Category Archives: Puzzles and Problems

A Tidy Theorem

This is another fairly simple puzzle from Futility Closet.

“If an equilateral triangle is inscribed in a circle, then the distance from any point on the circle to the triangle’s farthest vertex is equal to the sum of its distances to the two nearer vertices (q = p + r).

(A corollary of Ptolemy’s theorem.)”

See A Tidy Theorem

Amazing Triangle Problem

Here is another simply amazing problem from Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges:

Problem 154. Show that three solutions, (x1,.y1), (x2,.y2), (x3, y3), of the four solutions of the simultaneous equations
____________(x – h)² + (y – k)² = 4(h² + k²)
______________________xy = hk
are vertices of an equilateral triangle. Give a geometrical interpretation.”

Again, I don’t see how anyone could have discovered this property involving a circle, a hyperbola, and an equilateral triangle. It seems plausible when h.=.k, but it is not at all obvious for h..k. For some reason, I had difficulty getting a start on a solution, until the obvious approach dawned on me. I don’t know why it took me so long.

See the Amazing Triangle Problem.

The Train Buffs

Here is another train puzzle, this time from J. A. H. Hunter’s Entertaining Mathematical Teasers:

“Mike had made the [train] trip many times. ‘That’s the morning express from Tulla we’re passing,’ he said. ‘It left Tulla one hour after we pulled out from Brent, but we’re just 25% faster.’ ‘That’s right, and we’re also passing Cove, two-thirds the distance between Brent and Tulla,’ Martin agreed. ‘So we’re both right on schedule.’ Obviously a couple of train buffs! Assuming constant speeds and no stops, how long would it be before they reached Tulla?”

See the Train Buffs

Geometric Puzzle Madness

I have been subverted again by a recent post by Ben Orlin, “Geometry Puzzles for a Winter’s Day,” which is another collection of Catriona Shearer’s geometric puzzles, this time her favorites for the month of November 2019 (which Orlin seems to have named himself). I often visit Orlin’s blog, “Math with Bad Drawings”, so it is hard to kick my addiction to Shearer’s puzzles if he keeps presenting collections. Her production volume is amazing, especially as she is able to maintain the quality that makes her problems so special.

The Stained Glass puzzle generated some discussion about needed constraints to ensure a solution. Essentially, it was agreed to make explicit that the drawing had vertical and horizontal symmetry in the shapes, that is, flipping it horizontally or vertically kept the same shapes, though some of the colors might be swapped.

See Geometric Puzzle Madness

Magic Hexagons

This is truly an amazing result from Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges.

Problem 119. Two unequal regular hexagons ABCDEF and CGHJKL touch each other at C and are so situated that F, C, and J are collinear.

Show that

(i) the circumcircle of BCG bisects FJ (at O say);
(ii) ΔBOG is equilateral.”

I wonder how anyone ever discovered this.

See the Magic Hexagons

Factory Location Problem

This is a somewhat elegant problem from the 1987 Discover magazine’s Brain Bogglers by Michael Stueben:

“Each dot in the figure at left represents a factory. On which of the city’s 63 intersections should a warehouse be built to make the total distance between it and all the factors as short as possible? (A much simpler solution than counting and totaling the distances is available.)”

Note that the distance is the taxicab distance I discussed in my article South Dakota Travel Problem rather than the distance along straight lines between the warehouse and factories.

See the Factory Location Problem

Movie Projector Problem

Here is another Brain Bogglers problem from 1987.

“Exactly four minutes after starting to run—when the take-up reel was rotating one and a half times as fast as the projecting reel—the film broke. (The hub diameter of the smaller take-up reel is 8 cm and the hub diameter of the projecting reel is 12 cm.) How many minutes of film remain to be shown?”

This feels like another problem where there is insufficient information to solve it, and that makes it fun and challenging. In fact, I was stumped for a while until I noticed something that was the key to completing the solution.

See the Movie Projector Problem.

Geometric Puzzle Mayhem

I was really trying to avoid getting pulled into more addictive geometric challenges from Catriona Shearer (since they can consume your every waking moment), but a recent post by Ben Orlin, “The Tilted Twin (and other delights),” undermined my intent. As Orlin put it, “This is a countdown of her three favorite puzzles from October 2019” and they are vintage Shearer. You should check out Olin’s website since there are “Mild hints in the text; full spoilers in the comments.” He also has some interesting links to other people’s efforts. (Olin did leave out a crucial part of #1, however, which caused me to think the problem under-determined. Checking Catriona Shearer’s Twitter I found the correct statement, which I have used here.)

I have to admit, I personally found the difficulty of these puzzles a bit more challenging than before (unless I am getting rusty) and the difficulty in the order Olin listed. Again, the solutions (I found) are simple but mostly tricky to discover. I solved the problems before looking at Olin’s or others’ solutions.

See the Geometric Puzzle Mayhem.

Circle Tangent Chord Problem

This is another problem from the Math Challenges section of the 2000 Pi in the Sky Canadian math magazine for high school students.

Problem 4. From a point P on the circumference of a circle, a distance PT of 10 meters is laid out along the tangent. The shortest distance from T to the circle is 5 meters. A straight line is drawn through T cutting the circle at X and Y. The length of TX is 15/2 meters.

(a) Determine the radius of the circle,
(b) Determine the length of XY.”

See the Circle Tangent Chord Problem