Tag Archives: algebra

Polynomial Division Problem

Here is a challenging problem from the Polish Mathematical Olympiads published in 1960.

“22. Prove that the polynomial

x44 + x33 + x22 + x11 + 1

is divisible by the polynomial

x4 + x3 + x2 + x + 1.”

See the Polynomial Division Problem

(Update 8/23/2021)  The idea expressed in this post that mathematicians are “lazy” and seek short-cuts to solving questions and problems, as I did in this one, was recently the subject of a Numberphile post by Marcus du Sautoy: “Mathematics is all about SHORTCUTS“.

The Pearl Necklace Problem

This problem comes from the Scottish Mathematical Council (SMC) Senior Mathematical Challenge of 2008:

“S2. In Tiffany’s, a world famous jewellery store, there is a string necklace of 33 pearls. The middle one is the largest and most valuable. The pearls are arranged so that starting from one end, each pearl is worth $100 more than the preceding one, up to [and including] the middle one; and starting from the other end, each pearl is worth $150 more than the preceding one, up to [and including] the middle one. If the total value of the necklace is $65,000 what is the value of the largest pearl?”

I included the words in brackets to erase any ambiguity.

See the Pearl Necklace Problem

Fashion Puzzle

Again we have a puzzle from the Sherlock Holmes puzzle book by Dr. Watson (aka Tim Dedopulos).

“On one occasion, Holmes and I were asked to, solve the robbery of a number of dresses from the workshop of a recently deceased ladies’ tailor to the upper echelons of society. Holmes took a short look at the particulars of the case, and sent them all back to the gown-maker’s son with a scribbled note to the effect that it could only be one particular seamstress, with the help of her husband.

However, glancing through my observations some period later, I observed certain facts about the robbery which led me to an interesting little exercise. The stock at the workshop had been very recently valued at the princely sum of £1,800, and when examined after the theft, comprised of precisely 100 completed dresses in a range of styles, but of equal valuation. However, there was no remaining record of how many dresses had been there beforehand. The son did recall his father stating, of the valuation, that if he’d had thirty. dresses more, then a valuation of £1,800 would have meant £3 less per dress.

Are you able to calculate how many dresses were stolen?”

See the Fashion Puzzle

Puzzles and Problems: Tim Dedopulos, algebra

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

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

Pole Leveling Puzzle

This is another thoughtful puzzle from the imaginative mind of James Tanton (with slight edits).

“Three poles of height 1183 feet, 182 feet, 637 feet stand in the ground. Pick a pole and saw off all the taller poles at that height. Plant those tops in the ground too. Repeat until no more such saw cuts can be made. Despite choices made along the way, what final result is sure to occur? [Four poles, heights a, b, c, d ft?]”

See the Pole Leveling Puzzle

Christmas Tree Puzzle

James Tanton has come up with another imaginative concrete problem harboring a mathematical pattern.

“60 trees in a row. Their stars are yellow, orange, blue, Y, O, B, Y, O, B, … Their pots are orange, yellow, pink, blue, O, Y, P, B, O, Y, P, B, … Their baubles are mauve, pink, yellow, blue, orange, M, P, Y, B, O, M, P, Y, B, O, … Must there be an all yellow tree? All B? One with star = O, pot = O, baubles = M?”

See the Christmas Tree Puzzle