This is a surprisingly challenging puzzle from the Mathematics 2020 calendar.
“The sketch is of equally spaced railroad ties drawn in a one point perspective. Two of the ties are perceived to the eye to be 25 feet and 20 feet respectively. What is the perceived length x of the third tie?”
Even though the ties are equally-spaced and of equal length in reality, from the point of view of perspective they are successively closer together and diminishing in length. The trick is to figure out what that compression factor is. I had to review my post on the Perspective Map to get some clues.
See the Railroad Tie Problem
I was reading yet another book on the Scientific Revolution when I came across a discussion of the mathematical significance of the invention of perspective for painting in the 15th century Italian Renaissance. The main player in the saga was Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) and his tome De Pictura (On Painting) (1435-6), which contained the first mathematical presentation of perspective. Even though mathematics was advertised, it was not at the level of trigonometry I used in my post “The Perspective Map”, but rather entailed simple Euclidean plane geometry. So the discussion was largely historical rather than mathematical. Nevertheless, I became curious to learn how much Alberti was able to discover about perspective without a lot of math. This essay is the result.
See Alberti’s Perspective Construction
(Update 7/29/2019) I got a response! Continue reading →