91
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. ...
90
votes
20answers
18k views

Visually deceptive “proofs” which are mathematically wrong

Related: Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain Beside the wonderful examples above, there should also be counterexamples, where visually intuitive demonstrations are actually ...
90
votes
18answers
9k views

How to distinguish walking on a sphere or on a torus?

Imagine that you're a flatlander walking in your world. How could you distinguish if the world is a sphere or a torus ? I can't see the difference from this point of view. If you are interested, this ...
90
votes
8answers
12k views

Are half of all numbers odd?

Plato puts the following words in Socrates' mouth in the Phaedo dialogue: I mean, for instance, the number three, and there are many other examples. Take the case of three; do you not think it may ...
90
votes
20answers
10k views

Your favourite application of the Baire Category Theorem

I think I remember reading somewhere that the Baire Category Theorem is supposedly quite powerful. Whether that is true or not, it's my favourite theorem (so far) and I'd love to see some applications ...
90
votes
7answers
6k views

probability $2/4$ vs $3/6$

Recently I was asked the following in an interview: If you are a pretty good basketball player, and were betting on whether you could make $2$ out of $4$ or $3$ out of $6$ baskets, which would you ...
90
votes
2answers
3k views

How to prove $\int_0^1\tan^{-1}\left[\frac{\tanh^{-1}x-\tan^{-1}x}{\pi+\tanh^{-1}x-\tan^{-1}x}\right]\frac{dx}{x}=\frac{\pi}{8}\ln\frac{\pi^2}{8}?$

How can one prove that $$\int_0^1 \tan^{-1}\left[\frac{\tanh^{-1}x-\tan^{-1}x}{\pi+\tanh^{-1}x-\tan^{-1}x}\right]\frac{dx}{x}$$ $$=\frac{\pi}{8}\ln\frac{\pi^2}{8}?$$
90
votes
1answer
3k views

All polynomials with no natural roots and integer coefficients such that $\phi(n)|\phi(P(n))$

Let $P(x)$ be a polynomial with integer coefficients such that the equation $P(x)=0$ has no positive integer solutions. Find all polynomials $P(x)$ such that for all positive integers $n$ we have ...
89
votes
8answers
9k views

Is there an elementary proof that $\sum \limits_{k=1}^n \frac1k$ is never an integer?

If $n>1$ is an integer, then $\sum \limits_{k=1}^n \frac1k$ is not an integer. If you know Bertrand's Postulate, then you know there must be a prime $p$ between $n/2$ and $n$, so $\frac 1p$ ...
89
votes
6answers
23k views

How often does it happen that the oldest person alive dies?

Today, we are brought the sad news that Europe's oldest woman died. A little over a week ago the oldest person in the U.S. unfortunately died. Yesterday, the Netherlands' oldest man died peacefully. ...
88
votes
4answers
10k views

How do I convince someone that $1+1=2$ may not necessarily be true?

Me and my friend were arguing over this "fact" that we all know and hold dear. However, I do know that $1+1=2$ is an axiom. That is why I beg to differ. Neither of us have the required mathematical ...
88
votes
11answers
12k views

How can I find the surface area of a normal chicken egg?

This morning, I had eggs for breakfast, and I was looking at the pieces of broken shells and thought "What is the surface area of this egg?" The problem is that I have no real idea about how to find ...
88
votes
3answers
17k views

Why study Algebraic Geometry?

I'm going to start self-stydying algebraic geometry very soon. So, my question is why do mathematicians study algebraic geometry? What are the types of problems in which algebraic geometers are ...
87
votes
15answers
8k views

Infiniteness of non-twin primes.

Well, we all know the twin prime conjecture. There are infinitely many primes $p$, such that $p+2$ is also prime. Well, I actually got asked in a discrete mathematics course, to prove that there are ...
87
votes
23answers
7k views

Why is there no “remainder” in multiplication

With division, you can have a remainder (such as $5/2=2$ remainder $1$). Now my six year old son has asked me "Why is there no remainder with multiplication"? The obvious answer is "because it ...
87
votes
8answers
50k views

What is the importance of eigenvalues/eigenvectors?

What is the importance of eigenvalues/eigenvectors?
86
votes
12answers
11k views

How to convince a math teacher of this simple and obvious fact?

I have in my presence a mathematics teacher, who asserts that $$ \frac{a}{b} = \frac{c}{d} $$ Implies: $$ a = c, \space b=d $$ She has been shown in multiple ways why this is not true: $$ ...
86
votes
19answers
4k views

Good Physical Demonstrations of Abstract Mathematics

I like to use physical demonstrations when teaching mathematics (putting physics in the service of mathematics, for once, instead of the other way around), and it'd be great to get some more ideas to ...
86
votes
10answers
4k views

Different kinds of infinities?

Can someone explain to me how there can be different kinds of infinities? I was reading "The man who loved only numbers" by Paul Hoffman and came across the concept of countable and uncountable ...
86
votes
9answers
4k views

How far can one get in analysis without leaving $\mathbb{Q}$?

Suppose you're trying to teach analysis to a stubborn algebraist who refuses to acknowledge the existence of any characteristic $0$ field other than $\mathbb{Q}$. How ugly are things going to get for ...
86
votes
4answers
3k views

Proof of $\frac{1}{e^{\pi}+1}+\frac{3}{e^{3\pi}+1}+\frac{5}{e^{5\pi}+1}+\ldots=\frac{1}{24}$

I would like to prove that $\displaystyle\sum_{\substack{n=1\\n\text{ odd}}}^{\infty}\frac{n}{e^{n\pi}+1}=\frac1{24}$. I found a solution by myself 10 hours after I posted it, here it is: ...
86
votes
1answer
2k views

Is there a characterization of groups with the property $\forall N\unlhd G,\:\exists H\leq G\text{ s.t. }H\cong G/N$?

A common mistake for beginning group theory students is the belief that a quotient of a group $G$ is necessarily isomorphic to a subgroup of $G$. Is there a characterization of the groups in which ...
85
votes
13answers
16k views

Are there real-life relations which are symmetric and reflexive but not transitive?

Inspired by Halmos (Naive Set Theory) . . . For each of these three possible properties [reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity], find a relation that does not have that property but does have ...
85
votes
18answers
10k views

Is there another simpler method to solve this elementary school math problem?

I am teaching an elementary student. He has a homework as follows. There are 16 students who use either bicycles or tricycles. The total number of wheels is 38. Find the number of students using ...
85
votes
6answers
6k views

Is non-standard analysis worth learning?

As a former physics major, I did a lot of (seemingly sloppy) calculus using the notion of infinitesimals. Recently I heard that there is a branch of math called non-standard analysis that provides ...
85
votes
2answers
3k views

Connected metric spaces with disjoint open balls

Let $X$ be the $S^1$ or a connected subset thereof, endowed with the standard metric. Then every open set $U\subseteq X$ is a disjoint union of open arcs, hence a disjoint union of open balls. Are ...
84
votes
17answers
15k 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?
84
votes
12answers
6k views

Why is compactness so important?

I've read many times that 'compactness' is such an extremely important and useful concept, though it's still not very apparent why. The only theorems I've seen concerning it are the Heine-Borel ...
84
votes
4answers
10k views

Books that every student “needs” to go through

I'm still a student, but the same books keep getting named by my tutors (Rudin, Royden). I've read Baby Rudin and begun Royden though I'm unsure if there are other books that I "should" be working on ...
84
votes
6answers
10k views

What did Alan Turing mean when he said he didn't fully understand dy/dx?

Alan Turing's notebook has recently been sold at an auction house in London. In it he says this: Written out: The Leibniz notation $\frac{\mathrm{d}y}{\mathrm{d}x}$ I find extremely difficult ...
83
votes
12answers
9k 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. ...
83
votes
16answers
10k views

Do mathematicians, in the end, always agree?

I've been trying to study some different sciences in my life, ranging from biology to mathematics, and if I try to explain to people why I like mathematics above the others, I think the most important ...
83
votes
22answers
10k views

The Best of Dover Books (a.k.a the best cheap mathematical texts)

Perhaps this is a repeat question -- let me know if it is -- but I am interested in knowing the best of Dover mathematics books. The reason is because Dover books are very cheap and most other books ...
83
votes
3answers
3k views

True or false? $x^2\ne x\implies x\ne 1$

Today I had an argument with my math teacher at school. We were answering some simple True/False questions and one of the questions was the following: $$x^2\ne x\implies x\ne 1$$ I immediately ...
83
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. ...
82
votes
8answers
5k views

Self-Contained Proof that $\sum\limits_{n=1}^{\infty} \frac1{n^p}$ Converges for $p > 1$

To prove the convergence of $$\sum_{n=1}^{\infty} \frac1{n^p}$$ for $p > 1$, one typically appeals to either the Integral Test or the Cauchy Condensation Test. I am wondering if there is a ...
82
votes
8answers
4k views

Evaluating $\lim_{n\to\infty} e^{-n} \sum\limits_{k=0}^{n} \frac{n^k}{k!}$

I'm supposed to calculate: $$\lim_{n\to\infty} e^{-n} \sum_{k=0}^{n} \frac{n^k}{k!}$$ By using W|A, i may guess that the limit is $\frac{1}{2}$ that is a pretty interesting and nice result. I ...
82
votes
21answers
54k views

Software for drawing geometry diagrams

What software do you use to accurately draw geometry diagrams?
82
votes
4answers
3k views

Does $R[x] \cong S[x]$ imply $R \cong S$?

This is a very simple question but I believe it's nontrivial. I would like to know if the following is true: If $R$ and $S$ are rings and $R[x]$ and $S[x]$ are isomorphic as rings, then $R$ and ...
82
votes
4answers
3k views

Least prime of the form $38^n+31$

I search the least n such that $$38^n+31$$ is prime. I checked the $n$ upto $3000$ and found none, so the least prime of that form must have more than $4000$ digits. I am content with a probable ...
81
votes
20answers
6k views

Proving the identity $\sum_{k=1}^n {k^3} = \big(\sum_{k=1}^n k\big)^2$ without induction

I recently proved that $$ \sum_{k=1}^n k^3 = \left(\sum_{k=1}^n k \right)^2 $$ Using mathematical induction. I'm interested if there's an intuitive explanation, or even a combinatorial ...
81
votes
9answers
22k views

Teaching myself differential topology and differential geometry

I have a hazy notion of some stuff in differential geometry and a better, but still not quite rigorous understanding of basics of differential topology. I have decided to fix this lacuna once for ...
81
votes
18answers
8k views

Fastest way to meet, without communication, on a sphere?

I was puzzled by a question my colleague asked me, and now seeking your help. Suppose you and your friend* end up on a big sphere. There are no visual cues on where on the sphere you both are, and ...
80
votes
16answers
8k views

Why did mathematicians take Russell's paradox seriously?

Though I've understood the logic behind's Russell's paradox for long enough, I have to admit I've never really understood why mathematicians and mathematical historians thought it so important. Most ...
80
votes
4answers
6k views

What are the Axiom of Choice and Axiom of Determinacy?

Would someone please explain: What does the Axiom of Choice mean, intuitively? What does the Axiom of Determinancy mean, intuitively, and how does it contradict the Axiom of Choice? as simple ...
80
votes
9answers
13k views

If I flip a coin 1000 times in a row and it lands on heads all 1000 times, what is the probability that it's an unfair coin?

Consider a two-sided coin. If I flip it $1000$ times and it lands heads up for each flip, what is the probability that the coin is unfair, and how do we quantify that if it is unfair? Furthermore, ...
80
votes
14answers
8k views

Why are mathematical proofs that rely on computers controversial?

There are many theorems in mathematics that have been proved with the assistance of computers, take the famous four color theorem for example. Such proofs are often controversial among some ...
80
votes
10answers
9k views

Mathematician vs. Computer: A Game

A mathematician and a computer are playing a game: First, the mathematician chooses an integer from the range $2,...,1000$. Then, the computer chooses an integer uniformly at random from the same ...
80
votes
5answers
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 ...
80
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. ...

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