777
votes
28answers
51k 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 ...
571
votes
25answers
104k 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 ...
560
votes
48answers
375k views

Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain [closed]

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 ...
527
votes
151answers
33k 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 ...
437
votes
25answers
54k 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 ...
432
votes
16answers
41k 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 ...
389
votes
25answers
76k 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 ...
372
votes
6answers
67k 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 ...
354
votes
10answers
370k views

Is this Batman equation for real?

HardOCP has an image with an equation which apparently draws the Batman logo. Is this for real?
350
votes
20answers
59k 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 ...
328
votes
10answers
21k 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, ...
321
votes
21answers
58k 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 ...
317
votes
7answers
12k 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 $f_n(x)$ ...
314
votes
17answers
27k views

Is value of $\pi = 4$?

What is wrong with this? SOURCE
311
votes
33answers
19k 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 ...
306
votes
26answers
30k 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 (solution of the Basel problem) $$\zeta(2)=\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}.$$ However, Euler was Euler ...
303
votes
12answers
86k 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 ...
300
votes
35answers
33k 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 ...
278
votes
29answers
39k 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 ...
260
votes
10answers
34k 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 ...
255
votes
23answers
31k views

Proofs that every mathematician should know?

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 ...
246
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} ...
244
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 ...
232
votes
12answers
29k 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 ...
215
votes
5answers
42k 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 ...
210
votes
21answers
7k 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 ...
199
votes
29answers
15k 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 ...
198
votes
10answers
18k 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 ...
193
votes
12answers
57k 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? ...
192
votes
4answers
13k 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 ...
188
votes
13answers
25k views

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

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 ...
187
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. ...
186
votes
40answers
22k 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 ...
186
votes
28answers
17k 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 ...
184
votes
14answers
8k 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 ...
183
votes
90answers
15k 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 ...
181
votes
66answers
12k views

Funny identities [closed]

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?
179
votes
5answers
42k 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 ...
177
votes
62answers
40k 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 ...
176
votes
28answers
21k 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 ...
173
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 ...
171
votes
6answers
8k 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 ...
171
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!}}}}}) ...
169
votes
32answers
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 $$\frac{64}{16}.$$ ...
166
votes
24answers
33k 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 ...
166
votes
27answers
30k 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 ...
164
votes
24answers
13k 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 ...
164
votes
13answers
135k views

Fourier transform for dummies

A vague question of Kevin Lin which didn't quite fit at Mathoverflow: So ... what is the Fourier transform? What does it do? Why is it useful (both in math and in engineering, physics, etc)? ...
162
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, ...
160
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 ...

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