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

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447
votes
20answers
97k views

A “simple” 3rd grade problem…or is it?

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 will it ...
430
votes
134answers
26k views

What was the first bit of mathematics that made you realize that math is beautiful? (For children's book)

I'm a children's book writer and illustrator, and I want to to create a book for young readers that exposes the beauty of Mathematics. I recently read Paul Lockhart's essay "The Mathematician's ...
232
votes
6answers
6k 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 $f_n(x)$ ...
174
votes
4answers
11k 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 ...
147
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
142
votes
2answers
13k 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, ...
120
votes
6answers
22k 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 ...
92
votes
10answers
11k 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 ...
86
votes
8answers
3k views

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

Edit (March. 2014) This question has been moved to mathoverflow; see here. Randomly break a stick in five places. Question: What is the probability that the resulting six pieces can form a ...
81
votes
5answers
4k views

Help find hard integrals that evaluate to $59$?

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 ...
77
votes
17answers
11k views

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

Given a circle on a paper, a pencil and a book. Can you find the center of the circle with the pencil and book?
76
votes
3answers
8k 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. ...
75
votes
4answers
4k 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 ...
74
votes
1answer
3k 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. ...
73
votes
12answers
7k 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. ...
54
votes
12answers
7k 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 ...
54
votes
1answer
2k views

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

Let $f$ be a continuous, even, positive 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 $(0,a)$. View the ...
51
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 ...
48
votes
5answers
8k 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 ...
47
votes
3answers
15k 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 ...
44
votes
25answers
5k 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 ...
43
votes
14answers
1k 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, ...
41
votes
11answers
14k 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: ...
41
votes
26answers
4k 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 ...
40
votes
6answers
4k views

How come $32.5 = 31.5$?

Below is a visual proof (!) that $32.5 = 31.5$. How could that be?
37
votes
2answers
694 views

This is stupid but I have a bad cold with cough

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 permutaion? It does not work well if any ...
36
votes
1answer
872 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 ...
35
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 ...
35
votes
2answers
850 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 ...
33
votes
9answers
2k views

Literary statements that are false as mathematics

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 ...
33
votes
3answers
3k 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 ...
33
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
33
votes
5answers
954 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 ...
33
votes
2answers
821 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 = ...
32
votes
1answer
633 views

Proving that $x$ is an integer, if the differences between any two of $x^{1919}$, $x^{1960}$, and $x^{2100}$ are integers

For a specific real number $x$, the difference between any two of $x^{1919}$, $x^{1960}$ , and $x^{2100}$ is always an integer. How would one prove that $x$ is an integer?
31
votes
22answers
7k views

Poems related to mathematics [closed]

I am supposed to be presenting a poem in my undergraduate math class, that relates to mathematics. The point of the presentation is to show the beauty of math , and the fun of it ,and also it will ...
31
votes
3answers
1k views

For which number does multiplying it by 99 add a 1 to each end of its decimal representation?

This was asked by my maths lecturer a couple of years ago and ive been wracking my brains ever since: Find a number that, when multiplied by 99 will give the original number but with a 1 at ...
31
votes
1answer
337 views

Zero-avoiding integers

Let's say an integer $n>2$ is zero-avoiding if, for every $2\leq b < n$, the representation of $n$ in base $b$ has no $0$ digits. (Obviously every $n$ has a $0$ when written in base $n$ and no ...
30
votes
1answer
2k views

Minesweeper - Chance of one-click win

I'd like to know if it's possible to calculate the odds of winning a game of Minesweeper (on easy difficulty) in a single click. This page documents a bug that occurs if you do so, and they calculate ...
28
votes
7answers
2k views

Quotient geometries known in popular culture, such as “flat torus = Asteroids video game”

In answering a question I mentioned the Asteroids video game as an example -- at one time, the canonical example -- of a locally flat geometry that is globally different from the Euclidean plane. It ...
28
votes
5answers
986 views

Can this ant find its way back to the nest?

So the puzzle is like this: An ant is out from its nest searching for food. It travels in a straight line from its nest. After this ant gets 40 ft away from the nest, suddenly a rain starts to ...
28
votes
1answer
1k views

Dividing a square into equal-area rectangles

How many ways are there to tile an $n\times n$ square with exactly $n$ rectangles, each of which has integer sides and area $n$? The sequence $C(n)$ begins 1, 2, 2, 9, 2, 46, 2, 250, 37. Clearly ...
27
votes
6answers
3k views

Where is the flaw in this argument of a 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: ...
27
votes
2answers
408 views

Can a collection of points be recovered from its multiset of distances?

Consider $n$ distinct points $x_1,\dots,x_n$ on $\mathbb{R}$. Associated to these points is the multiset of all distances $d(x_i,x_j)$ between two points. Suppose one is only handed this multiset (you ...
26
votes
20answers
2k views

Interesting Math for 3-graders

I'm supposed to give a 30 minutes math lecture tomorrow at my 3-grade daughter's class. Can you give me some ideas of mathemathical puzzles, riddles, facts etc. that would interest kids at this age? ...
26
votes
7answers
12k 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. ...
25
votes
4answers
1k views

Which is bigger?

In my classes I sometimes have a contest concerning who can write the largest number in ten symbols. It almost never comes up, but I'm torn between two "best" answers: a stack of ten 9's (exponents) ...
25
votes
3answers
2k views

Constructing a Möbius strip using a square paper? Is it possible?

I understand that, from a topological perspective, it is irrelevant whether we choose the quotient of the square $[0,1]\times [0,1]$ (by identifying points $(0,t)$ and $(1,1-t)$) or the quotient of ...
25
votes
5answers
2k views

Is Mega Millions Positive Expected Value?

Given the rapid rise of the Mega Millions jackpot in the US (now advertised at \$640 million and equivalent to a "cash" prize of about \$448 million), I was wondering if there was ever a point at ...
24
votes
2answers
1k views

Proof of recursive formula for “fusible numbers”

The set of fusible numbers is a fantastic set of rational numbers defined by a simple rule. The story is well told here but I'll repeat the definitions. It's the formula on slide 17 that I'm trying to ...