best: by sharing their question with other mathematicians around the world! In April, a mathematician who calls himself Gugg, asked this question on the website Mathematics Stack Exchange, a free question-and-answer site that people studying math can use to share their ideas with each other. Math Stack Exchange says that it’s for “people studying math at any level.” If you browse around, you’ll see mathematicians asking for help on all kinds of questions, such as this tricky algebra problem and this problem about finding all the ways to combine coins to get a certain amount of money.  Here’s an entry from a student asking for help on trigonometry homework. You might need some specialized math knowledge to understand some of the questions, but there’s often one that’s both interesting and understandable on the list.

Anyway, Gugg asked on Math Stack Exchange, “How often does the oldest person in the world die?” and the community of mathematicians around the world got to work! Several mathematicians gave ways to calculate how often a new person becomes the oldest person in the world. You can read about how they worked it out on Math Stack Exchange, if you like, or on the Smithsonian blog – it’s a good example of how people use math to model things that happen in the world. Oh, and, in case you were wondering, a new person becomes the world’s oldest about every 0.65 years. (Is that around what you expected? It was definitely more often than I expected!)

advanced 4

Next, check out this graph! Yes, that’s a graph – there is a single function that you can make so that when you graph it, you get that.  Crazy – and beautiful! This was posted by a New York City math teacher named Michael Pershan to a site called Daily Desmos, and he challenges you to figure out how to make it!  (He challenged me, too. I worked on this for days.)

qod0nxgctfMichael made this graph using an awesome free, online graphing program called Desmos. Michael and many other people regularly post graphing challenges on Daily Desmos. Some of them are very difficult (like the one shown above), but some are definitely solvable without causing significant amounts of pain. They’re marked with levels “Basic” and “Advanced.” (See if you can spot contributions from a familiar Math Munch face…)


Here are more that I think are particularly beautiful. If you’re feeling more creative than puzzle-solvey, try making a cool graph of your own! You can submit a graphing challenge of your own to Daily Desmos.

escher 3If you’ve got the creative bug, you could also check out a new MArTH tool that we just found called Escher Web Sketch. This tool was designed by three Swiss mathematicians, and it helps you to make intricate tessellations with interesting symmetries – like the ones made by the mathematical artist M. C. Escher. If you like Symmetry Artist and Kali, you’ll love this applet.

Be healthy and happy! Enjoy graphing and sketching! And, bon appetit!

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!

Math Cats, Frieze Music, and Numbers

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

I just ran across a website that’s chock full of cool math applets, links, and craft ideas – and perfect for fulfilling those summer math cravings!  Math Cats was created by teacher and parent Wendy Petti to, as she says on her site, “promote open-ended and playful explorations of important math concepts.”

Math Cats has a number of pages of interesting mathematical things to do, but my favorite is the Math Cats Explore the World page.  Here you’ll find links to cool math games and explorations made by Wendy, such as…

… the Crossing the River puzzle!  In this puzzle, you have to get a goat, a cabbage, and a wolf across a river without any of your passengers eating each other!  And…

… the Encyclogram!  Make beautiful images called harmonograms, spirographs, and lissajous figures with this cool applet.  Wendy explains some of the mathematics behind these images, too. And, one of my favorites…

Scaredy Cats!  If you’ve ever played the game NIM, this game will be very familiar.  Here you play against the computer to chase cats away – but don’t be left with the last cat, or you’ll lose!

These are only a few of the fun activities to try on Math Cats.  If you happen to be a teacher or parent, I recommend that you look at Wendy’s Idea Bank.  Here Wendy has put together a very comprehensive and impressive list of mathematics lessons, activities, and links contributed by many teachers.

Next, Vi Hart has a new video that showcases one of my favorite things in mathematics – the frieze.  A frieze is a pattern that repeats infinitely in one direction, like the footsteps of the person walking in a straight line above.  All frieze patterns have translation symmetry – or symmetry that slides or hops – but some friezes have additional symmetries.  The footsteps above also have glide reflection symmetry – a symmetry that flips along a horizontal line and then slides.  Frieze patterns frequently appear in architecture.  You can read more about frieze patterns here.

Reading about frieze patterns is all well and good – but what if you could listen to them?  What would a translation sound like?  A glide reflection?  The inverse of a frieze pattern?  Vi sings the sounds of frieze patterns in this video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av_Us6xHkUc&feature=BFa&list=UUOGeU-1Fig3rrDjhm9Zs_wg]

Do you have your own take on frieze music?  Send us your musical compositions at MathMunchTeam@gmail.com .

Finally, if I were to ask you to name the number directly in the middle of 1 and 9, I bet you’d say 5.  But not everyone would.  What would these strange people say – and why would they also be correct?  Learn about this and some of the history, philosophy, and psychology of numbers – and hear some great stories – in this podcast from Radiolab.  It’s called Numbers.

Bon appetit!

P.S. – Paul made a new Yoshimoto video!  The Mega-Monster Mesh comes alive!  Ack!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMpr8pA5lJw&feature=player_embedded]

P.P.S. – Last week – June 28th, to be exact – was Tau Day.  For more information about Tau Day and tau, check out the last bit of this old Math Munch post.  In honor of the occasion, Vi Hart made this new tau video.  And there’s a remix.

Noodles, Flowsnake, and Symmetry

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Gemelli, by Sander Huisman

Gemelli, by Sander Huisman

How much do you like pasta?  Well, these mathematicians and scientists from around the world like pasta so much that they’ve been studying its shape mathematically!  Check out this New York Times article about Sander Huisman, a graduate student in physics from the Netherlands, and Marco Guarnieri and George L. Legendre, two architects from London, who have all taken up making graphs of and equations for pasta shapes.  Sander posts his pasta-graphs on his blog.  Legendre wrote this book about math and pasta, called Pasta By Design.  Legendre has even invented a new type of pasta, shaped like a Mobius strip (see last week’s Math Munch for lots of cool things with Mobius strips), which he named after his baby daughter, Ioli!

Some of Legendre’s pasta plots

Next, here comes the flowsnake.  Wait – don’t run away!  The flowsnake is not a terrifying monster, despite it’s ominous name.  It is a space-filing curve, meaning that the complete curve covers every single point in a part of two-dimensional space.  So if you were to try to draw a flowsnake on a piece of paper, you wouldn’t be able to see any white when you were done.  It’s named flowsnake because it resembles a snowflake.

The flowsnake curve

A single piece of the flowsnake curve.

Units of flowsnake fit together like puzzle pieces to fill the plane

Finally, check out this awesome online symmetry-sketcher, called Symmetry Artist!  Here, you can make doodles of all kinds and then choose how you want to reflect and rotate them.  Fun!

Bon appetit!