Category Archives: Puzzles and Problems

MoMath Mazes

I found these mazes on Twitter and thought they might make a relaxing puzzle interlude.  They come from photographs of the street in front of the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York.   The idea is to traverse the mazes from the Start to the Goal making only right turns.  It was difficult working out the pattern of the green maze, especially the upper right corner.

See the MoMath Mazes

Puzzles and Problems: MoMath

A Question of Time

This turns out to be an unambiguous, doable problem from the 19th century puzzle master Sam Loyd.  It is based on an observation about jewelers’ signs of the times.  I thought I would include Loyd’s narrative in its entirety.

“A CURIOUS paragraph has been going the rounds of the press which attempts to explain why the signs of the big watches in front of jewelry stores are always alike. They are painted upon the dial, apparently in a haphazard sort of a way, and yet they invariably indicate a certain number of minutes past eight. It cannot be attributable to chance, for it would tax one’s credulity to believe that such a coincidence could occur all over the civilized world.

There is no accepted rule or agreement established with the jewelers or sign painters, for careful inquiry proves that few of them are aware of the fact or ever noticed that any two are alike, it would be a marvelous case of unconscious imitation if it is looked upon as a mere custom, accidentally following a pattern set by the originator of the device of the sign of a big watch. In London, where they take pride in such things, I saw several big watches, looking as if they had hung in front of the stores for countless centuries, all indicating the same mysterious time, accompanied by the announcement that the firms were established a couple of hundred years ago. I do not doubt for a moment that some such similar sign can be found at Nuremberg, where the watch originated during the Fifteenth Century.

The discussion seems to have brought out a recognition of the fact that from an artistic point of view, symmetry requires that the hands should be evenly balanced, as it were, on both sides of the face of the watch.

If they are raised too much there is a certain “exasperating, declamatory effect,” which is not altogether pleasing.

The time would be incorrect if the hands pointed at 9 and 3, and at other points would be too low, so, as a matter of fact, and from an artistic point of view, the position is well selected and is one of the points which, with the aid of a watch, can be shown to be possible. It is a fact however, that the mere puzzle of telling what time the watch indicates, has been held up to public gaze for all these centuries without being thought of or solved?

Take your watch and set it to the time indicated, with the hands at equal distances from the six hour, which shows it to he a possible position, and then tell what time of the day it is! …”

See A Question of Time

Twisting Beam Problem

Here is a slightly different kind of problem from the Polish Mathematical Olympiads.

“106. A beam of length a is suspended horizontally by its ends by means of two parallel ropes of lengths b.  We twist the beam through an angle φ about the vertical axis passing through the centre of the beam.  How far will the beam rise?”

See the Twisting Beam Problem

Numbers in New Guinea

This puzzle from Alex Bellos follows the themes in his new book, The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, which, among other things, looks at number systems in different languages.  (See also his Numberphile video.)

“Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which aims to raise awareness of issues concerning indigenous communities. Such as, for example, the survival of their languages. According to the Endangered Languages Project, more than 40 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages are at risk of extinction.

Among the fantastic diversity of the world’s languages is a diversity in counting systems. The following puzzle concerns the number words of Ngkolmpu, a language spoken by about 100 people in New Guinea. (They live in the border area between the Indonesian province of Papua and the country of Papua New Guinea.)

Ngkolmpu-zzle

Here is a list of the first ten cube numbers (i.e. 13, 23, 33, …, 103):

1, 8, 27, 64, 125, 216, 343, 512, 729, 1000.

Below are the same ten numbers when expressed in Ngkolmpu, but listed in random order. Can you match the correct number to the correct expressions?

eser tarumpao yuow ptae eser traowo eser

eser traowo yuow

naempr

naempr ptae eser traowo eser

naempr tarumpao yuow ptae yuow traowo naempr

naempr traowo yempoka

tarumpao

yempoka tarumpao yempoka ptae naempr traowo yempoka

yuow ptae yempoka traowo tampui

yuow tarumpao yempoka ptae naempr traowo yuow

Here’s a hint: this is an arithmetical puzzle as well as a linguistic one. Ngkolmpu does not have a base ten system like English does. In other words, it doesn’t count in tens, hundreds and thousands. Beyond its different base, however, it behaves very regularly.

This puzzle originally appeared in the 2021 UK Linguistics Olympiad, a national competition for schoolchildren that aims to encourage an interest in languages. It was written by Simi Hellsten, a two-time gold medallist at the International Olympiad of Linguistics, who is currently reading maths at Oxford University.”

See Numbers in New Guinea

Walking Banker Problem

Here is another Brainteaser from the Quantum magazine.

“Mr. R. A. Scall, president of the Pyramid Bank, lives in a suburb rather far from his office. Every weekday a car from the bank comes to his house, always at the same time, so that he arrives at work precisely when the bank opens. One morning his driver called very early to tell him he would probably be late because of mechanical problems. So Mr. Scall left home one hour early and started walking to his office. The driver managed to fix the car quickly, however, and left the garage on time. He met the banker on the road and brought him to the bank. They arrived 20 minutes earlier than usual. How much time did Mr. Scall walk? (The car’s speed is constant, and the time needed to turn around is zero.) (I. Sharygin)”

I struggled with some of the ambiguities in the problem and made my own assumptions.   But it turned out there was a reason they were ambiguous.

See the Walking Banker Problem

Triangle Quadrangle Puzzle

This is another simple problem from Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges:

“Problem 57.  Let X be any point between B and C on the side BC of the convex quadrilateral ABCD (as in the Figure).  A line is drawn through B parallel to AX and another line is drawn through C parallel to DX.  These two lines intersect at P.  Prove that the area of the triangle APD is equal to the area of the quadrilateral ABCD.”

See the Triangle Quadrangle Puzzle