# The Umbrella Problem

This is a rather mind-boggling problem from the 1947 Eureka magazine.

“Six men, A, B, C, D, E, F, of negligible honesty, met on a perfectly rough day, each carrying a light inextensible umbrella. Each man brought his own umbrella, and took away—let us say “borrowed”—another’s. The umbrella borrowed by A belonged to the borrower of B’s umbrella. The owner of the umbrella borrowed by C borrowed the umbrella belonging to the borrower of D’s umbrella. If the borrower of E’s umbrella was not the owner of that borrowed by F, who borrowed A’s umbrella?”

See the Umbrella Problem for solutions.

# Geometric Puzzle Meditations

Since Twitter (now X) is no longer public, I was afraid I would not have access to new Catriona Agg puzzles, but she has put them up on Instagram, which is partially available to the public.  I managed to find a half dozen interesting new brain ticklers.

# Parallel Lines Problem

This is an interesting problem from the collection Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges.

“Problem 251.  Let ABCD be a square, F be the midpoint of DC, and E be any point on AB such that AE > EB.  Determine N on BC such that DE || FN.  Prove that EN is tangent to the inscribed circle of the square.”

See the Parallel Lines Problem.

# Horses to Qi

This is a challenging problem from the c.100AD Chinese mathematical work, Jiǔ zhāng suàn shù (The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art) found at the MAA Convergence website.

“Now a good horse and an inferior horse set out from Chang’an to Qi.  Qi is 3000 li from Chang’an.  The good horse travels 193 li on the first day and daily increases by 13 li; the inferior horse travels 97 li on the first day and daily decreases by ½ li.  The good horse reaches Qi first and turns back to meet the inferior horse.  Tell: how many days until they meet and how far has each traveled?”

The solution involves common fractions, which the Chinese were already adept at using by 100 BC.

See Horses to Qi for a solution.

# Making Arrows

This is an interesting problem from 180 BC China.

“In one day, a person can make 30 arrows or fletch [put the feathers on] 20 arrows.  How many arrows can this person both make and fletch in a day?”

It turns out the solution to this problem led me into the history of numerator/denominator (aka common) fractions, a subject I had been finding difficult to track down.

See Making Arrows for a solution.

# Hjelmslev’s Theorem

I came across this remarkable result in Futility Closet:

“On each of these two black lines is a trio of red points marked by the same distances.  The midpoints of segments drawn between corresponding points are collinear.

(Discovered by Danish mathematician Johannes Hjelmslev.)”

This result seems amazing and mysterious.  I wondered if I could think of a proof.  I found a simple approach that did not use plane geometry.  And suddenly, like a magic trick exposed, the result seemed obvious.

Coming across this classic geometric paradox recently in Futility Closet motivated me to write down its solution in detail.

“Where did the empty square come from?”

In any case, this is the canonical example for why I avoid visual geometric proofs—you can be so easily fooled.  Real proofs require plane or analytic geometry arguments.

(Update 9/14/2024) Penn & Teller – Fool Us – Magic Trick

This is a clever puzzle from the 1986 AIME problems.

“The pages of a book are numbered 1 through n. When the page numbers of the book were added, one of the page numbers was mistakenly added twice, resulting in an incorrect sum of 1986. What was the number of the page that was added twice?”

See the Additional Page Problem for the solution.

# Box Code Puzzle

This is an intriguing puzzle from Futility Closet.

“In Robert Chambers’ 1906 novel The Tracer of Lost Persons, Mr. Keen copies the figure below from a mysterious photograph. He is trying to help Captain Harren find a young woman with whom he has become obsessed.

‘It’s the strangest cipher I ever encountered,’ he says at length. ‘The strangest I ever heard of. I have seen hundreds of ciphers—hundreds—secret codes of the State Department, secret military codes, elaborate Oriental ciphers, symbols used in commercial transactions, symbols used by criminals and every species of malefactor. And every one of them can be solved with time and patience and a little knowledge of the subject. But this … this is too simple.’

The message reveals the name of the young woman whom Captain Harren has been seeking. What is it?”

As is usual with these types of puzzles, I felt foolish that I couldn’t see the immediate, simple interpretation of the boxes—after a great deal of effort.  So I solved it using the usual cryptographic methods that rely heavily on logic and letter frequencies, though the message is a bit short for that.

See Box Code Puzzle for solutions.