Snooker Puzzle

This is a nice puzzle from Alex Bellos’s Monday Puzzle column in the Guardian.

“My cultural highlight of recent weeks has been the brilliant BBC documentary Gods of Snooker, about the time in the 1980s when the sport was a national obsession. Today’s puzzle describes a shot to malfunction the Romford Robot … and put the Whirlwind … in a spin.

Baize theorem

A square snooker table has three corner pockets, as [shown]. A ball is placed at the remaining corner (bottom left). Show that there is no way you can hit the ball so that it returns to its starting position.

The arrows represent one possible shot and how it would rebound around the table.

The table is a mathematical one, which means friction, damping, spin and napping do not exist. In other words, when the ball is hit, it moves in a straight line. The ball changes direction when it bounces off a cushion, with the outgoing angle equal to the incoming angle. The ball and the pockets are infinitely small (i.e. are points), and the ball does not lose momentum, so that its path can include any number of cushion bounces.

Thanks to Dr Pierre Chardaire, associate professor of computing science at the University of East Anglia, who devised today’s puzzle.”

See the Snooker Puzzle

Area vs. Perimeter Puzzle

This surprising, but simple, puzzle is from the 12 April MathsMonday offering by MEI, an independent curriculum development body for mathematics education in the UK.

“In the diagram various regular polygons, P, have been drawn whose sides are tangents to a circle, C.  Show that for any regular polygon drawn in this way:”

(Given that the polygons approximate the circle in the limit, it would not be surprising that this relationship would hold—in the limit.  It is surprising that it should be true for every regular polygon that circumscribes the circle.)

See the Area vs. Perimeter Puzzle

The Hose Knows

This is a fairly straight-forward Brainteaser from the Quantum magazine.

“A man is filling two tanks with water using two hoses. The first hose delivers water at the rate of 2.9 liters per minute, the second at a rate of 8.7 liters per minute. When the smaller tank is half full, he switches hoses. He keeps filling the tanks, and they both fill up completely at the same moment. What is the volume of the larger tank if the volume of the smaller tank is 12.6 liters?”

See The Hose Knows

Bixley to Quixley Puzzle

I braved another attempt at a Sam Loyd puzzle.

“Here is a pretty problem which I figured out during a ride from Bixley to Quixley astride of a razor-back mule. I asked Don Pedro if my steed had another gait, and he said it had but that it was much slower, so I pursued my journey at the uniform speed as shown in the sketch.

To encourage Don Pedro, who was my chief propelling power, I said we would pass through Pixley, so as to get some liquid refreshments; and from that moment he could think of nothing but Pixley. After we had been traveling for forty minutes I asked how far we had gone, and he replied: “Just half as far as it is to Pixley.”  After creeping along for seven miles more I asked: “How far is it to Quixley?” and he replied as before: “Just half as far as it is to Pixley.”

We arrived at Quixley in another hour, which induces me to ask you to figure out the distance from Bixley to Quixley.”

I was disconcerted by what I thought was extraneous information and wondered if I had misunderstood his narrative again.

See the Bixley to Quixley Puzzle

Old Hook Puzzle

Here is another, more challenging, problem from the Sherlock Holmes puzzle book by Dr. Watson (aka Tim Dedopulos).

“An event that occurred during The Adventure of the Wandering Bishops inspired Holmes to devise a particularly tricky little mental exercise for my ongoing improvement. There were times when I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed his efforts, and times when I found them somewhat unwelcome. I’m afraid that this was one of the latter occasions. It had been a bad week.

‘Picture three farmers,’ Holmes told me. ‘Hooklanders. We’ll call them Ern, Ted, and Hob.’

‘If I must,’ I muttered.

‘It will help,’ Holmes replied. ‘Ern has a horse and cart, with an average speed of eight mph. Ted can walk just one mph, given his bad knee, and Hob is a little better at two mph, thanks to his back.’

‘A fine shower,’ I said. ‘Can’t I imagine them somewhat fitter?’

‘Together, these worthies want to go from Old Hook to Coreham, a journey of 40 miles. So Ern got Ted in his cart, drove him most of the way, and dropped him off to walk the rest. Then he went back to get Hob [who was still walking], and took him into Coreham, arriving exactly as Ted did. How long did the journey take?’

Can you find a solution?”

I added the statement in brackets.  I initially thought Hob waited in Old Hook until Ted fetched him.  But the solution indicated that was not the case.  So I realized Hob had started out at the same time as the others. The solution has some hairy arithmetic.  Even knowing the answer it is difficult to do the computations without a mistake.

See the Old Hook Puzzle

A Self-Characterizing Figure

Futility Closet describes a result that is startling, amazing, and mysterious.

“This is pretty: If you choose n > 1 equally spaced points on a unit circle and connect one of them to each of the others, the product of the lengths of these chords equals n.”

The Futility Closet posting includes an interactive display using Wolfram Technology by Jay Warendorff that let’s you select different n and see the results.  It also includes a reference to a paper that proves the result; only the paper uses residue theory from complex variables, which seems a bit over-kill, though slick, for such a problem.  I found a simpler route.

See a Self-Characterizing Figure

Escalator Terror

The “Moving Up” post recalled an unforgettable moment in my past, when I still rode the Washington Metro somewhat sporadically (my youth was spent riding busses, before the advent of the Metro).  It was the first time I confronted the escalator at the DuPont Circle stop.  I was going to a math talk with a friend and we were busy discussing math when I stepped onto the escalator.  Suddenly, I looked up and saw the stairs disappearing 188 feet into the heavens and froze.  I have always been afraid of heights, and the escalator brought out all the customary terror.  There was of course no turning back.  And then people started bolting up the stairs past me, not always avoiding brushing by.

My hand was clamped to the handrail in a death grip.  I had to hold on even tighter as the sweat of fear made my hands slippery.  In such situations I often feel a sense of vertigo or loss of balance.  It was then that I thought the handrail was moving faster than the steps so that I was being pulled forward.  I couldn’t tell if it was the vertigo or an actual movement.  In any case, I periodically let go and repositioned my death grip.  After an eternity, it was over, and I staggered out into the street.  Needless to say, on our return I sought out the elevator.  Fortunately, it was working—not always the case in the Washington Metro.

Once my brain was functioning a bit, I pondered the question of the relative speeds of the handrail and steps.  How could they be synchronized?  But after a while I left it as an interesting curiosity.

See Escalator Terror

Catching the Thief

This typical problem from the prolific H. E. Dudeney may be a bit tricky at first.

“104.—CATCHING THE THIEF.

“Now, constable,” said the defendant’s counsel in cross-examination,” you say that the prisoner was exactly twenty-seven steps ahead of you when you started to run after him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you swear that he takes eight steps to your five?”

“That is so.”

“Then I ask you, constable, as an intelligent man, to explain how you ever caught him, if that is the case?”

“Well, you see, I have got a longer stride. In fact, two of my steps are equal in length to five of the prisoner’s. If you work it out, you will find that the number of steps I required would bring me exactly to the spot where I captured him.”

Here the foreman of the jury asked for a few minutes to figure out the number of steps the constable must have taken. Can you also say how many steps the officer needed to catch the thief?”

See Catching the Thief