Category Archives: Puzzles and Problems

Polygon Areas Problem

This is another problem from Futility Closet, though Futility Closet provides a “solution” of sorts. They provide a set of steps without explaining where they came from. So I thought I would fill in the gap. The problem is to find the area of an irregular polygon, none of whose sides cross one another, if we are given the coordinates of the vertices of the polygon.

See Polygon Areas Problem.

Two Pints of Cider

This is another problem from the defunct Wall Street Journal Varsity Math Week column.

“Team member Janice recently visited the U.K. and poses this puzzle to her teammates: You have three containers that can hold exactly 15, 10 and 6 pints. The 15-pint container starts full of cider. You want to measure out exactly 2 pints of cider, drink it all, and end with an empty 15-pint container and 8 and 5 pints of cider in the other two containers. What transfers should you make to accomplish this?”

The solution is based on my Three Jugs Problem. See Two Pints of Cider.

Polygon Altitude Problems II

James Tanton has provided further elaborations on the polygons and the sum of perpendicular distances from interior points. Again I approached the solutions with a mix of areas and vectors. It is rather impressive to see the number of variations that can be rung on the Viviani Theorem theme. See Polygon Altitude Problems II

Polygon Altitude Problems I

I found this collection of related problems by James Tanton on Twitter. Even though all these problems do not involve perpendiculars, they have a common solution approach – a sort of theme and variations idea. In a later tweet Tanton refers to a Viviani Theorem associated with these types of problems. I did not recall that theorem explicitly or by name. I also have not looked it up yet, in order to solve these problems on my own. I am guessing there is a more classical Euclidean geometry proof, but I like my vector approach for its clarity. I also throw in a bit a calculus at the end for fun. See Polygon Altitude Problems I

Geometric Puzzle Medley

This is a collection of simple but elegant puzzles, mostly from a British high school math teacher Catriona Shearer, for which I thought I would show solutions (solutions for a number of them had not been posted yet on Twitter at the time of writing).  See the Geometric Puzzle Medley.

Apparently Catriona Shearer creates these problems herself, which shows an especially gifted talent. Ben Olin, of Math with Bad Drawings fame, had an interesting interview with Ms. Shearer. The reason for the interest in her work becomes evident the more of her geometry problems one sees. They are especially elegant and minimalist, and often have simple solutions, as exemplified by the “5 Problem” or “Shear Beauty” problem illustrated here. Words, such as “beauty” and “elegance”, are often bandied about concerning various mathematical subjects, but as with any discussion of esthetics, the efforts at explanation usually fall flat. Shearer’s problems are one of the best examples of these ideas I have ever seen. If you contemplate her problems and even solve them, you will understand the meaning of these descriptions.

One of the key aspects of mathematics is often its “hidden-ness” (some would say “opacity” or “incomprehension”). Her problems appear to have insufficient information to solve. But as you look at the usually regular figures, you see that there are inherent rigid constraints that soon yield specific information that leads to a solution. This discovery is akin to the sensation of discovering Newton’s mathematical laws underlying physical reality. It is the essence of one of the joys of mathematics.

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Triangular Boundary Problem

This problem comes from the defunct Wall Street Journal Varsity Math Week collection.

“The coach then shows the team the diagram to the left and asks: What is the maximum area of a rectangle contained entirely within a triangle with sides of 9, 10 and 17?”

I changed the numbers a bit to make my calculations easier, but left the problem otherwise unchanged. When I checked the Varsity Math Week solution, I saw they used a simplifying formula that I could not remember. I also believed their solution left out a justification for the maximal area. Besides an intuitive solution for this, I also included a calculus version. See the Triangular Boundary Problem.

The Four Travelers Problem

This is another Futility Closet puzzle.

“Four straight roads cross a plain. No two are parallel, and no three meet in a point. On each road is a traveler who moves at some constant speed. If Blue and Red meet each other at their crossroad, and each of them meets Yellow and Green at their respective crossroads, will Yellow and Green necessarily meet at their own crossroad?”

I was not able to understand the solution given at first, so I tried to solve the problem on my own. Once I did, I was able to see what the Futility Closet solution was getting at. Certainly diagrams were needed to make sense of it all, and that is what I provided. See the Four Travelers Problem.

The Two Errand Boys

This is another puzzle from the Futility Closet that was originally from Henry Dudeney’s Canterbury Puzzles.

“A country baker sent off his boy with a message to the butcher in the next village, and at the same time the butcher sent his boy to the baker. One ran faster than the other, and they were seen to pass at a spot 720 yards from the baker’s shop. Each stopped ten minutes at his destination and then started on the return journey, when it was found that they passed each other at a spot 400 yards from the butcher’s. How far apart are the two tradesmen’s shops? Of course each boy went at a uniform pace throughout.”

See the Two Errand Boys.