182
votes
20answers
20k views

Why can ALL quadratic equations be solved by the quadratic formula?

In algebra, all quadratic problems can be solved by using the quadratic formula. I read a couple of books, and they told me only HOW and WHEN to use this formula, but they don't tell me WHY I can use ...
182
votes
16answers
13k views

How can I evaluate $\sum_{n=0}^\infty (n+1)x^n$

How can I evaluate $$ \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{2n}{3^{n+1}} $$ I know the answer thanks to Wolfram Alpha, but I'm more concerned with how I can derive that answer. It cites tests to prove that it is ...
181
votes
27answers
34k views

Does the square or the circle have the greater perimeter? A surprisingly hard problem for high schoolers

An exam for high school students had the following problem: Let the point $E$ be the midpoint of the line segment $AD$ on the square $ABCD$. Then let a circle be determined by the points $E$, $B$ and ...
179
votes
16answers
27k views

How to prove that $\lim\limits_{x\to0}\frac{\sin x}x=1$?

How can one prove the statement $$\lim\limits_{x\to 0}\frac{\sin x}x=1$$ without using the Taylor series of $\sin$, $\cos$ and $\tan$? Best would be a geometrical solution. This is homework. In my ...
179
votes
19answers
13k views

In the history of mathematics, has there ever been a mistake?

I was just wondering whether or not there have been mistakes in mathematics. Not a conjecture that ended up being false, but a theorem which had a proof that was accepted for a nontrivial amount of ...
179
votes
0answers
6k views

The Ring Game on $K[x,y,z]$

I recently read about the Ring Game on MathOverflow, and have been trying to determine winning strategies for each player on various rings. The game has two players and begins with a commutative ...
178
votes
8answers
11k views

Intuition for the definition of the Gamma function?

In these notes by Terence Tao is a proof of Stirling's formula. I really like most of it, but at a crucial step he uses the integral identity $$n! = \int_{0}^{\infty} t^n e^{-t} dt$$ coming from ...
177
votes
1answer
6k views

Does the open mapping theorem imply the Baire category theorem?

A nice observation by C.E. Blair1, 2, 3 shows that the Baire category theorem for complete metric spaces is equivalent to the axiom of (countable) dependent choice. On the other hand, the three ...
177
votes
1answer
6k views

Is there a 0-1 law for the theory of groups?

For each first order sentence $\phi$ in the language of groups, define : $$p_N(\phi)=\frac{\text{number of nonisomorphic groups $G$ of order} \le N\text{ such that } \phi \text{ is valid in } ...
176
votes
8answers
22k views

V.I. Arnold says Russian students can't solve this problem, but American students can — why?

In a book of word problems by V.I Arnold, the following appears: The hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle (in a standard American examination) is 10 inches, the altitude dropped onto it ...
176
votes
37answers
17k views

Fun but serious mathematics books to gift advanced undergraduates.

I am looking for fun, interesting mathematics textbooks which would make good studious holiday gifts for advanced mathematics undergraduates or beginning graduate students. They should be serious but ...
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, ...
176
votes
3answers
7k views

How many fours are needed to represent numbers up to $N$?

The goal of the four fours puzzle is to represent each natural number using four copies of the digit $4$ and common mathematical symbols. For example, $165=(\sqrt{4} + \sqrt{\sqrt{{\sqrt{4^{4!}}}}}) ...
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 ...
173
votes
24answers
34k views

Is it faster to count to the infinite going one by one or two by two? [closed]

A child asked me this question yesterday: Would it be faster to count to the infinite going one by one or two by two? And I was split with two answers: In both case it will take an infinite ...
171
votes
22answers
10k views

Why do mathematicians use single-letter variables?

I have much more experience programming than I do with advanced mathematics, so perhaps this is just a comfort thing with me, but I often get frustrated trying to follow mathematical notation. ...
170
votes
4answers
14k views

The Integral that Stumped Feynman?

In "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!," Nobel-prize winning Physicist Richard Feynman said that he challenged his colleagues to give him an integral that they could evaluate with only complex methods ...
167
votes
14answers
11k views

Identification of a quadrilateral as a trapezoid, rectangle, or square

Yesterday I was tutoring a student, and the following question arose (number 76): My student believed the answer to be J: square. I reasoned with her that the information given only allows us to ...
163
votes
11answers
86k views

What is the result of infinity minus infinity?

What is $\infty - \infty$? Is it $\infty$ or $0$ or what?
158
votes
6answers
13k views

How can you prove that a function has no closed form integral?

I've come across statements in the past along the lines of "function $f(x)$ has no closed form integral", which I assume means that there is no combination of the operations: addition/subtraction ...
156
votes
14answers
36k views

Is computer science a branch of mathematics?

I have been wondering, is computer science a branch of mathematics? No one has ever adequately described it to me. It all seems very math-like to me. My second question is, are there any books about ...
155
votes
28answers
30k views

List of Interesting Math Videos/ Documentaries

This is an offshoot of the question on Fun math outreach/social activities. I have listed a few videos/documentaries I have seen. I would appreciate if people could add on to this list. Story of ...
152
votes
91answers
42k views

Which one result in mathematics has surprised you the most? [closed]

A large part of my fascination in mathematics is because of some very surprising results that I have seen there. I remember one I found very hard to swallow when I first encountered it, was what is ...
152
votes
25answers
12k views

Can a coin with an unknown bias be treated as fair?

This morning, I wanted to flip a coin to make a decision but no coins were in reach. There was however an SD card on my desk: Given that I don't know the bias of this SD card, would flipping it be ...
152
votes
2answers
5k views

Can we ascertain that there exists an epimorphism $G\rightarrow H$?

Let $G,H$ be finite groups. Suppose we have an epimorphism $$G\times G\rightarrow H\times H$$ Can we find an epimorphism $G\rightarrow H$?
150
votes
11answers
14k views

In simple English, what does it mean to be transcendental?

From Wikipedia A transcendental number is a real or complex number that is not algebraic A transcendental function is an analytic function that does not satisfy a polynomial equation However these ...
150
votes
6answers
10k views

Why does this matrix give the derivative of a function?

I happened to stumble upon the following matrix: $$ A = \begin{bmatrix} a & 1 \\ 0 & a \end{bmatrix} $$ And after trying a bunch of different examples, I noticed the ...
150
votes
2answers
9k views

Evaluate $ \int_{0}^{\frac{\pi}2}\frac1{(1+x^2)(1+\tan x)}\:\mathrm dx$

Evaluate the following integral $$ \tag1\int_{0}^{\pi/2}\frac1{(1+x^2)(1+\tan x)}\,dx $$ My Attempt: Letting $x=\frac{\pi}{2}-x$ and using the property that $$ \int_{0}^{a}f(x)\,dx = ...
149
votes
27answers
26k views

Best Fake Proofs? (A M.SE April Fools Day collection) [closed]

In honor of April Fools Day 2013, I'd like this question to collect the best, most convincing fake proofs of impossibilities you have seen. I've posted one as an answer below. I'm also thinking of a ...
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 ...
147
votes
21answers
27k views

Is $0.999999999… = 1$?

I'm told by smart people that $0.999999999\ldots = 1$, and I believe them, but is there a proof that explains why this is?
143
votes
0answers
3k views

Does there exist a bijection of $\mathbb{R}^n$ with itself such that the forward map is connected but the inverse is not?

Let $(X,\tau), (Y,\sigma)$ be two topological spaces. We say that a map $f: \mathcal{P}(X)\to \mathcal{P}(Y)$ between their power sets is connected if for every $S\subset X$ connected, $f(S)\subset Y$ ...
142
votes
1answer
4k views

Rational roots of polynomials

Can one construct a sequence $(a_k)_{k\geqslant 0}$ of rational numbers such that, for every positive integer $n$ the polynomial $a_nX^n+a_{n-1}X^{n-1}+\cdots +a_0$ has exactly $n$ distinct rational ...
141
votes
3answers
4k views

A Topology such that the continuous functions are exactly the polynomials

I was wondering which fields $K$ can be equipped with a topology such that a function $f:K \to K$ is continuous if and only if it is a polynomial function $f(x)=a_nx^n+\cdots+a_0$. Obviously, the ...
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 ...
139
votes
3answers
24k views

Why can a Venn diagram for 4+ sets not be constructed using circles?

This page gives a few examples of Venn diagrams for 4 sets. Some examples: Thinking about it for a little, it is impossible to partition the plane into the $16$ segments required for a complete ...
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 ...
135
votes
13answers
21k views

What's the intuition behind Pythagoras' theorem?

Today we learned about Pythagoras' theorem. Sadly, I can't understand the logic behind it. $A^{2} + B^{2} = C^{2}$ $C^{2} = (5 \text{ cm})^2 + (7 \text{ cm})^2$ $C^{2} = 25 \text{ cm}^2 + 49 ...
135
votes
6answers
9k views

In (relatively) simple words: What is an inverse limit?

I am a set theorist in my orientation, and while I did take a few courses that brushed upon categorical and algebraic constructions, one has always eluded me. The inverse limit. I tried to ask one of ...
135
votes
3answers
6k views

How to show $e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ is not an integer

In this question, I needed to assume in my answer that $e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ is not an integer. Is there some standard result in number theory that applies to situations like this? After several years, ...
134
votes
3answers
7k views

A 1,400 years old approximation to the sine function by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I

The approximation $$\sin(x) \simeq \frac{16 (\pi -x) x}{5 \pi ^2-4 (\pi -x) x}\qquad (0\leq x\leq\pi)$$ was proposed by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I, a seventh-century Indian mathematician. I ...
134
votes
1answer
7k views

A variation of Fermat's little theorem

Fermat's little theorem states that for $n$ prime, $$ a^n \equiv a \pmod{n}. $$ The values of $n$ for which this holds are the primes and the Carmichael numbers. If we modify the congruence ...
130
votes
20answers
8k views

Are there any open mathematical puzzles? [closed]

Are there any (mathematical) puzzles that are still unresolved? I only mean questions that are accessible to and understandable by the complete layman and which have not been solved, despite serious ...
130
votes
31answers
13k views

Stopping the “Will I need this for the test” question [closed]

I am a college professor in the American education system and find that the major concern of my students is trying to determine the specific techniques or problems which I will ask on the exam. This ...
129
votes
22answers
19k views

Examples of mathematical discoveries which were kept as a secret

There could be several personal, social, philosophical and even political reasons to keep a mathematical discovery as a secret. For example it is completely expected that if some mathematician find ...
128
votes
9answers
5k views

What does $2^x$ really mean when $x$ is not an integer?

We all know that $2^5$ means $2\times 2\times 2\times 2\times 2 = 32$, but what does $2^\pi$ mean? How is it possible to calculate that without using a calculator? I am really curious about this, so ...
128
votes
1answer
7k views

How discontinuous can a derivative be?

There is a well-known result in elementary analysis due to Darboux which says if $f$ is a differentiable function then $f'$ satisfies the intermediate value property. To my knowledge, not many ...
127
votes
29answers
51k views

Best book ever on Number Theory

Which is the single best book for Number Theory that everyone who loves Mathematics should read?
126
votes
9answers
203k views

How many sides does a circle have?

My son is in 2nd grade. His math teacher gave the class a quiz, and one question was this: If a triangle has 3 sides, and a rectangle has 4 sides, how many sides does a circle have? My first ...
126
votes
5answers
7k views

Symmetry of function defined by integral

Define a function $f(\alpha, \beta)$, $\alpha \in (-1,1)$, $\beta \in (-1,1)$ as $$ f(\alpha, \beta) = \int_0^{\infty} dx \: \frac{x^{\alpha}}{1+2 x \cos{(\pi \beta)} + x^2}$$ One can use, for ...

15 30 50 per page