Category Archives: Puzzles and Problems

Mr. Gubbins in a Fog

This is another delightful H. E. Dudeney puzzle.

“Mr. Gubbins, a diligent man of business, was much inconvenienced by a London fog. The electric light happened to be out of order and he had to manage as best he could with two candles. His clerk assured him that though both were of the same length one candle would burn for four hours and the other for five hours. After he had been working some time he put the candles out as the fog had lifted, and he then noticed that what remained of one candle was exactly four times the length of what was left of the other.

When he got home that night Mr. Gubbins, who liked a good puzzle, said to himself, ‘Of course it is possible to work out just how long those two candles were burning to-day. I’ll have a shot at it.’ But he soon found himself in a worse fog than the atmospheric one. Could you have assisted him in his dilemma? How long were the candles burning?”

See Mr. Gubbins in a Fog

Cube Roots Problem

In a June Chalkdust book review of Daniel Griller’s second book, Problem solving in GCSE mathematics, Matthew Scroggs presented the following problem #65 from the book (without a solution):
“Solve _______________

Scroggs’s initial reaction to the problem was “it took me a while to realise that I even knew how to solve it.”

Mind you, according to Wikipedia, “GCSEs [General Certificate of Secondary Education] were introduced in 1988 [in the UK] to establish a national qualification for those who decided to leave school at 16, without pursuing further academic study towards qualifications such as A-Levels or university degrees.” My personal feeling is that any student who could solve this problem should be encouraged to continue their education with a possible major in a STEM field.

See Cube Roots Problem

Rising Sun

Here is a problem from the UKMT Senior (17-18 year-old) Mathematics Challenge for 2012:

“A semicircle of radius r is drawn with centre V and diameter UW. The line UW is then extended to the point X, such that UW and WX are of equal length. An arc of the circle with centre X and radius 4r is then drawn so that the line XY is tangent to the semicircle at Z, as shown. What, in terms of r, is the area of triangle YVW?”

See the Rising Sun

Six Squares Problem

This is a problem from the UKMT Senior Challenge for 2001. (It has been slightly edited to reflect the colors I added to the diagram.)

“The [arbitrary] blue triangle is drawn, and a square is drawn on each of its edges. The three green triangles are then formed by drawing their lines which join vertices of the squares and a square is now drawn on each of these three lines. The total area of the original three squares is A1, and the total area of the three new squares is A2. Given that A2 = k A1, then

_____A_ k = 1_____B_ k = 3/2_____C_ k = 2_____D_ k = 3_____E_ more information is needed.”

I solved this problem using a Polya principle to simplify the situation, but UKMT’s solution was direct (and more complicated). See the Six Squares Problem.

The Damaged Engine

Yet another train problem from H. E. Dudeney.

“We were going by train from Anglechester to Clinkerton, and an hour after starting an accident happened to the engine. We had to continue the journey at three-fifths of the former speed. It made us two hours late at Clinkerton, and the driver said that if only the accident had happened fifty miles farther on the train would have arrived forty minutes sooner. Can you tell from that statement just how far it is from Anglechester to Clinkerton?”

See the Damaged Engine.

Parallelogram Cosine Problem

Another challenging problem from Presh Talwalkar. I certainly could not have solved it on a timed test at the age of 16.

One Of The Hardest GCSE Test Questions – How To Solve The Cosine Problem

Construct a hexagon from two congruent parallelograms as shown. Given BP = BQ = 10, solve for the cosine of PBQ in terms of x.

This comes from the 2017 GCSE exam, and it confused many people. I received many requests to solve this problem, and I thank Tom, Ben, and James for suggesting it to me.”

See the Parallelogram Cosine Problem