Tag Archives: Martin Gardner

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.

The Essence of Mathematics

It is a bit presumptuous to think I could reduce the universe of mathematics to some succinct essence, but ever since I first saw a column in Martin Gardner’s Scientific American Mathematical Games in 1967, I thought his example illustrated the essential feature of mathematics, or at least one of its principal attributes. And he posed it in a way that would be accessible to anyone. I especially wanted to credit Martin Gardner, since the idea resurfaced recently, uncredited, in some attractive videos by Katie Steckles and James Grime. (This reminds me of the Borges idea that “eighty years of oblivion are perhaps equal to novelty”.) See the Essence of Mathematics.

Three Jugs Problem

Years ago (1967) I read about an interesting solution to the three jugs problem in a book by Nathan Court which involved the idea of a billiard ball traversing a skew billiard table with distributions of the water between the jugs listed along the edges of the table. The ball bounced between solutions until it ended on the desired value. I thought it was very clever, but I really did not understand why it worked. Later I figured out an explanation, which I present here. See the Three Jugs Problem.