Consecutive Product Square

This problem from Colin Hughes at Maths Challenge is a most surprising result that takes a bit of tinkering to solve.

Problem
We can see that 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 360 = 19^2 – 1. Prove that the product of four consecutive integers is always one less than a perfect square.”

The result is so mysterious at first that you begin to understand why the ancient Pythagoreans had a mystical relationship with mathematics.

See the Consecutive Product Square.

Mathematics, And The Excellence Of The Life It Brings

I am a regular reader of Ash Jogalekar’s blog Curious Wavefunction, but I found my way to his latest via the eclectic website 3 Quarks Daily, also highly recommended. I could not resist the title, “Mathematics, And The Excellence Of The Life It Brings”. The entirety of the post was about the mathematician Shing-Tung Yau’s recent memoir, The Shape of a Life, but Jogalekar’s introductory remarks about his personal involvement with mathematics stirred so many personal recollections of my own, that I thought I would provide an excerpt, followed by my own comments. Furthermore, he also addresses in passing the perennial question of whether math is invented or discovered.

See Math and the Excellence of Life

Maximum Product

This 2007 four-star problem from Colin Hughes at Maths Challenge is definitely a bit challenging.

Problem
For any positive integer, k, let Sk = {x1, x2, … , xn} be the set of [non-negative] real numbers for which x1 + x2 + … + xn = k and P = x1 x2 … xn is maximised. For example, when k = 10, the set {2, 3, 5} would give P = 30 and the set {2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 2.9} would give P = 38.25. In fact, S10 = {2.5, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5}, for which P = 39.0625.

Prove that P is maximised when all the elements of S are equal in value and rational.”

I took a different approach from Maths Challenge, but for me, it did not rely on remembering a somewhat obscure formula. (I don’t remember formulas well at my age—only procedures, processes, or proofs, which is ironic, since at a younger age it was just the opposite.) It is also clear from the Maths Challenge solution that the numbers were assumed to be non-negative.

See Maximum Product.

Impossible Car Riddle

This is another intriguing problem from Presh Talwalkar.

“A car travels 75 miles per hour (mph) downhill, 60 mph on flat roads, and 50 mph uphill. It takes 3 hours to go from town A to B, and it takes 3 hours and 30 minutes for return journey by the same route. What is the distance in miles between towns A and B?”

See the Impossible Car Riddle

Tandem Bicycle Puzzle

A glutton for punishment I considered another Sam Loyd puzzle:

“Three men had a tandem and wished to go just forty miles. It could complete the journey with two passengers in one hour, but could not carry the three persons at one time. Well, one who was a good pedestrian, could walk at the rate of a mile in ten minutes; another could walk in fifteen minutes, and the other in twenty. What would be the best possible time in which all three could get to the end of their journey?”

See the Tandem Bicycle Puzzle.

Magic Pythagorean Circle

This statement showed up recently at Futility Closet and I found it to be another one of those magical results that seemed so surprising. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

“The radius of a circle inscribed in a 3-4-5 triangle is 1.
(In fact, the inradius of any Pythagorean triangle is an integer.)”

(A Pythagorean triangle is a right triangle whose sides form a Pythagorean triple.) Futility Closet left these remarkable statements unproven, so naturally I felt I had to provide a proof.

See Magic Pythagorean Circle

Marching Cadets and Dog Problem

In my search for new problems I came across this one from Martin Gardner:

“A square formation of Army cadets, 50 feet on the side, is marching forward at a constant pace [see Figure]. The company mascot, a small terrier, starts at the center of the rear rank [position A in the illustration], trots forward in a straight line to the center of the front rank [position B], then trots back again in a straight line to the center of the rear. At the instant he returns to position A, the cadets have advanced exactly 50 feet. Assuming that the dog trots at a constant speed and loses no time in turning, how many feet does he travel?”

Gardner gives a follow-up problem that is virtually impossible:

“If you solve this problem, which calls for no more than a knowledge of elementary algebra, you may wish to tackle a much more difficult version proposed by the famous puzzlist Sam Loyd. Instead of moving forward and back through the marching cadets, the mascot trots with constant speed around the outside of the square, keeping as close as possible to the square at all times. (For the problem we assume that he trots along the perimeter of the square.) As before, the formation has marched 50 feet by the time the dog returns to point A. How long is the dog’s path?”

See the Marching Cadets and Dog Problem.