Category Archives: Math Inquiries

Flipping Parabolas

This is a stimulating problem from the UKMT Senior Math Challenge for 2017. The additional problem “for investigation” is particularly challenging. (I have edited the problem slightly for clarity.)

“The parabola with equation y = x² is reflected about the line with equation y = x + 2. Which of the following is the equation of the reflected parabola?

A_x = y² + 4y + 2_____B_x = y² + 4y – 2_____C_x = y² – 4y + 2
D_x = y² – 4y – 2_____E_x = y² + 2

For investigation: Find the coordinates of the point that is obtained when the point with coordinates (x, y) is reflected about the line with equation y = mx + b.”

See Flipping Parabolas.

Fibonacci, Chickens, and Proportions

There is the famous chicken and the egg problem: If a chicken and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how many eggs can three chickens lay in three days? Fibonacci 800 years ago in his book Liber Abaci (1202 AD) did not have exactly this problem (as far as I could find), but he posed its equivalent. And most likely the problem came even earlier from the Arabs. So we can essentially claim Fibonacci (or the Arabs) as the father of the chicken and egg problem. Here are three of Fibonacci’s actual problems:

  1. “Five horses eat 6 sestari of barley in 9 days; it is sought by the same rule how many days will it take ten horses to eat 16 sestari.
  2. A certain king sent indeed 30 men to plant trees in a certain plantation where they planted 1000 trees in 9 days, and it is sought how many days it will take for 36 men to plant 4400 trees.
  3. Five men eat 4 modia of corn in one month, namely in 30 days. Whence another 7 men seek to know by the same rule how many modia will suffice for the same 30 days.”

By modern standards these problems all involve simple arithmetic to solve. But there are actually some subtleties in mapping the mathematical model to the situation, in which fractions, proportions, ratios, and “direct variation” get swirled into the mix—naturally causing some confusion.

See Fibonacci, Chickens, and Proportions

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.

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

Alberti’s Perspective Construction

I was reading yet another book on the Scientific Revolution when I came across a discussion of the mathematical significance of the invention of perspective for painting in the 15th century Italian Renaissance. The main player in the saga was Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) and his tome De Pictura (On Painting) (1435-6), which contained the first mathematical presentation of perspective. Even though mathematics was advertised, it was not at the level of trigonometry I used in my post “The Perspective Map”, but rather entailed simple Euclidean plane geometry. So the discussion was largely historical rather than mathematical. Nevertheless, I became curious to learn how much Alberti was able to discover about perspective without a lot of math. This essay is the result.

See Alberti’s Perspective Construction

(Update 7/29/2019)  I got a response! Continue reading

Conical Bottle Problem

I was astonished that this problem was suitable for 8th graders. First of all the formula for the volume of a cone is one of the least-remembered of formulas, and I certainly never remember it. So my only viable approach was calculus, which is probably not a suitable solution for an 8th grader.

Presh Talwalkar: “This was sent to me as a competition problem for 8th graders, so it would be a challenge problem for students aged 12 to 13. When a conical bottle rests on its flat base, the water in the bottle is 8 cm from its vertex. When the same conical bottle is turned upside down, the water level is 2 cm from its base. What is the height of the bottle? (Note “conical” refers to a right circular cone as is common usage.) I at first thought this problem was impossible. But it actually can be solved. Give it a try and then watch the video for a solution.”

See the Conical Bottle Problem.

Straight and Narrow Problem

The following interesting behavior was found at the Futility Closet website:

“A pleasing fact from David Wells’ Archimedes Mathematics Education Newsletter: Draw two parallel lines. Fix a point A on one line and move a second point B along the other line. If an equilateral triangle is constructed with these two points as two of its vertices, then as the second point moves, the third vertex C of the triangle will trace out a straight line. Thanks to reader Matthew Scroggs for the tip and the GIF.”

This is rather amazing and cries out for a proof. It also raises the question of how anyone noticed this behavior in the first place. I proved the result with calculus, but I wonder if there is a slicker way that makes it more obvious. See the Straight and Narrow Problem.

(Update 3/25/2019) Continue reading