Tag Archives: algebra

The Track Problem

Again we have a puzzle from the Sherlock Holmes puzzle book by Dr. Watson (aka Tim Dedopulos).

“Our pursuit of the dubious Alan Grey, whom we encountered during The Adventure of the Third Carriage, led Holmes and myself to a circular running track where, as the sun fell, we witnessed a race using bicycles. There was some sort of substantial wager involved in the matter, as I recall, and the track had been closed off specially for the occasion. This was insufficient to prevent our ingress, obviously.

One of the competitors was wearing red, and the other blue. We never did discover their names. As the race started, red immediately pulled ahead. A few moments later, Holmes observed that if they maintained their pace, red would complete a lap in four minutes, whilst blue would complete one in seven.

Having made that pronouncement, he turned to me. ‘How long would it be before red passed blue if they kept those rates up, old chap?’

Whilst I wrestled with the answer, Holmes went back to watching the proceedings. Can you find the solution?”

See the Track Problem

Calculating on the Way

In looking through some old files I came across a math magazine I had bought in 1998. It was called Quantum and was published by the National Science Teachers Association in collaboration with the Russian magazine Kvant during the period 1990 to 2001 (coinciding with the Russian thaw, which in the following age of Putin seems eons ago). Fortunately, they are all online now. Besides some fascinating math articles the magazine contains a column of “Brainteasers.” Here is one of them:

“Alice used to walk to school every morning, and it took 20 minutes for her from door to door. Once on her way she remembered she was going to show the latest issue of Quantum to her classmates but had forgotten it at home. She knew that if she continued walking to school at the same speed, she’d be there 8 minutes before the bell, and if she went back home for the magazine she’d arrive at school 10 minutes late. What fraction of the way to school had she walked at that moment in time? (S. Dvorianinov)”

This is fairly straight-forward, but other problems in the magazine are a bit more challenging.

See Calculating on the Way

The Bicycle Problem

A fun, relatively new, Sherlock Holmes puzzle book by Dr. Watson (aka Tim Dedopulos) has puzzles couched in terms of the Holmes-Watson banter. The following problem is a variation on the Sam Loyd Tandem Bicycle Puzzle.

“ ‘Here’s something mostly unrelated for you to chew over, my dear Watson. Say you and I have a single bicycle between us, and no other transport options save walking. We want to get the both of us to a location eighteen miles distant as swiftly as possible. If my walking speed is five miles per hour compared to your four, but for some reason—perhaps a bad ligament—my cycling speed is eight miles per hour compared to your ten. How would you get us simultaneously to our destination with maximum rapidity?’

‘A cab,’ I suggested.

‘Without cheating,’ Holmes replied, and went back to tossing his toast in the air.”

See the Bicycle Problem

Perpetual Meetings Problem

The following problem from Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges was a challenge indeed, even though it appeared to be a standard travel puzzle.

Problem 118. Andy leaves at noon and drives at constant speed back and forth from town A to town B. Bob also leaves at noon, driving at 40 km per hour back and forth from town B to town A on the same highway as Andy. Andy arrives at town B twenty minutes after first passing Bob, whereas Bob arrives at town A forty-five minutes after first passing Andy. At what time do Any and Bob pass each other for the nth time?”

See the Perpetual Meetings 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.

1770 Card Game Problem

This problem from the 1987 Discover magazine’s Brain Bogglers by Michael Stueben apparently traces back to 1770, though the exact reference is not given.

“Here’s an arithmetic problem taken from a textbook published in Germany in 1770. Three people are gambling. In the first game, Player A loses to each of the others as much money as each of them had when the game started. In the next game, B loses to each of the others as much money as each had when that game began. In the third game, A and B each win from C as much money as each had at the start of that game. The players now find that each has the same sum, 24 guineas. How much money did each have when play began?”

See the 1770 Card Game Problem

Consecutive Product Square

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

We can see that 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 360 = 19² – 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.