Category Archives: Puzzles and Problems

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.

Keyhole Problem

This is another problem from the Futility Closet website. It turned out to be pretty simple. The idea is to show the length of BC remains the same no matter where A is chosen on its arc of C1. 

(Update 7/1/2020) There is more to this problem than I realized, thanks to a revisit prompted by a question from Deb Jyoti Mitra.  See the revised Keyhole Problem.

Two Circles Puzzle

Another good source of problems is the Futility Closet site. This puzzle involved finding the line of maximal length passing through the intersection of two circles. I solved it before looking at the Futility Closet solution. Their solution of course was short, sweet, and elegant. Mine was more like the old adage of cracking a walnut with a sledge hammer. Still, I thought there were some unexplained parts to the elegant solution that justified the effort on mine. At least my solution provided an interesting, though convoluted, alternative. See the Two Circles Puzzle.

Ant Problem

This is one of Alex Bellos’s Monday Puzzles in the Guardian. I basically found the same solution as Bellos and his commenters, but wrote it up with what I thought were more explanatory graphics. The idea is that there is a bunch of ants on a stick who all walk a the same speed of 1 centimeter per second. When an ant runs into another ant, they both turn around and go the opposite direction. “So here is the puzzle: Which ant is the last to fall off the stick? And how long will it be before he or she does fall off?”  See the Ant Problem.

 

Power of 2 Problem

Virtually the very first “math” problem I got interested in involved a 7th grade homework problem in 2005 that a colleague at work said her son had been given. I ended up commenting and helping on a number of further problems, which gave me some insight into the state of current public school teaching in mathematics. It was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. I will join the math education commentary at a later date.

The problem was not that bad: What is the largest power of 2 that divides 800! without a remainder? (where “!” means “factorial”, for example, 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1). I solved it in my usual pedestrian way. I showed it to a friend of mine (an algebraist!) and he of course had a nifty approach. He showed it to a colleague of his at NSF (a physicist) and he had the niftiest solution of all! (Most humbling.) See the Power of 2 Problem.