706
votes
28answers
47k views

Can I use my powers for good?

I hesitate to ask this question, but I read a lot of the career advice from mathOverflow and math.stackexchange, and I couldn't find anything similar. Four years after the PhD, I am pretty sure that ...
524
votes
22answers
101k 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 ...
507
votes
46answers
312k views

Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain

Since I'm not that good at (as I like to call it) 'die-hard-mathematics', I've always liked concepts like the golden ratio or the dragon curve, which are easy to understand and explain, but are ...
483
votes
144answers
30k 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 ...
412
votes
25answers
53k views

Splitting a sandwich and not feeling deceived

This is a problem that has haunted me for more than a decade. Not all the time - but from time to time, and always on windy or rainy days, it suddenly reappears in my mind, stares at me for half an ...
383
votes
16answers
37k views

Is $\frac{\textrm{d}y}{\textrm{d}x}$ not a ratio?

In the book Thomas's Calculus (11th edition) it is mentioned (Section 3.8 pg 225) that the derivative $\frac{\textrm{d}y}{\textrm{d}x}$ is not a ratio. Couldn't it be interpreted as a ratio, because ...
356
votes
25answers
67k views

How to study math to really understand it and have a healthy lifestyle with free time?

Here's my problem. I'm studying math and when I really work hard, I think I understand things very good, but that comes at a big cost: in the last few years, I've had practically zero physical ...
354
votes
6answers
66k views

Why can you turn clothing right-side-out?

My nephew was folding laundry, and turning the occasional shirt right-side-out. I showed him a "trick" where I turned it right-side-out by pulling the whole thing through a sleeve instead of the ...
335
votes
10answers
360k views

Is this Batman equation for real?

HardOCP has an image with an equation which apparently draws the Batman logo. Is this for real?
328
votes
20answers
56k views

Mathematical difference between white and black notes in a piano

The division of the chromatic scale in $7$ natural notes (white keys in a piano) and $5$ accidental ones (black) seems a bit arbitrary to me. Apparently, adjacent notes in a piano (including white or ...
316
votes
10answers
20k views

My son's Sum of Some is beautiful! But what is the proof or explanation?

My youngest son is in $6$th grade. He likes to play with numbers. Today he showed me his latest finding. I call it his "Sum of Some" because he adds up some selected numbers from a series of numbers, ...
308
votes
19answers
56k views

What are imaginary numbers?

At school I really struggled to understand the concept of imaginary numbers. My teacher told us that an imaginary number is a number which has something to do with the square root of -1. When I ...
297
votes
7answers
11k 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 $f_n(x)$ ...
287
votes
32answers
18k views

Examples of apparent patterns that eventually fail

Often, when I try to describe mathematics to the layman, I find myself struggling to convince them of the importance and consequence of 'proof'. I receive responses like: "surely if the Collatz ...
284
votes
35answers
31k views

Do complex numbers really exist?

Complex numbers involve the square root of negative one, and most non-mathematicians find it hard to accept that such a number is meaningful. In contrast, they feel that real numbers have an obvious ...
276
votes
12answers
78k views

Does Pi contain all possible number combinations?

I came across the following image, which states: $\pi$ Pi Pi is an infinite, nonrepeating (sic) decimal - meaning that every possible number combination exists somewhere in pi. Converted ...
274
votes
29answers
38k views

My sister absolutely refuses to learn math [closed]

My 13-year-old sister has a problem which, given the way math is currently taught, I doubt is anything but all too common. She has a low grade in her math course and only ever attempts to memorize ...
272
votes
17answers
24k views

Is value of $\pi = 4$?

What is wrong with this? SOURCE
269
votes
25answers
24k views

Different methods to compute $\sum\limits_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^2}$

As I have heard people did not trust Euler when he first discovered the formula $$\zeta(2)=\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}.$$ However, Euler was Euler and he gave other proofs. I ...
242
votes
23answers
28k views

Proofs that every mathematician should know? [closed]

There are mathematical proofs that have that "wow" factor in being elegant, simplifying one's view of mathematics, lifting one's perception into the light of knowledge etc. So I'd like to know what ...
236
votes
21answers
13k views

On “familiarity” (or How to avoid “going down the Math Rabbit Hole”?)

Anyone trying to learn mathematics on his/her own has had the experience of "going down the Math Rabbit Hole". For example, suppose you come across the novel term vector space, and want to learn more ...
235
votes
33answers
32k views

Pedagogy: How to cure students of the “law of universal linearity”?

One of the commonest mistakes made by students, appearing at every level of maths education up to about early undergraduate, is the so-called “Law of Universal Linearity”: $$ \frac{1}{a+b} ...
232
votes
11answers
27k views

What's an intuitive way to think about the determinant?

In my linear algebra class, we just talked about determinants. So far I’ve been understanding the material okay, but now I’m very confused. I get that when the determinant is zero, the matrix doesn’t ...
223
votes
12answers
22k views

Unusual 5th grade problem, how to solve it

Find a positive integer solution $(x,y,z,a,b)$ for which $$\frac{1}{x}+ \frac{1}{y} + \frac{1}{z} + \frac{1}{a} + \frac{1}{b} = 1\;.$$ Is your answer the only solution? If so, show why. I was ...
205
votes
5answers
39k views

In Russian roulette, is it best to go first?

Assume that we are playing a game of Russian roulette (6 chambers). Assume that there is no shuffling after the shot is fired. I was wondering if you have an advantage in going first? If so, how big ...
195
votes
20answers
6k views

Why don't we define “imaginary” numbers for every “impossibility”?

Before the concept of imaginary numbers, the number $i = \sqrt{-1}$ was shown to have no solution among the numbers that we had, so we said $i$ to be a new type of number. How come we don't do the ...
193
votes
10answers
17k views

Is '10' a magical number or I am missing something?

It's a hilarious witty joke that points out how every base is '10' in its base. Like, 2 = 10 (base 2) 8 = 10 (base 8) My question is if whoever invented the ...
190
votes
30answers
14k views

A challenge by R. P. Feynman: give counter-intuitive theorems that can be translated into everyday language

The following is a quote from Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman . The question is: are there any interesting theorems that you think would be a good example to tell Richard Feynman, as an answer to ...
184
votes
4answers
12k 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 ...
183
votes
12answers
52k views

Multiple-choice question about the probability of a random answer to itself being correct

I found this math "problem" on the internet, and I'm wondering if it has an answer: Question: If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the probability that you will be correct? ...
181
votes
16answers
7k views

Optimizing response times of an ambulance corp: short-term versus average

Background: I work for an Ambulance service. We are one of the largest ambulance services in the world. We have a dispatch system that will always send the closest ambulance to any emergency call. ...
180
votes
14answers
23k views

Given an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite amount of time, would one of them write Hamlet? [closed]

Of course, we've all heard the colloquialism "If a bunch of monkeys pound on a typewriter, eventually one of them will write Hamlet." I have a (not very mathematically intelligent) friend who ...
178
votes
40answers
20k views

Riddle: 1 question to know if the number is 1, 2 or 3

I've recently heard a riddle, which looks quite simple, but I can't solve it :/ The girl thinks of a number which is 1, 2, or 3 The boy then asks just 1 question about the number The girl can only ...
171
votes
87answers
14k views

Surprising identities / equations

What are some surprising equations / identities that you have seen, which you would not have expected? This could be complex numbers, trigonometric identities, combinatorial results, algebraic ...
170
votes
64answers
11k views

Funny identities

Here is a funny exercise $$\sin(x - y) \sin(x + y) = (\sin x - \sin y)(\sin x + \sin y).$$ (If you prove it don't publish it here please). Do you have similar examples?
168
votes
14answers
7k views

Can every proof by contradiction also be shown without contradiction?

Are there some proofs that can only be shown by contradiction or can everything that can be shown by contradiction also be shown without contradiction? What are the advantage/disadvantages of proving ...
166
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!}}}}}) ...
165
votes
21answers
16k views

Nice examples of groups which are not obviously groups

I am searching for some groups, where it is not so obvious that they are groups. In the lectures script there are only examples like $\mathbb{Z}$ under addition and other things like that. I ...
164
votes
28answers
18k views

Too old to start math

I'm sorry if this question goes against the meta for posting questions - I attached all the "beware, this is a soft-question" tags I could. This is a question I've been asking myself now for some ...
162
votes
62answers
34k views

'Obvious' theorems that are actually false

It's one of my real analysis professor's favourite sayings that "being obvious does not imply that it's true". Now, I know a fair few examples of things that are obviously true and that can be proved ...
162
votes
24answers
32k views

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

A young 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 these two answers: In both case it'll take an ...
162
votes
5answers
18k views

Is $7$ the only prime followed by a cube?

I discovered this site which claims that "$7$ is the only prime followed by a cube". I find this statement rather surprising. Is this true? Where might I find a proof that shows this? In my ...
161
votes
5answers
39k views

Integral $\int_{-1}^1\frac1x\sqrt{\frac{1+x}{1-x}}\ln\left(\frac{2\,x^2+2\,x+1}{2\,x^2-2\,x+1}\right) \ \mathrm dx$

I need help with this integral: $$I=\int_{-1}^1\frac1x\sqrt{\frac{1+x}{1-x}}\ln\left(\frac{2\,x^2+2\,x+1}{2\,x^2-2\,x+1}\right)\ \mathrm dx.$$ The integrand graph looks like this: $\hspace{1in}$ The ...
157
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, ...
157
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...
157
votes
6answers
6k views

Best Sets of Lecture Notes and Articles

Let me start by apologizing if there is another thread on math.se that subsumes this. I was updating my answer to the question here during which I made the claim that "I spend a lot of time sifting ...
156
votes
24answers
12k views

Is mathematics one big tautology?

Is mathematics one big tautology? Let me put the question in clearer terms: Mathematics is a deductive system: it works by starting with arbitrary axioms, and deriving therefrom "new" properties ...
155
votes
31answers
9k views

Can't argue with success? Looking for “bad math” that “gets away with it”

I'm looking for cases of invalid math operations producing (in spite of it all) correct results (aka "every math teacher's nightmare"). One example would be "cancelling" the 6s in $$\frac{64}{16}.$$ ...
155
votes
37answers
13k 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 ...
154
votes
15answers
10k 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 ...

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