Puzzles, curiosities, brain teasers and other mathematics done "just for fun".

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708
votes
25answers
113k views

How long will it take Marie to saw another board into 3 pieces?

So this is supposed to be really simple, and it's taken from the following picture: Text-only: It took Marie $10$ minutes to saw a board into $2$ pieces. If she works just as fast, how long ...
350
votes
7answers
13k views

“The Egg:” Bizarre behavior of the roots of a family of polynomials.

In this MO post, I ran into the following family of polynomials: $$f_n(x)=\sum_{m=0}^{n}\prod_{k=0}^{m-1}\frac{x^n-x^k}{x^m-x^k}.$$ In the context of the post, $x$ was a prime number, and $f_n(x)$ ...
228
votes
8answers
13k views

The length of toilet roll

Fun with Math time. My mom gave me a roll of toilet paper to put it in the bathroom, and looking at it I immediately wondered about this: is it possible, through very simple math, to calculate (with ...
226
votes
4answers
23k views

The Mathematics of Tetris

I am a big fan of the oldschool games and I once noticed that there is a sort parity associated to one and only one Tetris piece, the $\color{purple}{\text{T}}$ piece. This parity is found with no ...
176
votes
2answers
14k views

Proving you *can't* make $2011$ out of $1,2,3,4$: nice twist on the usual

An undergraduate was telling me about a puzzle he'd found: the idea was to make $2011$ out of the numbers $1, 2, 3, 4, \ldots, n$ with the following rules/constraints: the numbers must stay in order, ...
174
votes
5answers
7k views

Can you answer my son's fourth-grade homework question: Which numbers are prime, have digits adding to ten and have a three in the tens place?

My son Horatio (nine years old, fourth grade) came home with some fun math homework exercises today. One of his problems was the following little question: I am thinking of a number... It ...
149
votes
12answers
24k views

How can a piece of A4 paper be folded in exactly three equal parts?

This is something that always annoys me when putting an A4 letter in a oblong envelope: one has to estimate where to put the creases when folding the letter. I normally start from the bottom and on ...
139
votes
19answers
10k views

Mental Calculations

This is the famous picture "Mental Arithmetic. In the Public School of S. Rachinsky." by the Russian artist Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky. The problem presented on a blackboard requires computing the ...
137
votes
6answers
24k views

Deleting any digit yields a prime… is there a name for this?

My son likes his grilled cheese sandwich cut into various numbers, the number depends on his mood. His mother won't indulge his requests, but I often will. Here is the day he wanted 100: But ...
108
votes
9answers
15k views

There are apparently $3072$ ways to draw this flower. But why?

This picture was in my friend's math book: Below the picture it says: There are $3072$ ways to draw this flower, starting from the center of the petals, without lifting the pen. I know ...
105
votes
5answers
6k views

Help find hard integrals that evaluate to $59$? [closed]

My father and I, on birthday cards, give mathematical equations for each others new age. This year, my father will be turning $59$. I want to try and make a definite integral that equals $59$. So ...
92
votes
8answers
3k views

Probability that a stick randomly broken in five places can form a tetrahedron

Edit (June. 2015) This question has been moved to MathOverflow, where a recent write-up finds a similar approximation as leonbloy's post below; see here. Randomly break a stick in five places. ...
88
votes
12answers
10k views

Logic puzzle: Which octopus is telling the truth?

King Octopus has servants with six, seven, or eight legs. The servants with seven legs always lie, but the servants with either six or eight legs always tell the truth. One day, four servants met. ...
87
votes
3answers
9k views

Topology: The Board Game

Edit: I've drawn up some different rules, a map and some cards for playing an actual version of the game. They're available at my personal website with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. ...
84
votes
17answers
17k views

How do you find the center of a circle with a pencil and a book?

Given a circle on a paper, and a pencil and a book. Can you find the center of the circle with the pencil and the book?
83
votes
5answers
5k views

What is the smallest number of $45^\circ-60^\circ-75^\circ$ triangles that a square can be divided into?

What is the smallest number of $45^\circ-60^\circ-75^\circ$ triangles that a square can be divided into? The image below is a flawed example, from http://www.mathpuzzle.com/flawed456075.gif ...
81
votes
1answer
4k views

$4494410$ and friends

The number $4494410$ has the property that when converted to base $16$ it is $44944A_{16}$, then if the $A$ is expanded to $10$ in the string we get back the original number. ...
75
votes
14answers
10k views

Can the golden ratio accurately be expressed in terms of e and $\pi$

I was playing around with numbers when I noticed that $\sqrt e$ was very somewhat close to $\phi$ And so, I took it upon myself to try to find a way to express the golden ratio in terms of the ...
70
votes
24answers
15k views

Blue eyes: a logic puzzle

Today I read the Blue Eyes puzzle here. I also read the solution which I find quite interesting. But there are three follow up questions which I don't know the answer to: What is the quantified ...
65
votes
1answer
3k views

What's the largest possible volume of a taco, and how do I make one that big?

Let $f$ be a continuous, even function over some interval $I=[-a,a]$ such that the total arc length of $f$ over $I$ is at least $2$, $f(0)=0$, and $f$ is increasing on $(0,a)$. [You might imagine ...
61
votes
7answers
14k views

Logic problem: Identifying poisoned wines out of a sample, minimizing test subjects with constraints

I just got out from my Math and Logic class with my friend. During the lecture, a well-known math/logic puzzle was presented: The King has $1000$ wines, $1$ of which is poisoned. He needs to ...
57
votes
1answer
2k views

Are there infinitely many “super-palindromes”?

Let me first explain what I call a "super-palindrome": Consider the number $99999999$. That number is obviously a palindrome. ${}{}{}{}$ The largest prime factor of $99999999$ is $137$. If you divide ...
57
votes
0answers
7k views

“The Bachelorette Problem” (slightly adapted from Tao's Google+ account) [duplicate]

The following puzzle being very much recreational for me, I couldn't resist myself from sharing it with my fellow MSE user friends. Let's have a look at it. You are the most eligible bachelorette ...
56
votes
2answers
18k views

Predicting Real Numbers

Here is an astounding riddle that at first seems impossible to solve. I'm certain the axiom of choice is required in any solution, and I have an outline of one possible solution, but would like to ...
55
votes
6answers
6k views

How come $32.5 = 31.5$?

Below is a visual proof (!) that $32.5 = 31.5$. How could that be?
53
votes
10answers
2k views

Fake induction proofs

Question: Can you provide an example of a claim where the base case holds but there is a subtle flaw in the inductive step that leads to a fake proof of a clearly erroneous result? [Note: Please do ...
51
votes
10answers
2k views

Arc length contest! Minimize the arc length of $f(x)$ when given three conditions.

Contest: Give an example of a continuous function $f$ that satisfies three conditions: $f(x) \geq 0$ on the interval $0\leq x\leq 1$; $f(0)=0$ and $f(1)=0$; the area bounded by the graph of $f$ and ...
50
votes
10answers
28k views

Can a piece of A4 paper be folded so that it's thick enough to reach the moon?

While procrastinating around the web I stumbled on a page that contained the image below, from cracked.com. I can't help but believe that this is false… Even though the article header says: ...
49
votes
14answers
2k views

How to entertain a crowd with mathematics? [closed]

I am a high school student who follows a university level curriculum, and recently my teacher asked me to hold a short lecture to a crowd of about 100 people (mostly parents of my classmates and such, ...
47
votes
26answers
5k views

Big List of Fun Math Books

To be on this list the book must satisfy the following conditions: It doesn't require an enormous amount of background material to understand. It must be a fun book, either in recreational math (or ...
47
votes
17answers
2k views

What are some math books written in dialogue or story form, e.g., a teacher explaining to a student?

Good examples would be The Square Root of 2 by David Flannery or Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki.
46
votes
1answer
1k views

How likely is it not to be anyone's best friend?

A teenage acquaintance of mine lamented: Every one of my friends is better friends with somebody else. Thanks to my knowledge of mathematics I could inform her that she's not alone and ...
43
votes
4answers
2k views

How does the divisibility graphs work?

I came across this graphic method for checking divisibility by $7$. $\hskip1.5in$ Write down a number $n$. Start at the small white node at the bottom of the graph. For each digit $d$ in ...
43
votes
3answers
1k views

Expected number of people to not get shot?

Suppose $n$ gangsters are randomly positioned in a square room such that the positions of any three gangsters do not form an isosceles triangle. At midnight, each gangster shoots the person that is ...
43
votes
2answers
992 views

Possible distinct positive real $x,y,z \neq 1$ with $x^{(y^z)} = y^{(z^x)} = z^{(x^y)}$ in cyclic permutation?

Can we have distinct positive real $x,y,z \neq 1$ with $$ x^{\left( y^z \right)} = y^{\left( z^x \right)} = z^{\left( x^y \right)} $$ in cyclic permutation? It does not work well if any ...
42
votes
2answers
1k views

Xmas Greeting 2015

Simplify the expression below into a seasonal greeting using commonly-used symbols in commonly-used formulas in maths and physics. Colours are purely ornamental! $$\large \begin{align} \frac{ ...
42
votes
4answers
5k views

Sharing a pepperoni pizza with your worst enemy

You are about to eat a pepperoni pizza, which is sliced into eight pieces. Each pepperoni will unambiguously belong to some slice (no pepperoni is "between" slices). The caveat is that you have to ...
41
votes
2answers
1k views

Proof that $123456789098765432111$ is prime?

The mathematician Charles Weibel asks on his home page the following "fun question": How can you prove that 123456789098765432111 is a prime number? (He notes the fact $$12345678987654321 = ...
40
votes
9answers
6k views

Where is the flaw in this “proof” that 1=2? (Derivative of repeated addition)

Consider the following: $1 = 1^2$ $2 + 2 = 2^2$ $3 + 3 + 3 = 3^2$ Therefore, $\underbrace{x + x + x + \ldots + x}_{x \textrm{ times}}= x^2$ Take the derivative of lhs and rhs and we get: ...
40
votes
19answers
2k views

Literary statements that are false as mathematics [closed]

I recently wanted to use the title of the famous short story "Everything that Rises must Converge" in a poem of mine. However, the mathematician in me insisted on changing it to "Everything that ...
40
votes
3answers
2k views

If the decimal expansion of $a/b$ contains “$7143$” then $b>1250$

I recently stumbled upon this really interesting problem: Suppose we have a fraction $\frac{a}{b}$ where $a,b \in \mathbb{N}$ and we know that the decimal fraction of $\frac{a}{b}$ has the ...
39
votes
5answers
2k views

How much weight is on each person in a human pyramid?

After participating in a human pyramid and learning that it's very uncomfortable to have a lot of weight on your back, I figured I'd try to write out a recurrence relation for the total amount of ...
38
votes
7answers
39k views

How many triangles

I saw this riddle today, it asks how many triangles are in this picture . I don't know how to solve this (without counting directly), though I guess it has something to do with some recurrence. ...
38
votes
6answers
2k views

A variant of the Monty Hall problem

Everybody knows the famous Monty Hall problem; way too much ink has been spilled over it already. Let's take it as a given and consider the following variant of the problem that I thought up this ...
38
votes
7answers
29k views

What is the math behind the game Spot It?

I just purchased the game Spot It. As per this site, the structure of the game is as follows: Game has 55 round playing cards. Each card has eight randomly placed symbols. There are a total of 50 ...
37
votes
10answers
3k views

Mathematical literature to lose yourself in

H.M. Edwards in the preface to his book on the Riemann Zeta Function, summarises his philosophy on learning Mathematics: ...I have tried to say to students of mathematics that they should read the ...
37
votes
1answer
586 views

Does my “Prime Factor Look-and-Say” sequence always end?

I'm trying to create a challenge for PP&CG where the object will be to find the longest sequence in a given time, but I'm worried that there may be an infinite sequence that will ruin things. The ...
35
votes
2answers
1k views

Do all natural numbers have a nonzero multiple that is a palindrome in base 10?

Some natural numbers have a nonzero multiple that is a palindrome in base 10. For example, $106 \times 2 = 212$, which is a palindrome, and $29 \times 8 = 232$, which is also a palindrome. Aside ...
35
votes
1answer
552 views

Penrose's remark on impossible figures

I'd like to think that I understand symmetry groups. I know what the elements of a symmetry group are - they are transformations that preserve an object or its relevant features - and I know what the ...
34
votes
3answers
4k views

Can a Rubik's cube be mapped knowing only two sides?

Is it possible to know the entire configuration of a Rubik's cube looking at only two sides and not rotating the cube? In other words: what is the minimum information required to create a ...