The Futility Closet website had the following problem:
“In isosceles triangle ABC, CD = AB and BE is perpendicular to AC. Show that CEB is a 3-4-5 right triangle.”
See a Triangle Puzzle
This is a fairly simple problem from Futility Closet, which is currently under a hiatus.
“Robert Bilinski proposed this problem in the April 2006 issue of Crux Mathematicorum. On square ABCD, two equilateral triangles are constructed, ABE internally and BCF externally, as shown. Prove that D, E, and F are collinear.”
See Line Work
Here is a mind-numbing logic puzzle from Futility Closet.
“A puzzle by H.A. Thurston, from the April 1947 issue of Eureka, the journal of recreational mathematics published at Cambridge University:
Five people make the following statements:—
Which of these statements are true and which false? It will be found on trial that there is only one possibility. Thus, prove or disprove Fermat’s last theorem.”
Normally I would forgo something this complicated, but I thought I would give it a try. I was surprised that I was able to solve it, though it took some tedious work. (Hint: truth tables. See the “Pointing Fingers” post regarding truth tables.)
One important note. The author is a bit cavalier about the use of “Either …, or …”. In common parlance this means “either P is true or Q is true, but not both” (exclusive “or”: XOR), whereas in logic “or” means “either P is true or Q is true, or possibly both” (inclusive “or”: OR). I assumed all “Either …, or …” and “or” expressions were the logical inclusive “or”, which turned out to be the case.
See the Fermat’s Last Theorem Puzzle
This is another fairly simple puzzle from Futility Closet from a while ago (2014).
“Two lines divide this equilateral triangle into four sections. The shaded sections have the same area. What is the measure of the obtuse angle between the lines?”
See Sizing Up
“Four bugs live on the four vertices of a regular tetrahedron. One day each bug decides to go for a little walk on the tetrahedron’s surface. After the walk, two of the bugs have returned to their homes, but the other two find that they have switched vertices. Prove that there was some moment when all four bugs lay on the same plane.”
Here is a seemingly simple problem from Futility Closet.
“A quickie from Peter Winkler’s Mathematical Puzzles, 2021: Can West Virginia be inscribed in a square? That is, is it possible to draw some square each of whose four sides is tangent to this shape?”
Technically we might rephrase this as, can we inscribe a flat map of West Virginia in a square, since the boundary of most states is probably not differentiable everywhere, that is, has a tangent everywhere.
But the real significance of the problem is that it is an example of an “existence proof”, which in mathematics refers to a proof that asserts the existence of a solution to a problem, but does not (or cannot) produce the solution itself. These proofs are second in delight only to the “impossible proofs” which prove that something is impossible, such as trisecting an angle solely with ruler and compass.
Here is another classic example (whose origin I don’t recall). Consider the temperatures of the earth around the equator. At any given instant of time there must be at least two antipodal points that have the same temperature. (Antipodal points are the opposite ends of a diameter through the center of the earth.)
See Existence Proofs (revised)
(Update 10/2/2021) I fixed a minor typo: “tail” should have been “head”
“Grab point B above and drag it to a new location. Surprisingly, M, the midpoint of RS, doesn’t move.
This works for any triangle — draw squares on two of its sides, note their common vertex, and draw a line that connects the vertices of the respective squares that lie opposite that point. Now changing the location of the common vertex does not change the location of the midpoint of the line.
It was discovered by Dutch mathematician Oene Bottema.”
As we shall see, Bottema’s Theorem has shown up in other guises as well.
Futility Closet describes a result that is startling, amazing, and mysterious.
“This is pretty: If you choose n > 1 equally spaced points on a unit circle and connect one of them to each of the others, the product of the lengths of these chords equals n.”
The Futility Closet posting includes an interactive display using Wolfram Technology by Jay Warendorff that let’s you select different n and see the results. It also includes a reference to a paper that proves the result; only the paper uses residue theory from complex variables, which seems a bit over-kill, though slick, for such a problem. I found a simpler route.
Here is a simple problem from an old Futility Closet posting.
“My wife and I walk up an ascending escalator. I climb 20 steps and reach the top in 60 seconds. My wife climbs 16 steps and reaches the top in 72 seconds. If the escalator broke tomorrow, how many steps would we have to climb?”
See Moving Up
Here is a simple Futility Closet problem from 2014.
“This unit square is divided into four regions by a diagonal and a line that connects a vertex to the midpoint of an opposite side. What are the areas of the four regions?”
See the Square Deal